Working Out

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There’s been a transformation and it’s got everything to do with my writing. For the first time in a long time, I’m excited about my writing. First and foremost I have the Stanford Online Creative Nonfiction Writing class to thank for this. It has kicked me in the butt and made me write write write! While it may be a tad trite, it is true that, “Writers write.” Yes, well, this writer hasn’t been doing enough of that, and this course has done wonders to turn that around.
Firstly, we had to commit to writing for five minutes first thing every morning.  I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again, I’m not much into the discipline scene. But I decided to commit. It doesn’t matter that my decision to commit was probably born of some deep seated need for approval, the need I’ve always had to kiss the teacher’s ass. What matters is the results, right?
The course structure and content have also given me the direction I needed to get over the huge speed bump that had grown up in front of me because I felt lost, not knowing how to get to the next step, how to keep moving forward, get more words on the page. The instruction I’ve received on how to conduct research (What’s that? You say? Research? It’s a memoir isn’t it?) has been instrumental in getting me moving, making progress, driving me on to find the next detail that I’d all but forgotten about.
And like all good little Type A, codependent personalities, the encouragement I’ve received from our instructor and fellow students hasn’t hurt either.
Low and behold, I’ve discovered that if I make myself sit down and write for five minutes first thing in the morning that I am still there several hours and many hundreds of words later.  I know, what did I expect? But seriously I’m sitting here in wonder as I realize that I’ve written over 15,000 words in the past 13 days. [In the name of honesty, technically it’s not first, first thing. Writing happens after I pee, brush my teeth, wash my face, put on the obligatory facial sunscreen, get dressed, let the dogs out, give them pats and a get my huge mug of tea. I don’t think I’m splitting hairs here, am I?]
Some days I really do only write for five to ten minutes and then I get up and go do something that I would normally fill my morning with, like yoga or more often than not surfing. Strangely enough, I think that while following this regimen, I’ve actually surfed more in the past two weeks than I have over similar periods for the past two years. And yet, I’ve managed to write so much! The only thing that is probably suffering is my yoga (and by extension, my lower back).
Before I started the course, I wrote here about following Andrea Mauer’s advice and kept a time journal for about ten days. As soon as I started it, I saw how much time I wasted messing about on the internet, reading emails, checking Facebook updates, randomly conducting searches on anything that popped into my mind. I spent a ridiculous amount of time recording my caloric intake on the website (it’s still a great web site, I just don’t have time to be going on there three or more times a day to try to find the ingredients to everything I eat). She helped me recognize how much time I was wasting and the writing course has made me prioritize. I guess I needed the combination punch to wake the #$@% up!
So, finally I feel like I’m over the hump. I’m 118 pages and 56216 words into my goal of having a first draft of my memoir written and it no longer feels like a weight attached to my backside and dragging along in the sand behind me. I’m excited about it, can’t wait to read the next journal entry or email that will prompt my memory so I can write the next section. I’m planning interviews to get others perspectives, reading the research and articles that first grabbed my attention and made me want to do the work. I’m finding where my outline is confused and confusing and have started to repair it. And I even think I feel the right side of my brain growing, blossoming, generating more neurons and synapses as I sit here plugging away at my computer. Someone once said, “The brain is a muscle. You’ve got to exercise it.”  It might not be the cerebral equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but my brain’s been bench-pressing 1000 words daily.

Potty Training

Shit or get off the pot.

I’m pretty sure I was all of three the first time I heard these timeless words fly off the tongue of my mother’s friend Shirley. She’s always had a way with words. Now that she’s retired, you’re more likely to hear Shirl-ol-girl holler “The door is not an asshole, it doesn’t close by itself” after one of the army of children running wild through her house.

But shit or get off the pot I must.

If you’ve known me for any length of time then you know that I am not the best manager of time. In fact, there are some of you who have learned to knock fifteen minutes off the real time an event starts if you want me to arrive on time. My sweetheart has learned that brow beating me has an almost negligible effect and that he’s better off just going and sitting in the car, because I will show up, eventually.  He is fond of saying, when I start to twitch in the seat next to him when he takes off at the pace of a snail on ludes, “You cannot invent time dear. We will get there when we get there.” He has great distaste for rushing and refuses to do so. Has that changed my ability to get in the car with enough time to get where we need to be? Not at all.

To add insult to injury, I’m also a virtual award winning procrastinator.  If there is something else that can be done when I should be writing, I’ll do it. And let’s face it, there are a lot of things I can do instead of writing. In fact, as I whined about my inability to make time for writing, my sweetheart pointed out for the umpteenth time today that I have an embarrassment of choices.

He said, “Imagine a huge parking lot and put all the people of the world in it. I’m willing to bet every single one of them would kill to be in your position.”

And he’s right, Goddamn it, he’s right.

Every day upon rising I have a multitude of choices of what I will do that day. Every single day, almost without exception. I get to decide if I’ll go surfing, do yoga, sit and sip tea while I pet the dogs, meditate, walk the dogs on the beach, go kitesurfing, sweep the floors, go visit friends, go to town (that one’s almost never the choice), lay in the sun and read, sit on the couch and read, watch a movie, work in the garden, bake or plan a nice dinner, partake of Facebook or email a friend. And it kind of makes my head hurt when I realize there are other choices beyond those that I don’t usually even think of.

Don’t get me wrong, I do have responsibilities, things I must do, but in the grand scheme of things they pale in the face of the nine-to-five-plus-kids life that most people live. And I never have to do anything. The most pressing thing on my plate right now is to call the fumigator because we have a termite infestation in the kitchen cupboard that is getting out of hand. But honestly, it’s been getting out of hand for months. I’ve been able to ignore it until now. So ya, time, I got more time than a Swiss watch maker.

Given all these choices, I’m having a little trouble getting after it as far as writing my book goes or publishing on this blog for that matter. I just realized that “work on my book” did not even make the list of choices I penned above. That was unintentional and probably not the greatest indication of how high on my list of priorities writing usually is. Well, that’s going to change.

I here do declare and solemnly swear that I have committed to doing two things in order to make writing a higher priority in my life.

1)    Andrea Maurer’s 90-Day Power Play
Andrea is an aspiring life coach and a talented writer among other things. She recently took the bull by the horns in her own pursuit of self-fulfillment and is offering a 90-day coaching program to give 10 people the skills to realize their goals. Due to factors outside my control, I am not one of the official “10,” however I am reading along as time permits and doing the exercises she recommends (for the most part).

Recognizing that everyone, even ridiculously lucky people with tons of time and choices, has trouble with time management, Andrea has recommended that we keep a time journal.  That we record minute by minute how we spend (or waste away) our valuable time. I started mine mid-day yesterday and it’s already ringing some bells for me. The detailed results following a full week of journaling will be reported in an upcoming blog. I may even turn it into an excel file and run some statistics on it (except that might take too much of my oh so valuable TIME).

2)    ECL 134 W
In a fit of “I’ve-got-to-do-something-to-get-off-my-ass-and-start-writing-regularly” that occurred some time in February, I signed up for Creative Non-Fiction: A Plan for Success, a Stanford University online course that starts this coming Monday. The great thing about this course? I will be working on my WIP as part of the course work. And it says right in the course description, “this course is designed to…establish writing habits that will sustain us to completion.” You’re singing my tune baby!

I’m committed. Well, almost 100% (the drop deadline for the course is April 7) and the next 10 weeks are gonna see a lot more writing action from this aspiring author. 

I think a few questions I have are going to be answered during this period. Can I do it and still have it all? (By “all” I mean write AND do yoga, surf, kite surf somewhat regularly, keep the house respectably clean, the dogs walked and fed, myself bathed and fed something other than microwavable popcorn.) Can I maintain balance, contentment and my sanity in the face of the demands of being a writer? Am I committed enough to being a writer to make the necessary choices?

Time will tell.