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Friday, December 13, 2013

Success and the Inner Rabbit

November is over. NaNoWriMo is over. And apparently, so is my writing habit. I know, say it isn’t so. Well, look, I accomplished the goal of writing 50K words of a first draft in November. Fifty thousand words - and some. I wrote at least 1,667 words every day but one. (1,667 X 30=50,000). It felt great. And then December hit. 

What happened? I thought I’d developed my habit. A habit takes about twenty-one days to establish. The daily words didn’t even take all that long, since what I was writing mostly was drivel. I say that without having looked back over my work, yet; but I am sure most of it is drivel. And I haven’t finished my draft. Therefore, I need to produce more drivel. I can work with drivel. Drivel I can revise. But now that the companionship of the other 300,000 people who signed up for NaNoWriMo has dwindled, my writing habit has gone pffffft. Part of it has to do with the busy season. The children have started all their end of semester performances. There are all kinds of things that end up sliding into the work week hours, therefore, because the weekends are taken up with rehearsals and performances. Also, the husband is on call right now, which means interrupted sleep on top of perimenopausal interrupted sleep.

But these are excuses. The real reason is that fear has slowed me down. Once the artificial deadline and word count goal of November 30th passed, my structure disappeared. November was squeezing through a narrow passageway that took all my focus to inch through, doubts and fears about my eventual accomplishment notwithstanding; and then December was
One of many distractions....
coming out the other side of the passage into a vast open space. I’m like a little rabbit, paralyzed by the shadow of a predator overhead.

I’m not sure, in this analogy, what the overhead predator stands for in my life; but you get the idea, Readers, don’t you? My point is the wide open spaces and the blinding light are too much for my Inner Rabbit. The answer seems to be to dart hither and yon until I can create another tunnel-like situation for myself, a place to burrow and write that squeezes the self doubt and fears, if not out entirely, because frankly that seems impossible, to the side.

The question becomes, then, how to do that? Recently, I read a book called Saved, by Ben Hewitt, a journalist who spent a year hanging out with a friend of his who lives off the grid. The financial crisis of 2008 awakened in him the realization that he didn’t know anything about money. So he wanted to follow around this happy go lucky dude who had almost zero of the filthy stuff. Anyway, my takeaway from Ben’s experience was a new understanding of the phrase, “Time is money.” When he looked closely at his friend Eric, bartering for whatever he couldn’t do or get for himself, he saw a free person. Free because he chose what was important enough for him to spend his time - his days, his hours, his minutes doing. Most of those things had nothing to do with earning money. There were many, many ways he could spend his hours and end up earning money; but they weren’t worth the trade off to Eric. Hanging out with Eric, Ben began to think about how many hours it would take of money-earning work to afford, for example, a new car, and began to consider whether that trade was worth making. Because, how you spend your time is how you live. It’s how you pass your life. Maybe a used car would be better. Or a bike.

Whatever we need to do to get that sense of urgency, maybe we should do it. Maybe it’s procrastination. I know, that sounds just plain contrary. But maybe scrunching up against a deadline is the best way to produce a result. I don’t really think so, actually, and I just read somebody’s article about realizing how procrastination was damaging her career because she never produced her best work, just work that met the deadline.

So what would be best would be to have that understanding of life being finite all the time, so you can make sure you focus. That sounds awful, just like those lifeline timers you can download to your desktop that tell you how much longer you have to live. Yikes.

I’m conflating two needs here. (I’m allowed to do that. It’s my blog.) There’s the need to accomplish stuff. Stuff seems to get done best with a sense of urgency, a looming deadline breathing down the neck. I can just hear my former housemate from East Germany ridiculing my very American emphasis on progress and producing. Is it possible not to have a need to accomplish at least something?

The other need is to appreciate the value of life. This could actually lead to ignoring deadlines altogether and channeling one’s inner Ferdinand. Smelling the flowers, being in the moment, or – of this my former housemate from East Germany would approve – drinking beer and having involved conversations with friends about appreciating the value of life. Appreciating the value of life, unfortunately, often requires a shock involving realization of mortality. The beautiful mundane never seems so beautiful as when you wake up after surgery, for example, and discover you are still here.

Good thing I don’t like beer. Because if there’s one thing that sidelines my drive to accomplish stuff, it’s fear. Which brings me back where I started. I do want to finish my sh**ty first draft. So I will simply have to find another tunnel.

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