“A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.”
Emily Dickinson

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

In Which Composting Happens on Purpose
Mon 2011-09-05 21:41:16 (in context)
  • 2,615 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today was a lovely productive day.

Well... more productive than many days have been.

And... the producing was sort of spread out over the entire day with large breaks in between for 3-player Dominion (base set + Intrigue; picked up Cornucopia but haven't opened it yet) and Plants vz. Zombies (Vasebreaker Endless).

And also... productivity only happened at all thanks to Glitch being closed up between play-tests. When it comes to my various video game addictions, I have about as much self-control as does my cat Uno when encountering a loaf of bread on the table and no humans within earshot.

(There is a point here to be made about the similarity between collecting resources in Glitch and repeatedly hitting a slot machine's button in a casino, but I suspect that will wait until I finally get to my Renovation blogging. My much delayed but definitely planned Renovation blogging.)

But, all self-deprecating caveats aside, stuff done up and got done. And not just Examiner-blogging and DMS articles (although two DMS articles in a day is pretty big, for me; that hasn't happened in months). No. Some of it was fiction.

Getting anything done at all was a bit of a feat considering that Mondays usually start off with four or five hours at Abbondanza Organic Seeds & Produce, helping out the crew in some capacity or another. Today being Labor Day meant no guaranteed exception. Three years of weekly farm shifts, more or less, have led me to forget holidays exist; plants don't stop growing just because the post office closed its doors, you see. But on July 4 this year I showed up only to discover that sometimes farm crews do take holidays. So it seemed wise to double-check. Good thing, too. The reply came, telling me to stay home and enjoy a day off.

Now, Mondays that start on the farm, if the work is hard and the sun is hot, usually send me to bed for the afternoon and leave me in a daze for the rest of the evening. Writing-wise, they go nowhere. But Mondays where unforseen circumstances keep me home also tend to go nowhere, too. It's like part of my brain is punishing me for letting folks down. "Don't think this means you get to enjoy the day, you lazy sod. You don't get rewarded for weaseling out of your shift."

(This part of my brain is not well disposed towards me. Next time it shows up I think I should make it some hot tea and give it Velvet the unicorn to hug. Maybe I should do that for myself, too, next time I'm in a snit and hard to be around.)

But today I stayed home and work got done. (I suspect that having been explicitly told to stay home helped assuage the punishment monster.) Work got done... and fiction actually got worked on. Working on fiction was what I set out to blog about, here. ("Remember Alice? This is a song about Alice...")

Looking back, I think two things made a huge difference. One was deciding that fiction was going to come first today. The second thing was deciding that "fiction" meant something specific. More specific than "Write a new short story." More specific even than "Work on that short story you claim tried to eat your brain last week, whatever happened to that, eh?" More specific even. "Do you really need a Maiden/Mother/Crone triad in this story?" There.

John gets credit for this. Some time ago, when I was describing my checklist method for getting through a day's work, my husband got skeptical and questioned the effectiveness of a checklist item that simply read "Fiction." The likelihood of a task getting done, he pointed out, is directly proportional to how well defined that task is. His advice stuck with me, somewhere in the vague back of my head, and it jumped out and pounced on me in the shower this morning.

So the question Does a Demeter/Persephone story benefit from being conflated with the Maiden/Mother/Crone template, and if so, who is the Crone? sort of rattled away in my brain, until I remembered this wonderful article a friend of mine wrote about the Mysteries at Eleusis. And then I got to poking the internet until more stuff about Baubo fell out. Baubo was, to oversimplify things terribly, an old woman who cheered Demeter up during the time of Persephone's abduction by, depending on the version of the story, telling lewd jokes, dancing suggestively, and/or lifting up her skirt and flashing her lady-bits.

That's awesome. I suddenly had this image of Demi standing at the window of a big house up by Wonderland Lake, staring out into the rain, wishing she didn't have to go through Cory's death all over again, and hoping that old Billie Rae wasn't going to do something embarrassing at the wake tonight. (These names are probably temporary. I suck at names.)

And then the last scene in the story totally rewrote itself in my head. Whereas before the Crone figure would come in and be very serious about the unpleasant ritual thing that had to happen, now I saw her coming in with a joke and a silly grin. And her jovial attitude would make the unpleasant ritual thing seem even more dire than a serious all-business attitude would.

I didn't actually commit new words to paper. But I got a new lead on the story. That's huge. It's like I'd entered a circular maze last week but found the inner wall sealed until today, when a new door opened up and allowed me one step closer to the center.

It's like, instead of putting off a story for weeks and weeks and feeling terribly guilty about it and then realizing later that those weeks and weeks had to happen for the story to turn out the way it did, I sat down and made composting happen on purpose.

As is often the case, Havi Brooks speaks directly to this important difference:

This is what most people in the "productivity" world aren't realizing. Procrastination is almost never actual procrastination. It's almost always just this:

You processing or letting something percolate + fear + guilt

That's all it is. If you remove the guilt and the fear, it turns out that you're not procrastinating at all, you're just thinking about something.

So this morning was like every other morning that's come and gone since the brain-hijacking incident, in that I didn't actually write the new draft of the story. But this morning was different because instead of lying down under a guilt-inducing herd of stampeding shoulds, I sat up and did the "thinking about something" deliberately. This was active composting. And rather than focusing on the not writing part, which always results in feeling like a failure, I specifically gave myself permission to consider it progress, because that's exactly what it was. A door opened up in what was previously smooth, unbroken wall. Progress.

Active composting: Highly recommended.