Procrastination or slow progress?

Sometimes writing is sitting at your computer doing research all morning. Ferreting out one fact leads to an interesting article, leads to a photo essay, and then somehow you're down a Buzzfeed spiral of funny gifs.

You find it's been two hours, your original question is answered, but you now have three more interesting ideas. The only thing you've written all morning is a dozen hilarious texts to your best friend about Internet junk and an email to your mom about that one recipe she used to make, you know, the one with chicken.

You wonder if the day was a success. Well, you found the answer to your question. and you have new story ideas to mull over and work up into something. That's progress, right? Yes.

On the other hand, it's not words on paper, and that's less useful. But then, some days are like that: a little work, a lot distraction. In the end, you have the answer to your question and a place to start tomorrow's work. A step forward, even a small one, is still positive movement.

Writing Alive

Oof. I just finished Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I'd heard several times how great this book is, and it did not disappoint at all. I've been carrying it around in my bag for months, reading it here and there when I have time, especially when I'm early in the school pickup line.

There is a treasure trove of information in here about writing, about why writers write, and why they should write. But it's so much more than that. It is most definitely about life, as the cover says.

I underlined heavily throughout this book and I'm positive I'll go back to it again and again. Lamott's easy style and conversational tone make it so accessible. She also makes it easy to believe that, indeed, one can be a great writer... if they just bare their soul, open their wounds, and sit down religiously to pour their life onto the page.

Easier said than done, some days, but a goal worth striving for.

Creative habits

I recently read Daily Rituals, a book about how artists work. A sketch of each creative gives some info about their daily habits and rituals as they pertain to their artistic or creative endeavors. The book is a lot of fun and covers famous and popular writers, scientists, poets, painters, composers, philosophers, both living and dead. In some cases, the glimpse of daily life a hundred or more years ago is the most interesting facet of an entry, simply for the novelty of difference.

This is such a hot topic around here, if only because we seem to be too busy and the household schedule often fluctuates more than we'd like. Overall, the summer is a slow and less productive period for me when the kiddo is home. I get much more done during the school year, yet here at the end of September I'm still trying to find a good daily schedule for myself. I like to keep it interesting by throwing things like exercise and running into the mix once it gets cooler because, really, who needs consistency?

Several things in Daily Rituals struck me. Decades ago there used to be a lot more day drinking and a lot more blatant drug use. Some days, slogging away at my desk, I can absolutely see why both are appealing. The flip side are the vast number of people who just show up every day and do it, whether it's good or bad, useful or useless. When I get into a good rhythm, I can see their point.

I was quite happy to see that I am not the only world class procrastinator. The write up of Francine Prose struck a chord with me as she explained:
"When the writing is going well, I can work all day. When it's not, I spend a lot of time gardening and standing in front of the refrigerator."
Mostly, what I took away from the book, is that creatives are an odd bunch with weird little idiosyncrasies, habits, and superstitions. We all have "that thing" that helps us get into work mode and keeps us on task. And, when it comes down to it, passion for the project and the art is what keeps everyone going, no matter how they approach a day's work. It was an inspiring read, full of little laughs and what felt like inside jokes as I read through and thought, "Ah, me too!"

Writing real life

I've been thinking lately about how people use real life in writing. There seem to be so many different ways to approach the old standard "write what you know." But, really, how do you do that when it involves people and real situations?

I can see so many reasons to write a particular story. The catharsis of getting it out of your mind and onto the page. The opportunity to craft the ending you wish the story had in the first place. Using a character to perfect in personality that you just have to use them.

How do you go about it, though? You could write it as it is and let the chips fall where they may. You could write it as an exercise and never let it see the light of day. You could take the best pieces and craft them into something new, a practice that is used ad nauseam with varying degrees of disguise and success. Or do you just let it go, rolling around in your mind, until you can see the person or situation for what it is and then take the lesson from it?

I imagine it depends on how long you can wait and not write it. Or why you're writing it in the first place. It feels tricky to write what you know when you're starting out. I imagine it's still tricky years down the line, just easier to filter out the extra and use the good bits. I don't think it ever gets easy to pass on what you know could be a really good story, even if you do have to change the majority of it.

I'd be interested to hear how other writers have handled the real life things they've used for material or inspiration.

Shifting gears

It has occurred to me that trying to write while doing other things- working, staying at home, caring for a house and family, etc.- is like putting on different personalities, often many in the same day. It's not like the proverbial wearing of different hats. It's not that easy. With hats, you can just pop them on and off. But when it comes to writing versus being mom versus being wife versus taking care of a house and home, it's a full mindset and skill set change.

That's not easy. It's especially not easy to do all in one day.

Shifting gears: "writing while doing other things is like putting on different personalities, often many in the same day." ( went to an all day writing workshop this past Saturday. I don't go often, but it's so much fun to go and think and talk about writing all day long. When I got home, I couldn't get a good read on my family. I didn't know if something was wrong or if they'd had a bad day, or if it was just me having a hard time switching from writer mode to family mode. It can be really confusing to walk through the door and need to be a completely different person on demand.

Now, all that is not to say that it's impossible. Quite far from it. It just takes some planning some days. I'm finding that I need to be very protective of writing and creative time so that I don't let it slip through the cracks of a busy day. Sometimes, that's easier said than done, but it's important because those days where writing slips seem to stack up once I let one sneak in.

My solution at the moment is to set a very modest word count goal each day something that is so low it seems ridiculous not to do more. It helped jump start my writing in June and I know it will work again. I'm trying to be very intentional about sitting down each day and getting those words in. For me, the earlier in the day, the better. It makes it a lot easier to shift gears and go work on a different project or run errands if needed later in the day if I know I've gotten my writing in.