That Pesky Writing Thing

I’m a very effective, efficient and highly competent procrastinator, especially when it comes to writing. Oh yes, I have had long periods of drought, brought on by something very specific: the lack of sitting down to write.

Yes, I go for extended periods of time when I’d rather poke my eyes out than sit down and write something. And WHY would I do that? Because I’m a writer, of course.

Writers have written about their lack of productivity, or conversely, have crowed about their systematic and highly organized daily writing habits, for all of us to read. Heck, I’ve even quoted some of those folks on this very blog.

Since I haven’t been writing short stories, I look to other areas where I am writing and give myself a big ol’ pat on the back. Hey, I’m writing a blog entry right now! Look at me, I’m writing something!

And I’ve also gone back to writing my personal journal on a more regular basis. Not quite everyday, but with a regularity that keeps me satisfied. Sure, I say to myself when I’ve finished a hand written entry, you just wrote something.

It’s true too. Writing my blog entries and my personal journal entries are writing. Some of you (thank you, yet again) are actually coming here and reading it too … which, I gotta tell you, IS gratifying. Knowing there is an audience for these blog posts keeps me motivated to continue maintaining the blog. And, as an aside, I have been maintaining this blog for years now. And I’ve met a lot of really nice readers along the way, from all over the world. The world of blogging is pretty amazing, in my opinion.

Okay, I just distracted myself (but not you, dear reader) from what I was admonishing myself for, my lack of “real” output.

And over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about where I left off with my writing. I mean to say I’d been quite organized when I was submitting my short stories to online journals, and so I went back to the list I kept to see what I’d been doing.

Boy, that was shocking to me. I realized, in looking at my list of submissions, that I’d only submitted work to journals six times during all of 2014. Compared to what I’d been doing in 2013, this was the literary equivalent of letting my work fall off a cliff into an abyss.

But that’s not all. The facts are the facts – I had not submitted ANY short stories for consideration in 2015.

Zero.

Zip.

Nada.

Here was harsh reality staring me in the face. I had produced no new short stories in 2014, and I had submitted no short stories in 2015.

So how important is this pesky writing thing to me? I asked myself.

I don’t have a real answer for that right now, except to say, it’s of some importance to me. “How much” is – as of this writing – an unknown quantity.

By delving into my “state of affairs,” I was able to go back to a story I’d written in 2013 and which I’d barely tried to get published in 2014. That story has accumulated only two rejections, which I know from my own experiences, is nothing in the overall process of getting a story published.

And so I dusted off the story and re-edited it. I liked the more tightened version, and have since sent it off to two more potential markets where it could be published. Or not. But I’m giving it a try.

Looking at words on a page, rearranging them, removing a few, adding one here and then moving that sentence there all feels good. It feels right. There’s a comfort in it.

I’m unwilling to give myself any more credit than “feeling good” about submitting a dusted off story to two editors for their consideration. It is what it is, nothing more. If I’m going to go any further, there’s work ahead to be done.

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Gearing Up to Write

As I’ve admitted previously on the blog, this year has not been as productive as I’d have liked from a writing standpoint. There are “things” I am doing to help gear myself back up to write short fiction again.

First, I’m making more of an effort to go to my Jersey City Writer’s Group. Every other Tuesday and Thursday they do a “Writing Prompts” night, where writers get together and three people give prompts. We all write to the prompt for 10 minutes, then read whatever we came up with to the group. I find the more I don’t want to go and do prompts, the more I need to make sure I go and do the mental exercise.

Second, friends are asking me for feedback on their work and I’m reading their work and doing what I can to help. When I’m asked to give feedback, I often go to writing advice books I like and re-familiarizing myself with the guidance from the best. I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s On Writing, and I’ve been re-reading passages from it. It’s tough to give honest feedback to friends, because I care about them and when I see issues I want to bring to their attention, I want to do it in a way that they can “hear.”

Third, and this was a surprise to me, but reading poetry has been a pleasant mental bath in all kinds of imagery and finely wrought word craftsmanship. I’ve read widely, from Rumi to Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks (The Bean Eaters), and Jack Kerouac. I am also reading passages from books I love. I dusted off Faulkner’s Light in August and began reading a few pages, not with the intention to read the whole thing, but to enjoy the craftsmanship and the language.

Fourth, I am participating in a writer’s retreat this weekend. I am forcing myself to spend Friday night and all day Saturday in a cabin with nearly a dozen other writers and I WILL spend some of that time writing. Frankly, at this moment it still seems like it could be torture and I haven’t drafted a plan of attack for the time I’ll be there. Yeah, it’s a scary proposition, and I’ve put myself in the situation on purpose. Hopefully something good will come out of it.

Fifth, messing around on the internet looking at the daily routines of writers. Just for fun, but also as a reminder that whatever torture I’m going through isn’t the first time it’s happened to a writer and won’t be the last.

On the Brain Pickings website, here’s something to chew on from William Gibson:

When I’m writing a book I get up at seven. I check my e-mail and do Internet ablutions, as we do these days. I have a cup of coffee. Three days a week, I go to Pilates and am back by ten or eleven. Then I sit down and try to write. If absolutely nothing is happening, I’ll give myself permission to mow the lawn. But, generally, just sitting down and really trying is enough to get it started. I break for lunch, come back, and do it some more. And then, usually, a nap. Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.

[…]

As I move through the book it becomes more demanding. At the beginning, I have a five-day workweek, and each day is roughly ten to five, with a break for lunch and a nap. At the very end, it’s a seven-day week, and it could be a twelve-hour day.

Toward the end of a book, the state of composition feels like a complex, chemically altered state that will go away if I don’t continue to give it what it needs. What it needs is simply to write all the time. Downtime other than simply sleeping becomes problematic. I’m always glad to see the back of that.

.

Sixth, okay, uh, I haven’t sat down to write yet.

This post is called Gearing Up to Write, right? It’s not called “I’m not having trouble writing” or “I’m a virtuous writer” or “My daily writing routine” so, yeah, I know, I know…………………….

 

 

I’m a Pro at Procrastination

As I look back on many months of blog posts for 2014, I’m a little sad.

First, I will claim my one main creative victory for this year, which was writing an original screenplay for Jordan’s Jackhammer. That’s a biggie, and so far this year, THE high water mark for my writing.

However, my blog posts have become a diversion from my original purpose for this blog… to promote what I was writing, or when fortune and an editor’s good will intervened, promoting what I had gotten published.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a literary journal accept a new piece from me. Of course, that’s because it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything worthy of submitting to a journal.

Behind the scenes, I wrote a short, absurd piece in June. I sent it around to very few places, and it got rejected by all of them.  I’m not going to send it around to a few dozen more places and accumulate rejection notices (or even an acceptance.) The piece is called A Million Times, and I’m going to put it out here on the blog as a follow up to this posting.

But facts are facts. I’ve allowed myself to become side tracked from my writing.

On the positive side, one distraction from my writing is my quest to achieve greater health by going to the gym 5x a week, and eating healthy. I don’t regret one minute I’ve spent sweating and exhausted beyond recognition. It’s required to achieve the results I’ve gotten so far.

Another important and positive distraction from my writing is my jazz vocal practice. Opening the door to jazz music, and jazz singing, has been joyous. I can now sing a passable Carmen McRae impression in my shower, and that means something to me. There will be more posts about my jazz singing to come, but this post is about my writing procrastination. It wouldn’t be right to continue expounding on how great jazz singing is, in this post.

The terrible thing about writer’s procrastination is that I came up with truly interesting and important additions to my life to give myself an outlet for my creativity. That’s a funny thing about being creative, even when you are blocked from expressing yourself in one vein, the creative blood finds alternative places to flow and give life elsewhere.

I’m not going to make promises in this post that I can’t keep. I won’t say, oh, I’m going to get back to writing immediately and start putting out short stories by the boat load. That would be foolish of me.

But for whatever reason, around this time of year I usually get some urge to write. I’m counting on that to propel me to begin doing something again. I hope soon. The levels of internal resistance I’ve been experiencing are very high, and that resistance has sustained itself for months. I haven’t “forced myself” to sit down and write (which usually results in me becoming instantly sleepy) and instead have channeled the energies elsewhere.

So, stay tuned for a piece of flash fiction in my next post. Perhaps it will be one of many short pieces I may still write before the end of this year. I wish I could say I know that’s true, but right now, I don’t. Still, there is intention here now…and that counts for something.

 

A Creaky Whirligig Addendum: the Twitter-machine

Way back in my personal time machine about a year ago, and prior to that, I was tweeting regularly (and potentially obsessively). I’d tweet for fun, re-tweet news, writerly advice, interact with a bunch of people, and of course tweet stuff from my blog.

Then, as you may know if you are a regular reader, things slowed down. I stopped writing for a long while, my blog posts stuttered to a near halt and I stopped going onto Twitter. The only thing my Twitter account was doing was posting my blog-tweets, and since those were automated I never had to actually log on to do it.

Now, I’m back from my hibernation (even though, ironically, it is the middle of the Winter) and I’m re-emerging from my den. Cozy as the Den of Procrastination may be, after a while you get leg cramps and you realize if you don’t get out of there, you may die from lack of movement. (And we all know Ernest Becker wouldn’t like that.)

Over the past few days I’ve re-acquainted myself with Twitter and I put a few tweets out there, started interacting with some editors of small press journals I know (they’re a friendly bunch!) and geared back up a little bit in that world.

I forgot how addictive Twitter is, but it’s one of those places you go and then you look up from the clock and realize an hour has gone by, or more, depending on how many interesting links you find. Why just today I’ve looked at a list of the happiest countries in the world (Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are #’s 1, 2 and 3 kids…) and a bunch of other random stuff I don’t need to know but which is entertaining and will be useful to whip out at parties (okay, I don’t really go to parties, but in my fantasies I’m invited to salon-style literary parties with writerly types in Manhattan.)

Meanwhile, I’m pleased to say I’ve also updated my submissions tracker. That’s my personal self-torture device to show how many places I’ve submitted short stories, the number of months I’ve been waiting for my standard form rejection letter (I kid, I kid! … sort of) and whether or not I’ve sent a personal query on the status of my work.

For example this morning I got my standard form rejection from the Fairy Tale Review, after sending only two polite personal inquiries at the 8 and 10 month marks (their website assured me I would get a response from them in 4 months.) Ah well, what’s 10 months of waiting for an unsigned standard form rejection between friends?

But I’m on the case! This morning I had 18 outstanding submissions, and now I have 17. I’m tracking. I’m following up, a few times if needed. I’m taking my lumps people. This is how we do it in small press literary journal land.

In order to keep the machine oiled, re-adding Twitter to my mix feels right. When I post this, my blog will auto-tweet this, and somewhere on Twitter somebody might read it. And who knows, somebody who read it might re-tweet it. It could happen.

Meanwhile, I’ve got to get back to writing. Not blog posting, not tweeting, not drinking diet cola beverage, but writing. That’s what we writers are supposed to be doing in between blog posts and tweets, remember?