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Posts Tagged ‘Resistance’

  1. From “To-Do” to “Done”

    May 26, 2019 by Diane

    A writer friend wrote a poem a day during Poetry Month in April. He said, “I get an idea for a poem, write it in the evening, polish it the next morning, and then,” he brushed off his hands, “done!”

    Oh, how I envied him, getting to done.

    My problem is, I’m always doing. I’m rarely done.

    I rewrite the first page of my novel endlessly.

    I check out five books from the library, and before reading any, I check out five more. The towering stack taunts me.

    I flit from one project to another at work, and if it wasn’t for external deadlines, I’d continue to flit and polish and perfect and whatever it is I do to avoid getting things done, while my To-Do list grows longer than Rip Van Winkle’s beard.

    I need to get to DONE!

    Squirrelly thoughts

    Part of my brain thinks along these lines…

    If I finish (fill in the blank), then what? There might not be another novel in me. The book I want at the library might not be available, so I better check out everything. If I don’t do (fill in the blank) perfectly, I’ve failed.

    This is poverty mentality. It’s scarcity thinking. It’s a trap.

    Another part of my brain reminds me…

    Half-baked is better than burned.

    There will always be another book to read.

    A job that’s good enough and off your plate is preferable to a job that wears you down in your quest for perfection, which, as the saying goes, does not exist.

    And no, you don’t need to take on more than your plate can carry. The eyes-are-bigger-than-the-stomach syndrome results in nothing more than heartburn. No joy in that.

    Why can’t I get things done???

    I could just throw away my To-Do list. Done!

    But then I’d turn into a sloth who watches Wheel of Fortune into the wee hours, if such a feat is possible.

    It seems to me, three things are holding me back from getting to Done. See if any of these resonate with you:

    1. Lack of Time

    I mean, come on! I’ve got THINGS TO DO. Look at the list! How can I possibly get them all done?

    Well, I can’t. At least, not all at once.

    If I decided to run a marathon, and the most I’d ever run was from the couch to the refrigerator during a commercial, would I lace up my Skechers and line up at the starting block with well-seasoned athletes? Probably not. Besides, I don’t even run from the couch to the fridge, because I live in a miniature playhouse and can just reach over.

    But I can run for one minute. And if I add a minute a day, by the end of the month, provided it’s not February, I’m running 30 minutes a day. Or thirty-one, if it’s January.

    What if I applied that same logic to the dreaded To-Do list?

    Let’s say I start at 10 minutes a day. I can get a surprising amount done in 10 minutes.

    That stack of magazines? I’ll plow through them, ripping out articles I want to read, tossing the rest in the recycle bin. Done!

    I’ll read two of those articles. Done!

    I’ll edit one page of my novel. Done!

    I’ll weed out a file cabinet. Vacuum. Make salads for lunch. Draft a blog post. Done, done, done, done!

    Add a minute a day, and by the end of the month, I’m spending 30 minutes on tasks. Think of how much I can accomplish in 30 minutes! Makes the head spin, doesn’t it?

    There’s just one catch: Anyone who’s read my ramblings for any length of time knows I’m commitment-phobic. I’d sooner watch Wheel of Fortune than commit to 30 minutes on a task, because if I commit to 30 minutes of anything other than TV, I might actually get something DONE. God forbid.

    Scary thought.

    Plus, I have the squirrelly belief that I can do everything all at once to perfection.

    Talk about high expectations. No wonder I’m burned out. No wonder I can’t get started. Which brings me to hurdle number two (and three, but let’s not skip ahead):

    2. Overwhelm

    When I print out my To-Do list at work, it’s as long as one of those receipts from CVS pharmacy. My eyes glaze over. My stomach tightens into a hard ball. I have the urge to surf the net, spiral down the email rabbit hole, or cram something sugary in my mouth.

    I’ve discovered I can accomplish three tasks a day. Not fifty. Not five. Three. If I complete three tasks and have time left over, I tackle another. Three items on a To-Do list leaves plenty of white space. Room to breathe. And for an introvert like myself with limited energy to spare, breathing room is good.

    Many days, I accomplish more than three tasks. But tricking myself into focusing on three helps me overcome the feeling of overwhelm.

    What if my boss expects me to accomplish more? Well, if I work X number of hours a day, and there’s just one of me, and I need to eat and go to the bathroom X number of times during those X number of hours, the math might not add up. In which case I’ll say: “This isn’t sustainable. If you want me to be accurate, and finish the jobs you’ve assigned, something needs to go.”

    Yeah, in a perfect world.

    Some bosses are open to that kind of honesty. Luckily, mine is. If you’re not so lucky, all I can say is: pace yourself. Remember, doing more than is humanly possible isn’t sustainable in the long run. And no job is worth dying over. At the very least, don’t overload your plate on your off hours. While many organizations expect an employee to be plugged into the system 24/7, it’s my firm belief that we worker-bees need to educate the powers-that-be about what’s realistic, and what’s in the realm of: “in your dreams, bucko.”

    But I digress.

    Which three things do I choose to tackle on a given day?

    Whichever three would keep me up at night if I didn’t accomplish them. Not everything on the list is numero uno. Some are fives. Or sevens. I start with the most important, and work my way up. This applies to my task lists at work and at home.

    Sometimes, that number one item is so important, I can’t muster the energy to start. Like submitting my short story to a literary magazine. Or rewriting my novel.

    Which brings me to point three:

    3. Resistance

    In his book “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles,” Steven Pressfield writes:

    “Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.”

    Yeah. That bugger, Resistance, disguises itself as perfectionism, procrastination, laziness, fear, and whatever it is that keeps us from acting on those projects that feed our souls.

    For me, the disguise is perfectionism.

    In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard’s famous command was: “Engage.” He meant, begin. Go forth. Picard never added, “But only if you’re positive you’ll make zero mistakes.”

    No, settled in his captain’s chair, legs comfortably crossed, he commanded, “Engage.” It was outer space, fer crying out loud! He didn’t know where the ship was headed, or what lay ahead, or how he’d deal with whatever crisis occurred—and there was always a crisis. Didn’t matter. With a casual flick of his finger, Picard was ready to brave the unknown.

    Occasionally, someone on board would request, “Permission to speak freely,” which, if granted, gave the officer a free pass to say whatever was on his mind without being punished.

    What if I applied Star Trek logic to those Things I Want To Accomplish that makes Resistance sneer? With those nifty words, “Engage,” and “Permission to fail,” and “Granted,” I might actually get to “Done.”

    Wow. What a concept.

    So, for those of you who have hung in reading this 1,466-word post, my formula for getting from To-Do to Done is:

    Make your task list manageable and realistic
    Choose the three most important tasks to work on
    Do the work in a set interval of time
    Give yourself permission to fail
    When you’re done, let it be. It’s as good as it’s going to get.

    Which, in my book, is Done.


  2. How to Rewrite a Novel: Step Four

    August 14, 2016 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    Rewriting a novel is like sitting on the edge of a pool. The water’s cold. You can dive right in, get the discomfort over with, splash around to warm up, and then lose yourself in the steady stroke of limbs through water.

    Or, like me, you can hang out on the edge while the sun bakes your skin and your feet turn into prunes.

    Welcome to week five of my novel rewrite.

    This is how rewriting my novel looked:

    I attended an outdoor concert with a Meetup group from The Sierra Club. The club turned out to be a bunch of lively women, ages sixty and up, and a grizzled guy who may have been a sea captain. Another guy, wearing a goofy beach hat, stood around grinning like babies do when they have gas. I sat in my low-slung chair behind a woman in a sleeveless blouse who shaded her eyes with one hand, cutting off my view of the stage with her underarm flab. Occasionally, she dropped her arm, so my view became a vision of Michael Jackson–if Michael Jackson was middle-aged and fifty pounds overweight and stuffed into black leather pants–strutting and doing that pelvic bump, while a four-man horn section dipped and pivoted like the backup for The Temptations.

    After three songs, I folded up my chair and left.

    The next day, I went swimming. The pool was packed. I swam laps in the shallow end. The woman sharing my lane trudged back and forth in hiking boots, talking on her cell phone the entire time. One hundred dollar hiking boots. In chlorinated water. And a cell phone.

    Some days, I stood in the middle of my room, thinking.

    Had I stumbled once again onto Resistance Highway? Or was this non-writing activity actually accomplishing something?

    Well, a little of both.

    I was noodling loglines.

    It’s part of my action plan for rewriting a novel. I had arrived at:

    Step Four

    Write a logline.

    What’s a logline?

    It’s a sentence that describes the novel, and answers the questions:

    Who is the protagonist?
    What does the protagonist want?
    What’s at stake?

    Ya gotta know the who, what, and why-bother, otherwise, how can you rewrite the dang thing?

    So, I contemplated. I gnawed on ideas. I engaged in other activities. And then I took a hike with my niece, who was on a whirlwind visit through town.

    We talked writing. She wanted to know what my novel was about. I launched into a lengthy description and ended with an exasperated, “I just wish I knew what’s driving my protagonist!”

    And my niece said, “It’s funny, we wonder what our characters want, but we’re the ones making it all up.”

    We’re the ones making it all up!

    D’uh. Head slap.

    All I needed to do was pick something, and go with it.

    Write ten possible loglines. Twenty. Twenty-five. Whatever. Then PICK ONE.

    Jump in the pool.

    Stuck? Or Avoiding?

    Sometimes, we get stuck in our writing, and need to occupy ourselves elsewhere so the idea we’re searching for can swim into our consciousness. But there’s a fine line between taking time away, and staying away because the water’s too cold.

    That’s where those vows come in handy. You know, the ones that start: I promise to show up for my writing every day, no matter what.

    So, how do you know what side of the line you’re on?

    Look for signs of resistance.

    I know I’m in resistance when I start doing what comes easy, rather than what comes hard, like rewriting. “I’ll just answer a few emails. Shuffle papers. Blog.”

    I know I’m in resistance when I force myself to write, and I lose track of time.

    But If I force myself to write, and resent it, I know I need to go back to noodling. Nothing wrong with that.

    At least this time, I recognized the highway, and hitched a ride out. I was digging through some boxes of books in storage, looking for some good reads to bring on my vacation, and found a copy of Sell Your Story in a Single Sentence, by Lane Shefter Bishop. A whole book about how to write a logline! Had my intuition guided me to that box? Could be.

    I read the first few chapters. Jotted down a rough idea. Refined it. Refined it again and again and again, eliminating excess words, homing in on the want, the stakes, until…Bingo! I had my logline.

    Is it the perfect logline? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s something I can work with.

    Onward, to Step Five!


  3. You Don’t Need A Lack of Funds to Be A Starving Artist

    July 13, 2015 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    At some point, behind the writer’s curtain, you’ll hear a conversation that goes something like this…

    How’s that novel coming?

    Well…

    Uh-oh. What now.

    You know that whole starving artist bit? Well, it was getting old. I needed to make more money. But I refused to make it behind someone else’s desk. I wanted to earn money behind my own desk. Writing copy. Brochures. Direct mail. Press releases. Anything. I’m a writer, right?

    I thought you wrote fiction.

    But I couldn’t make money writing fiction. At least not on the quick. So I waited for some guidance. A sign. A nudge in some direction.

    And?

    Nothing. Not a peep. So I figured: what the heck, I’ll try copywriting. Best way to make money as a writer, right?

    Go on.

    So I checked out books on how to start a copywriting business. I picked the brain of a successful copywriter. I gathered brochures and saved those donation letters that come in the mail and dug out some old newsletter copy I’d written for a non-profit and handed out my card prematurely and the person I handed it to actually contacted me and asked for some samples and I dashed some off roughshod and emailed them and I didn’t hold my breath. I watched television. I took long walks in the woods. I stopped writing. Went back to waiting for a sign. A peep.

    And your fiction? What about your fiction writing? What about that eight-week intensive workshop you took?

    I’m getting to that.

    Five hundred dollars it cost. And the teacher said…what did he say? Something about how he could read your writing for a long, long time.

    I know. I know! Don’t remind me.

    But go on.

    So where was I? Oh yeah. I started blogging. An entry a week.

    You stopped sleeping.

    I know! Something kept me from sleep.

    And you lost weight.

    Ninety-eight pounds was all I weighed. Ninety-eight pounds. My pants slid down without hips to hold them up.

    But still you waited for a sign.

    I was boiling with frustration. I stormed into the library, to the eight hundred section, skimmed the meager selection for books on how to write a pitch.

    For that reality show concept?

    Yes. And I slid my fingertips over the spines of the fiction-writing books and my fingers tingled. Was that a sign? No, I told myself. I took a book home about television writing because it had a chapter about pitching a show, and instead of reading about how to pitch a show, I read the novel that my father sent me, Beautiful Ruins. And it blew my mind. The writing. The voices. Each chapter a story of its own. And somehow they all fit together. How? What was the author doing? I wanted to create that. I wanted to get it. I wanted it so bad it made my heart race.

    That was your sign.

    Finally!

    But you ignored it.

    I started a copywriting business. Now I’m making money as a writer. Which is what I wanted, right?

    And that novel you were working on?

    No time for that.

    Ah.

    I feel untethered.

    Another sign.

    Yep.

    Takeaways this week:

    One of my concerns, starting out as a copywriter, was how to find the time to devote to my fiction. So I asked Peter Bowerman, a top copywriter, how he managed. His response? A sigh. This author of The Well-Fed Writer said he had no time for his “soul food.” Well, I decided that wouldn’t be my road. But venturing out, I found myself on that very same path, ignoring the hunger pangs.

    Sometimes we need to make sacrifices to keep the wolf from the door. But beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing who takes his place. Oh, sure, we manage to avoid becoming the proverbial starving artist. But we find ourselves starving in other ways. What can we do? We’ve already given up television, maybe exercise and socializing. What else is there? We can’t sacrifice family, or sleep, or eating, or downtime, in order to write a novel that may or may not ever see the light of publication. The good news is, we don’t need to give up one thing for another. Instead: borrow. Ten minutes from family time. Fifteen minutes from sleep. Five from downtime. Total them up. You’ve now got thirty minutes to focus on what really feeds you. Need more time? Borrow more.

    And then honor those precious borrowed moments by writing whatever it is you’re meant to write. Make it a priority.

    The signs are there. Be aware.