Hat trick

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Silk’s Post #35 — I am really looking forward to a change in headgear. Yes, this week I get to take off my writer’s hat and put on my critiquer’s chapeau.

Frankly, it will come as a relief.

I wish my writer’s hat had been padded. Better yet, a hardhat. It would have saved my noggin during the past few months of bashing my head against the wall. hard-hatYes, I’ve been struggling. Oddly enough, not because I have writer’s block, as such. What I really seem to have is the classic eyes-bigger-than-my-stomach syndrome whose symptoms include ridiculously long “to do” lists, which never seem to have all the items crossed off.

The truth is that I make too many commitments, and have too much optimism about how quickly I can clear my desk, and my calendar, of other obligations so I can “get back to writing.” My head-bashing incidents occur every time life reminds me that I’m actually not, in fact, Superwoman. Which happens frequently.

So now you know the ugly, brutal truth. I am far from “The End”.

Okay, okay. I hear a chorus of people protesting. A real writer would have put the writing first on the list, not last. Why have I granted priority to all this other stuff ahead of my 5writers challenge? Isn’t this just a lame excuse, or maybe an alias for writer’s block?

Maybe. But whatever you call it, I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only would-be novelist who’s had difficulty getting into the rhythm of “The Writing Life.” Difficulty making the kind of commitment that involves tough choices.

Egotistical choices.

What? I can hear some of you almost sputtering now. Just simmer down, I’ll explain.

I’m no selfless Joan of Arc, but the fact is that I have a lifetime of “training” to do the right thing. And what is that “right thing”? All that adult stuff, that’s what. Eat your vegetables before you can have dessert. Meet obligations to others before you can take time for yourself. Get your work done before you can play.

party-hatAnd there is the telling clue – the heart of my struggle. My paradigm for writing is that it’s play, not work. Why? I love to do it. No matter how hard it is, how much effort it takes, how stuck I may get, how tired I am, I love every minute of it. It isn’t work for me. It’s play, pure play. Work is what I have to do. Play is what I choose to do, strictly for myself. Selfishly. It’s what I get to do after I’ve done all my other “work” and met all my other commitments.

See the problem here? It’s about that “to do” list that never gets all checked off. And because my calcified work ethic classifies writing as “play,” I must steal time to do it. Yes, this is wrong. So wrong.

But now, it’s time to change hats and serve others – my cherished 5writers friends and colleagues, who have poured their souls into the manuscripts I’m about to read. Will I have the same trouble prioritizing my critiquing task? Absolutely not. It’s a commitment to someone else, and I’ll move heaven and earth to get the job done in time for our big retreat in June.

Too bad I haven’t been able to give my own writing the same level of priority.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned through this process, it’s that I have to re-train myself to see my writing in a different paradigm. It is work, even if it feels like play. That’s what it means to take yourself seriously as a writer. I don’t need a shrink to discover what’s been inhibiting my progress – whether you call it writer’s block, a terminal case of the “convenient social virtue” (as John Kenneth Galbraith called it), or whatever other head-bashing terminology you can come up with.

Since I can’t seem to put play ahead of work after a lifetime of being in harness, I have to reclassify my writing as work instead of play. Okay. Got it.

Meanwhile, I’m truly looking forward to changing hats and diving into four whole-book critiques over the next month. It may not sound like a break, but for me it will feel like one. And I have no doubt that I will emerge from this next phase re-inspired and re-invigorated.

That’s my hat trick for today.

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13 thoughts on “Hat trick

  1. Oh Silk, you said it better than I ever could. I think we are two peas in a pod (Paula’s assessment), because as I implied, my ugly truth is the same as yours: I am also far from ‘the End’. But I am not fretting about it. If my novel can be as good as I want it to be, it takes time to germinate. I want it to be like a fine meal, not fast food. (Footnote: I am aware that lots of great novels are written in a much shorter time frame than what I seem to need). And like cooking, it takes its own time. You can’t rush it. These artificial deadlines just don’t suit the process, whether cooking or writing. I can’t rush it any more than I can squeeze toothpaste back into the tube. And I do need time away from writing, even though I consider it my most important vocation. Of course an occasional kick in the butt doesn’t hurt 🙂 That’s where critique groups come in.

    • Thanks Helga. I’m coming, reluctantly, to the conclusion that I’m going to have to fool myself into better writing habits! If I think of it as work, I may be able to convince myself it’s a serious professional obligation rather than a joyful hobby, and that it’s “okay” to put it at the top of the menu instead of “dessert” at the end. Between the yoke of the “convenient social virtue” and my natural inclination to procrastinate, I have a lot of inertia to overcome! And, yes, I expect to get a good kicking on Wednesday.

  2. Pingback: Guest Post: Conquering Self-Doubt about Your Writing Skills | Write on the World

  3. Prior to publication it’s nice to have the luxury of writing whenever we have time. After publication we have to *make* the time because there is a commitment to honour deadlines and contracts. I think it can be good practice to set arbitrary deadlines for ourselves now, to prove writing means enough to us that we’re willing to give it priority. Once you’ve spent some time at the critiquing, however, I’m betting you’ll find enthusiasm for your own writing has returned. 🙂

    • Thanks for the encouragement Carol. I spent a career in a deadline-oriented business, so I certainly respect what you’re saying about setting time goals. What gets measured gets done.

  4. Ah, Silk, Silk, Silk, (and Helga, Helga, Helga) I feel like I’m reading some twisted version of ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ – how can it be that ‘Tigger’ has such an opposite approach to this whole thing? Tigger, wants to play tennis and golf and laugh and eat and drink and have fun with her friends and read books and go to movies and marathon through an entire season of ‘Doc Martin’ in one weekend. But for this Tigger, the writing, (as enjoyable as it is sometimes), is work, work, work that I need to get done. In the end, undoubtably, my fellow critique group partners who have taken the tortoise vs. hare approach will, undoubtedly come up with a finer product in the end, and I applaud you for that. Still, it will be very interesting to read all the manuscripts and compare: “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” in our approaches. For me, the one thing that the ‘deadline’ really did help with was:
    1) Writing down an outline and more or less sticking to it – never done that before. Lots to talk about how it felt.
    2) Since I wrote the whole thing so fast, I more or less could remember what I made my characters do in the beginning and how they sounded in the beginning. This has been a bit of a problem for me in the past, when my writing has stretched out over months and months.
    Anyway, so much to discuss at the ‘Critique Retreat’ and I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.
    Great post! No one should beat themselves up (or their head against a wall-hardhats not required). We’ve all learned so much!

    • Maybe I just need Tigger lessons!

      I don’t know whether slow writing is necessarily better writing (that’s what rewrites are for), but we each have a groove and a speed that we work best at.

      To be honest I’m surprised and disappointed that I haven’t finished my book, however time only goes in one direction and there are no do-overs on yesterday. So I carry on from where I find myself. I’m looking forward to your support and encouragement.

  5. I suspect a lot of writers can empathize with this post! Especially those of us who have come to it after college and working for some number of years in “the real world.” There’s a tendency not only for us, but also our well-meaning friends and family, to look at our writing as “a hobby” and not necessarily something to take seriously. No one schedule or approach fits all, and it takes time to find what works for each of us.

    Enjoy reading the other works and preparing your critiques!

    • Thanks JM. It does take a long time to shift gears (at least mentally) from a high-stress, multi-tasking, risk-taking career as a business owner and embrace a new learning curve in a profession where irate clients don’t rant and rave at you when you miss a deadline. I thought writing would be easier. My mistake!

  6. Um, it’s not just would-be writers who have this problem. I’ve been procrastinating all day from three deadline projects, so you’re not alone! But here’s a hint – it’s not just our training and it’s not just because it’s fun. Once you have that advance check in hand, you’re now being PAID to do what is fun, what you love to do, and so it can, now, legitimately take a place at the top of the “to do” list. It’s amazing how quickly our priorities change when writing is no longer solely “for us” and becomes a real, paid job, with a cheque and a contract to prove it. I really wish it weren’t so, but I’ve seen it again and again and again with writers. When the work becomes valued enough by someone else for them to part with cold, hard cash, then we start seeing it as worth putting ahead of other things. Sad, sad, sad, but true. Enjoy the critting!

    • Thanks for the wise words, Bev. It pains me – deeply – to admit that I need external validation. Hate hate hate it. But there it is. You’re so right!

  7. I just can’t get past this notion of “The Writing Life.” When it comes to me, it comes fast & furious, and I just need to extract the good stuff from the excess verbiage. At other times (now being one of those times) I re-write and re-re-write a #!*^@ sentence that I can’t get right, and may end up scrapping altogether. This is a life? How is this different from serving a sentence?

    • You crack me up Jerry. But it beats golf, doesn’t it? Come on now, repeat after me: “I’m not serving a sentence. I’m writing a sentence. I’m not serving a sentence. I’m writing a sentence …”

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