Treatment Plan #4: Get To the Root
Hey, Insanely Interesting Writerly Women (our name keeps getting longer! ) You provided so many pertinent topics during our Zoom session Saturday, for a minute I didn't know what to use first. I decided that the subject of scheduling time to write is a logical place to start.
After making that choice, there is nothing else logical about "making time to write."
We think it has to be logical and organized, and why wouldn't we? The picture you see here was taken by one of the girls on my TEEN BLOG several years ago. She couldn't have been more than 15, and she was clearly a gifted artist, but she had the whole make-a-plan-and-stick-to-it thing down to a science. She lived in China (if I remember correctly) and had an Asian mom and a British dad, so there was a natural propensity there to be precise. But she was -- and is -- not unlike the rest of us who are surrounded by the pressure to plan. Go into any craft store -- like Joann, Michael's or Hobby Lobby -- not to mention the calendar section at Target, Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart -- heck, even Dollar General -- and you'll find a full display of planners, stickers, stamps and books on how to put it all together. We can't just insert our important dates on Outlook anymore -- we have to make it look good enough to post on Instagram.
We're surrounded by information about making the most of our days. I don't know about you, but I've read more books on time management than I care to admit now. Not all of them had titles like Getting Things Done (it's an actual book). Some have been geared to the creative mind -- Cultivate What Matters, for instance. I've even picked up ideas from some of them that have stayed with me, but for the most part none of these systems is sustainable unless you have a full-time personal assistant to keep the thing flowing. I'm sure I would drive that poor person nuts.
Here's the thing: whether you're a natural planner like me or you would rather chew glass than make a daily schedule or you fall somewhere in between, what goes on a calendar doesn't always apply to things creative. How, then, do we write on a regular basis? I'd write a book called Getting Your Writing Done, but I don't think it would be any more effective than Nike's "Just do it!"
The reason is that creating a writing schedule and trying to stick to it is an act of WILL, and I'm learning that willing yourself to do something. Does. Not. Work. As one of my yoga teachers says flat out: "Accountability is for amateurs." Sure, you can force yourself to do something once. Maybe twice. Perhaps even three times, but you won't do it regularly.
That's why New Year's Resolutions are forgotten in a week, if you get that far with them.
That's why most diets don't stick.
That's why year long Bible studies can go by the wayside.
That's why anything you make yourself do is doomed to failure.
Let's look for a moment at why some diets do result in weight loss and some studies of Scripture become habitual and certain people can quit drinking, go off drugs or give up an unhealthy relationship for good. It happens because the person WANTS to do it. If a gal gets a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, she WANTS to shed those pounds so she doesn't, I don't know ... DIE! If a woman realizes she's lost and only God can restore her to sanity, she WANTS to dive into that Bible and find her truth. If someone hits rock bottom and there is no one there to pull her out but AA, she WANTS to go to 90 meetings in 90 days.
The situation doesn't have to be that drastic for this very basic principle to apply: we do what we truly WANT to do.
"I WANT to write!" you may be wailing (and weeping and gnashing your teeth). "So why don't I?"
We've established that we can't make ourselves do something for very long, even if we want that end result. What then, do we do? We find out WHY. We discover what exactly is standing between us and that thing we long for. And we do that by processing the patterns.
The best way I can explain that is with an example from my own situation.
* I closed my mentoring business for a number of reasons, one of which was that I WANTED to return to my own writing.
* Once I had the space and time, I reworked my entire outline, reorganized my office and turned it into a studio and made a master plan on my giant vision board. That took four months.
* I wrote during that time, though not with the intensity I'd planned. Stuff kept niggling at me. The feedback I got from Donald Maass, which while encouraging wasn't the "Let me be your agent" I'd secretly hoped for. The fact that I haven't written anything for the general market since the 1980's. The creeping doubt that I might be "too old." The realization that I'm basically starting over when most of my friends are collecting Social Security and playing with their grandchildren and taking up watercolor. Yeah, I WANTED to write. But some days it was easier to create an awesome writing lesson for Maeryn or make yet another plan.
* And then because a health issue demanded it, I started working with a yoga therapist, who did a whole lot more than design a practice for me so I could get rid of a two-year headache. I'll spare you all the details, but this marvelous Indian-American woman raised Jain has helped me come closer to my God and to myself than I thought possible. We have uncovered my patterns of shame and the need to be "special" -- my sense of not-enoughness and my endless striving to be worthy -- my fear that I may be a fraud and my constant search for my true self. I still work with Melissa, and I'm enrolled in a year-long program to deepen my yoga. The result is a better understanding of the teachings of Jesus and the realization that all that "stuff" is my false self desperate to spare me from humiliation and failure.
* I retired in November 2019. This genuine shift became apparent in August 2020. That was when I revived our blog. When I shaped a writing rhythm that has been working for me ever since. When I started keeping a writing journal so I can clearly see when those old patterns are creeping in. Because the patterns are never completely gone. We can just get better at recognizing them when they try to drive the bus.
I'm not saying that you should all find a therapist, a counselor or a spiritual director to help you get down to the patterns that are keeping you from doing what you want to do -- although none of those is a bad idea. In fact, if you start digging deep and discover something really upsetting, getting that kind of help is essential. But most of the time we can take steps on our own to begin to uncover what's holding us back.
Want to try some?
1. I recommend going to God in whatever way you best connect to the Divine and laying the whole thing out. Journaling works for me. I can hear Pam shuddering at the very thought, and if you can relate to that, you might go with praying out loud while you walk or hike, using prayer beads to focus your attention or even drawing what you're feeling. Those are all ways of asking God to reveal the blockages.
2. You may find one, perhaps two patterns. I discovered four. I don't suggest dealing with them all at once, but one by one. Spend as much time as you need to writing about that pattern, visualizing it, observing it in yourself. Awareness won't automatically erase it, but unless we are conscious of what we're doing (or not doing!), we have no hope of its being changed.
3. Process with another person. My friends Loretta and Kacky and Zondra are my go-to gals, as well as my daughter Marijean. (My husband is amazing, but he wants to fix. Men do that.) Sometimes we don't know exactly what we're feeling until it comes out of our mouths. And wisdom can come out of THEIR mouths unexpectedly. It's a divine conversation, with God being a third party. It was Kacky who pointed out that I am harder on myself than any other human being she has ever known. Loretta taught me about sitting in adoration of God, without asking anything; who knew the fruits of that could be so sweet? My daughter says things like, "You've been doing it this way for over fifty years. It's going to take a minute to change."
4. Once you're well acquainted with the obstacle, you can dialogue with it (this is where it gets woo-woo, but bear with me). Give it a name. Write a script between the two of you. Tell it that it has served you well in the past but you're trying something different now. The point is to be very, very gentle with yourself .
Notice that none of those steps involves your WILL. You don't have to make yourself do anything. Change will happen -- and we'll talk more about that in posts to come. For now, how about a challenge?
See if you can uncover just ONE pattern that keeps you from doing what you WANT to do, which is write.
I know it isn't going to be perfect, and imperfect makes me feel like a loser.
It feels selfish to write, but if I get everything else done first, I won't feel guilty.
I'm afraid if I do sit down to write, nothing will come, and then I'll know I'm not really a writer.
There's no guarantee this will go anywhere, and I can't do failure. I just can't.
There is no pressure to share that with us, but I hope you can trust this community enough to put it out there. I guarantee you that you will not be alone in thinking, feeling and fearing whatever it is. Are you up for it?
This is a great start, Natasha, and realistically we can only focus on one pattern at a time. right?
Posted by: Nancy Rue | 11/30/2020 at 11:12 AM
Very late on this- but Emii, that is such an insightful realization. I think it's really easy to have things like that underlying our actions and attitudes, but to be able to actually pin that down is really special! Thank you for sharing about that.
For me, I know that if the writing isn't flowing, I will often stop because it's not up to my standards for myself- I am becoming even more of a perfectionist when it comes to writing! I am addressing this, though, by forcing myself to work through the sub-par writing anyways (even though it feels super unpleasant sometimes) because otherwise. I will never get anything done. Also, I'm learning that I can have fun tweaking that not-so-great stuff, because it helps me hone in on exactly what I want my voice to sound like.
I know I have mannnnyyy other patterns though, so I'm definitely going to do some reflecting :) thank you for your wisdom as always Nancy!!!
Posted by: Natasha | 11/27/2020 at 12:33 PM
I would totally give your journal idea a go!
I do have what I call a Joy Journal, that my therapist had me start. I just write down things that give me joy, but maybe other people don't notice. It's kind of a list. Things like:
The mist hovering over the side field.
Maddie's pink nose.
Sparkles on the water.
The tiny soap bubbles that come out of the dish soap container when I squeeze it.
The *ping* of a sealing canning lid.
Stuff like that.
Posted by: Pam Halter | 11/25/2020 at 02:29 PM
Thank you for your encouragement, Pam. And y'know what, I'm learning that we don't have to be good at something to enjoy it. In our society, we tend to want to optimize everything. If you're a halfway decent artist, you "should try to sell your work." How many times have you been told you should market your quilts and sell them on line? My daughter gets that about her knitting all the time. What that does is send the message that if it isn't sellable, it's a waste of time. I'm not saying you should draw what you see. What I AM saying is that we all have to be careful what we say about ourselves. I am not good at _______ takes us away from I enjoy _____________. Yikes, I just wrote a post here!
Posted by: Nancy Rue | 11/24/2020 at 11:04 AM
Emii, you are echoing what I hear ALL the time from writers. That's a very clear picture of a pattern of yours (and a lot of other people's) Tomorrow we'll talk about what to do when we discover those patterns. Thank you!
Posted by: Nancy Rue | 11/24/2020 at 11:00 AM
Those are GREAT ideas, Colleen. Thank you!
Posted by: Nancy Rue | 11/24/2020 at 10:58 AM
That is absolutely like journaling, Pammy. That IS journaling. Not everybody can just sit down and free write three pages. Many of us need that structure, and there is plenty of it available. Bullet journaling also "qualifies." Making a list in answer to a question that's nudging you can be great in itself and it can lead to free writing. For example, a list of the things that are holding you back; a list of five things you would do if there were no "buts"; a list of times when you have been the happiest -- which can lead to writing about what those times had in common and whether you can recapture any of those commonalities. I've been considering putting together and publishing a Doorways Journal -- what do you think? We could field test it here on the blog -- do a sort of guided pilot program. You have nudged me, Pammy!
Posted by: Nancy Rue | 11/24/2020 at 10:57 AM
Colleen - interesting thought. I do take pics with my phone. I'll have to see what I can do with your idea. Thanks! ((hugs))
Emii - you're totally right about the dream of being published being more attractive. It often is, at least in today's world. But what makes it all worth it is when people (usually strangers) tell you how much your book, or whatever you had published, blessed them. That happens with children's books, too. When my dragon, Willoughby, got his first fan letter, I was over the moon!! It makes you want to keep going.
As for writing to picture prompts, yeah, annotating art. I wish I could draw, but I'm not that good at it, so taking pictures kinda takes the place. :)
Posted by: Pam Halter | 11/23/2020 at 10:11 AM
Oh, I know one of mine! It's that having a dream is a lot more attractive to me than a reality. So, why would I plunge into a second draft when I like the idea of being a published author better than that possibly actually HAPPENING?
Another thing that makes it difficult is simply not knowing what to do. This past year I had a writing goal each day and I wrote my words every single morning. But now that the first draft is done, I don't know how to show up at my desk each day because trying to fix a draft is a lot harder than smashing out a thousand words. It feels like a waste of time, to be honest. I can't see any progress, so why would I do it?
I'll try that dialogue thing. I like this post. Thanks, Nancy.
I like how pictures prompt you, PAM. That sounds like a great way to get yourself reflecting/considering things. Kind of like annotating an image in an art class.
Posted by: Emii | 11/23/2020 at 12:16 AM
Good Morning! I want to acknowledge this post and that I will reread before commenting.
Pam, IMHO, absolutely that is journaling. In fact, I have a friend who has started doing that very thing with pictures. I believe she is even video journaling. Perhaps when you take a picture, and assuming you do so on your phone, you could voice record your thoughts in the moment? Then you could either make a digital album with captions or get a big ole wonderful hard copy album, print out your pictures, and do captions? Just some ideas. I always think it’s wonderful when someone is visual. I’m so cerebral. Sigh...you are blessed, my friend.
Hugs to you all. I shall return!
Posted by: Colleen | 11/22/2020 at 07:28 AM
Finding the counselor I have right now has saved my life. Wendy hears what I'm not saying, tells me I'm not a bad person (and makes me believe it), points me always to God, and more. The thing is, you have to find the RIGHT one. The wrong counselor can make you worse. I know this from experience.
Yeah, I shudder at the thought of journaling ... but ... not as much as I used to. Is that a sign of getting older? haha! I love walking and taking pictures, which always helps me figure out what to do when I'm stuck. I'm super visual (which means I have to be so careful at what I watch), so picture prompts get me writing almost immediately. I love doing that!
So, I'm wondering if there's a way I can walk and take pictures and turn that into journaling somehow. I found I enjoyed writing my thoughts when our church did a 30 day Bible study for personal revival. There was a schedule to follow, which helped me. And the pastor encouraged us to write our thoughts after we read the prayer focus and Scripture that accompanied it. I did it faithfully for 30 days and missed it when it was done.
Is that like journaling?
Posted by: Pam Halter | 11/20/2020 at 04:34 PM