So… you may have noticed I’m a little inconsistent about updating here. This is because I’m a little inconsistent about my creative work in general. My brain has this peculiarity that makes me reject hard deadlines on sight – as soon as I establish something as a thing I “have” to do, it becomes the last thing I want to do. So I’ve struggled with coming up with a writing routine that doesn’t just make me stop cold in my tracks.
The solution that’s gotten me this far is working on a lot of different projects at once. I often find myself hesitating, reluctant to work on something, when I don’t know what I want to do next or where the story is going, when there’s a question I can’t answer. Instead of banging my head against this wall, I’ve found it most effective to switch gears entirely, work on something else, and inevitably while I’m focused elsewhere I stumble upon something that breaks my previous deadlock. Everything, every experience I have, every person I meet, every bit of work I do feeds every other bit, and I never know how something is going to be useful so I try to pay attention to everything that happens around me. It’s tough, but since this is mindfulness in essence, the attempt is good for my brain even when it doesn’t result in much productivity.
One issue I’ve had with the usual “write every day” advice is that shame spiral associated with a constant opportunity to fail. I get the impression that this is an issue other people don’t have as much, so it may not make sense to people with brains that work properly, but when I try to make myself write every day, what actually happens is I agonize every second of every day about writing, but don’t write at all. If I manage to keep it up for more than one day at a stretch, the pressure of the “streak” silences me, the weight of sunk cost if I stop now makes it impossible to think about anything else. If I skip a single day, the deep Well inside me starts to whisper about the futility of it all, the pointlessness of even trying if every day is another test and another opportunity to fail. This is the kind of trap my brain loves to set up – the kind where every road leads right back to this place, this still, lonely Well, this waiting room.
I’m theorizing that part of my difficulty here is the ability for my creative work to sprawl – I’m reluctant to stop doing something else in order to write, because I know that if I get into a good writing groove, I’m going to want to keep doing that for eight hours or so at a stretch. So if I look ahead at my day and don’t see a virtually unlimited chunk of time I could potentially devote to art, I feel averse to starting at all, because what if I get rolling and then have to stop? Will I lose that momentum? Will I lose the idea entirely? Will I never finish that thing or work on it again if the shiny wears off it?
This kind of thinking isn’t helping. It seems similar to a dynamic one of my favorite bloggers, Captain Awkward, mentions a lot with regard to demanding, overbearing family members. People write Captain Awkward asking how to handle, say, their mom, who has a tendency to rant critically for hours and complain about being neglected when anyone doesn’t have time for her. In this situation, the Captain always advises some permutation of the same response: set up a routine. Tell Mom you’ll talk to her on Saturdays, every week for an hour, and stick to it. When she calls on a day that isn’t Saturday, cheerfully redirect – “that’s great, let’s talk more about it on Saturday!” When it is Saturday and the hour is up, cheerfully end the call even if it’s going well. In this way you teach Mom that her emotional outbursts won’t result in an increase in attention headed her way, and you teach yourself that Mom won’t be allowed to run roughshod over your boundaries, so it feels less bad to be around her.
I let my art control my life, and while in many ways I’m not particularly ashamed of that, I do think it’s unhealthy and it seems to be diminishing my ability to actually DO art. So I’m going to try a very restrictive schedule for a little while. I’m going to set a very specific goal and stick to it, and when I’ve completed my goal for the day, I’m going to stop. If my brain thinks it can eat up every minute of the day with art time, when I sit down to actually work, it may or may not be ready. If my brain knows art time will begin and end at a specific point, it will become more accustomed to using that time effectively. At least, that’s my hope.
To this end, my project for the next 100 days (nice comfortable arbitrary goalpost) is a sonnet every day. I like the sonnet form; it’s incredibly restrictive, and I work well within very tight mechanical confines. I’m a gamer; I like hard rules within which I can maneuver dynamically. And I like very old-fashioned structure when brought to a crude or trivial modern matter. Shakespearean sonnets about butts, that’s the kind of thing I’m into.
So here we go. One hundred days, one hundred sonnets. Hold me to it, okay? I’ll be back here every day and I’ll have something new for you, I promise. The voices in my head are telling me I’ll fail; you’re gonna help me surprise myself.
1 – Agoraphobia
I built this house with bricks and nails and wood
Laid down the floor on hands and knees myself
Arranged my toys and tools on every shelf
I saw that all the locks and doors were good.
I did what men tell women that they should –
It’s rude to tell them that it’s for your health –
Festooned the lawn to ape success and wealth
I tried so hard to be misunderstood.
An earthquake came, destroyed my house, my heart
Laid flat the doors without picking the locks
And when I stood among the shattered rocks,
I finally could see their subtle art:
Teach us to fear and we will build a box
And then forget how to survive apart.