If you peeked behind the writer’s curtain this past month you probably saw an empty chair. Before that, you saw a whole lot of slumping going on. Rewriting a novel requires hours at the keyboard, leading to tense spinal muscles, shallow breathing, rounded shoulders, a stiff neck and the dreaded dowager’s hump.
The solution? Avoid rewriting altogether.
So, for the sake of good posture, I actively engaged in avoidance behavior.
I bought a stack of books to read, added them to the tower of books on my dresser, and avoided reading them.
I sat in front of the computer and contemplated the ceiling.
I checked out Write-Track, an online goal-setting community of writers—a super idea for those who actually write, a lousy idea for those searching for nifty ways to avoid writing. It’s too easy to spend time setting up goals and not actually meeting them. Besides, a community of productive authors eager to support each other sort of takes the wind out of avoidance.
I contemplated my Twitter account.
I stood in line for forty-five minutes among hordes of Halloween revelers to contemplate a Day-of-the-Dead display at Steve Job’s house, even though I scoff at a holiday where we feed junk food to kids and carve up healthy food and set it on fire (as summed up by a fellow reveler). But there I was, sporting a cowboy hat and bandanna, stepping through the portal to observe a grisly display of college students and computer geeks outfitted in white lab coats covered with blood, gouging out eyes and entrails and wielding heavy knives in some surreal medical laboratory—a spectacle that prompted me to immediately turn around and high-tail it ten blocks back to my car and drive home to contemplate the television.
I practiced yoga postures.
I even checked the refrigerator for something to stuff in my mouth—my usual mode of avoidance.
Oh, I was becoming an expert at the game.
And then I attended a lecture on the spiritual aspects of good posture.
Or so I thought.
I drove downtown and strode into the bookstore and found a seat in the back of the event room, and quickly realized that good posture was not the subject of this particular lecture. At one point the speaker said, (and I paraphrase here), “Standing in front of the refrigerator looking for something to stuff in your mouth is CRACK if it has nothing to do with nourishment. And 99.9% of the time it has nothing to do with nourishment. Ditto for yoga and meditation and anything that is used as a means of avoidance.”
Something about that speaker started to piss me off.
I had sacrificed my writing time so I could learn to sit properly in a chair. Instead I was being lectured about avoidance. I got up and left.
But something niggled at me. A question. Is writing a form of crack too? Is writing a means to avoid loneliness, or personal problems, or the feeling that life is out of control?
I had to admit…sometimes it is.
I use writing, sometimes, as a drug to escape anxiety. That apprehensive feeling starts squirming within and I make a beeline for the laptop instead of just sitting with the unsettled feeling, observing it.
Sometimes the writing process itself is unsettling. Why? Because it’s friggin hard work! Because I’m lost, or stuck, or overwhelmed, or afraid I might suck–or God forbid—shine. So I skedaddle away from the laptop. Which, truth be told, is exactly what I had done.
I felt disgusted with myself. This had nothing to do with poor posture. The whole avoidance thing had lost its charm. I was mindful of the game now. I had turned the camera on myself and the house of cards had tumbled down, as the speaker put it.
So I forced myself back to the keyboard.
I positioned my fingers on the home keys.
I avoided avoiding.
Takeaways this week:
Ask yourself if you’re engaged in any activity as a means to escape an uncomfortable feeling. If the answer is yes, sit quietly, close your eyes, and allow yourself to observe the feeling. Don’t participate, just watch, like you’re watching a movie. You’ll notice the discomfort change. Everything changes. It’s the law of nature.
There’s a difference between stepping away from a rewrite to gain perspective or recharge your energy, and avoiding the project altogether. Don’t kid yourself. If you’re swapping that siesta for a one-way ticket out of novelville, you know you’ve crossed the border into Avoidance.
Bad posture is less about mechanics and more about going unconscious. When I notice I’m slumping, I remind myself to come back from whatever astral plane I’m frolicking on, and be in the body.
If you want to set some writerly goals and track them online among a community of fellow scribes, check out Write-Track.
If you’re squeamish about gory stuff, and queued up to check out a Halloween display, look around. If there are no children under the age of ten standing in line with you, let that be a warning.