Monday, October 3, 2011

Writers Block III - Identify External Blocks

Excuses, excuses. Living with a rageaholic who pitched a two day fit punching holes in the walls when I didn’t like watching sitcoms is no excuse not to write. After all, I had nothing better to do.

Or what about 2002, the year I only got 25,000 words in Nanowrimo. I was too lazy. I didn’t start till the 25th. Pneumonia is no excuse, I should have kept writing. After all it’s not as if it’s hard to concentrate in a fever.

Then there were all those years all I did was Nanowrimo and Three Day Novel without sending anything out. Never mind the number of times I moved out of state, my difficulty getting necessary prescriptions, the recovery time from every doctor appointment or what the weather did to my fibromyalgia. It’s all just laziness or fear of success.

My examples are extreme. I’ve had a hard life. People who don’t have hard lives run into tough patches too. What about that happy event, the birth of a new baby? How easy is it to keep up a steady writing schedule if you can only sleep two hours a night? Or marriage? Divorce? Relocating out of state for a job or a spouse’s job?

Life happens. Sometimes what happens is major whether it’s joyous or catastrophic. At those times, everything in your life is ripped apart. Most of all, the changes are so drastic that all of your habits are gone. It’s just as hard to form them again in the new context, especially when you haven’t even figured out where the toothbrush goes in the new bathroom or where the coffee cups are in the kitchen. It takes time to build habits again.

Interference can be subtler and pretend to be helpful.

What about all those high school years when I was being well taken care of by my grandmother? I’d go down into the basement, boot up my typewriter, think about what I wanted to write. I’d scribble a few notes longhand and read over my old notes. I might be in a good mood.

I might noodle around for an hour or so warming up, getting a good story idea. Then bang, I got my idea. I’d start typing. At first hesitant, then clattering away at top speed to get it done. Within five minutes, she came downstairs with a soda and a plate of cookies or snacks.

“Hi honey, what are you doing?”

”Writing, I’m workign on a story.”

“What’s it about?”

”I’ve got this artificial intelligence...”

“Oh honey, those science fiction stories don’t ever pay anything. Nobody reads that kind of stuff. Why don’t you write a nice mystery or a romance?”

”Because I don’t read mysteries or romance. I don’t like them. There’s no point writing what I don’t like to read.”

”But they’re more popular, a lot of people like them. You can’t just work on what you want to, you’ll never make any money that way. You should try to write jokes for the Reader’s Digest. You could get $300 just for a couple of paragraphs.”

”Nanny, it’d be easier for me to write a whole story than just a couple of paragraphs. I don’t even think in terms of that kind of gag.”

”Then you’re not being very professional, are you?” Around and around with half-truths and assumptions.

Then there was the sympathy approach, same cookies and soda.

“Oh honey, I hate to see you trying so hard, you’re just going to depress yourself again when you can’t finish. If you do finish it I can’t bear to see you get so sad when it’s rejected.”

I think I sent out a story maybe once or twice a year when I lived there, usually in the summers when I had no school and enough hours in the day to finish something while she was out in the yard or whatever. I remember once I got one sealed in an envelope before she came inside and bragged that I’d sent it out. Heard the same tune: “Oh I wish you wouldn’t do that, you’re just hurting yourself, I can’t stand it when you’re that hurt.”

In her beliefs she was doing that for my own good. She never came right out and told me not to be a writer. She just tried to steer it into any genre or publication that I didn’t like or convince me that I was going to be suicidally depressed if I ever got a rejection slip from an editor. Some of the rejection slips were so encouraging it was ludicrous.

Later flatmates did the same thing, only offering booze instead of soda and cookies or D&D as a distraction.

Then there’s the impact of being in love with someone in the middle of a knock-down drag out fight, only to hear “If you ever got published, you’d be such a total egotist that I couldn’t stand it. I’ll leave you if you ever get published.”

Working 90 hour weeks and then selling art on weekends at conventions didn’t leave much time for writing either during those years. Somehow we always needed more money even though I earned more than I ever have before or since.

So I look back on my life at a lot of bad decisions that made sense at the time. Some of them weren’t bad decisions. Many were just necessary decisions, like moving out of state when I lost my housing and someone offered to take me in.

Don’t beat yourself up over your “excuses.”

Stop and examine them as if someone else was telling that story. Would you think your best friend was lazy if you heard stories like that? Then give yourself that leeway.

Odds are that you actually do seize every moment you can write and push hard to get writing time. Flatmates can pull that sabotage game easily. How hard is it to wind up living with a control freak? It’s so common it’s like finding roaches in an urban apartment. It takes trial and error getting good flatmates and it costs more to live without them.

Sometimes the ones that aren’t as much fun to be around and keep to themselves are better flatmates than your drinking buddy or your D&D pal.

If you get death threats, physical violence threats, control trips and sabotage of any achievements, that’s not a healthy relationship either with a flatmate or a mate. If that’s a spouse it’s good reason to see a counselor. If counseling is going nowhere, consider leaving. Someone who would sabotage your writing in jealousy of a few hours of solitude with imaginary people is going to put you on a short leash for life. That’s not love, that’s emotional abuse.

When to consider it sabotage is when daily journals reveal interference as a pattern. Establish that in journal by writing down what happened every day, what you argued about, what happened before the argument. Look for whether fights start over trivial things or old laundry list circular arguments immediately after you get something done that you can take pride in. That’s the toxic pattern and it’s probably not just about your writing.

Test the pattern a couple of times. In a sabotage pattern, mysteriously fights won’t happen as often if you just watch TV or play video games or otherwise goof off. If writing is “wasting your time trying to write” but watching TV isn’t a waste of time, that’s sabotage. That person does not want you to succeed in writing or selling anything you write.

That’s when to make hard decisions. With a spouse or partner, sabotage’s a red alert to get counseling. You may have to make concessions on some things you don’t like in order to gain the freedom to keep your writing boundaries. It’s worth it though. If the relationship doesn’t survive that counseling process, that means it had already gone so bad it was no good for either of you any more. It’s better to make a clean break at that point.

Flatmates are a lesser problem, once that’s identified it’s easier to work out different arrangements. You might make some effort to sort it out but if it continues, it’s time to move or kick out the abuser. Harsh but that’s no way to live under someone’s thumb. It’s a mind game that has sabotaged many other things besides writing, it can lead to someone else making every decision in your life down to what shirt you put on every morning, where you live and work and what you eat. That’s no way to live.

Writers need solitude, good steady habits and a set of writing prompts that put you into the frame of mind that you’re ready to work on your story. The more prompts and habits you build, the more portable they are, the easier it is to recover from major life changes. Just don’t beat yourself for the interruptions when they’re over. Life happens to everyone and until your writing is your main occupation, most people will regard your writing time as trivial.

Establish that boundary with new flatmates and relationships immediately. Set scheduled times for writing when you’re not available. Always show up, as if that was your second job. The more consistent you are, the more likely the people you live with are going to take your ambition seriously and not try to pre-empt you because something good is on HBO.

You could be writing something better than that HBO movie. Go for it!

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