doing more by expecting less
When it comes to Great Big Tasks What I Am Avoiding Like Whoa, less is more. Small goals are less threatening than big goals. And giving big goals a less imposing deadline doesn't make them less scary; it just makes them loom from farther off.
Having big goals like "Make a first pass at a revision this week" or "Finish the revision by the end of the month and submit the story" is great if the aim is to make my stomach churn with acid and my brain churn with self-loathing. It's not so great if the aim is to revise and resubmit that story.
A smaller goal, like "Spent 15 minutes tonight making a list of elements to be retained from the scene to be deleted," is a lot less threatening and therefore a lot more doable.
By a striking coincidence, that's what I did today. I made that list.
But I didn't just make a list. Each list item got some babble about how that element might be repositioned in the new draft. And along the way I wound up reshaping the next scene in the story, putting the key incidents into a new order that made sense as a new home for the elements salvaged from the deleted scene.
Less really is more. When I set smaller goals, I feel freer to stretch a little past those goals. It's much easier to be an overachiever when expectations are human-sized. Also, smaller goals make it easier to just start already, and starting has a way of continuing. It's sort of the same principle whereby "Oh, no big deal, I'll just read through the story real quick" turns into an hour of almost compulsive line edits.
And smaller goals are a kindness. Big goals carry the weight of ultimatum: "Get this done or you're a failure!" "Get this done or you'll miss out!" Ultimatums are not kind--they're a kind of threat. Whereas small goals have kindness built in, and encouragement, and appreciation too--somewhere between "Could you do me a favor?" and "I bet you can do it. Give it a try, OK? For me? I knew you could!"
You can think of it as being gentle with the inner child, or encouraging Creative Brain to come out and play. Or, if that sounds a little too woo to you, you can think of it is "Be nice to yourself, all right? Who else can you count on to be nice to you, if not you?"
In the immortal words of Kurt Vonnegut, "God damn it, you've got to be kind."
So I guess the small goal for tomorrow is... to take a copy of the second scene, reorder it according to today's idea, and then insert the elements from today's list. To be clear: I'm not expecting myself to rewrite the scene. I'm giving myself the purely mechanical task of block-cut-and-pasting paragraphs and then typing up notes in square brackets at the appropriate places.
I'm good at purely mechanical tasks. Purely mechanical tasks are not scary. Tab A into Slot B, fetch and carry, copy and paste. Moving things around. Genius isn't required. Perfection isn't the point. No need to get anything right, just get it done.
But if in the middle of that purely mechanical task I find myself moved to, oh, maybe perform a few line edits here, tidy up some dialog there, well, I'm not going to hold myself back or anything.
a bunch of lessons involving patience and time management
First thing I learned today was about my knee. There is good news and there is bad news about my knee.
The good news is that the MRI revealed nothing worse nor more than what the doctor suspected. It's either a grade 1 (strain) or grade 2 (partial tear) of the ACL. No other part of the knee has been damaged. The doctor was particularly pleased to see healthy meniscus tissues.
The bad news is that things are not better than what the doctor suspected, and I won't be back on skates for some four to six weeks. That sucks and makes me sad and frustrated about the timing of my injury. If I had not been injured, I would have participated in travel team try-outs this weekend; if I had participated, I'd have had at least a hope of making it onto the All Stars team this season; if I had made All Stars I'd have a chance of being rostered for the Dust Devil tournament in March. No guarantees, of course. Just chances. But being off-skates until March is a guaranteed no chance at all.
If I reel in my impatience, I can remind myself that there will still be lots of season left when I return to the track. Plenty of time for me to get in on the action no matter where I'm rostered. And I've been skating pretty much non-stop since my first season. Six weeks off is no tragedy, not really. And it could have been worse! It could have been a complete tear, requiring surgery and a much longer off-skates recovery time. But it wasn't, and it didn't, and March isn't all that far away.
Until then, I'm supposed to take it easy, let things heal, wear my brace when moving around, and attend my upcoming physical therapy appointments.
And be patient.
What else did I learn today?
I learned, or relearned, that oil-based wood stain takes more than four hours to dry. By the time I wanted to stain the second side of the door, the first side was still sticky, darn it. I suppose I'll either do it last thing tonight, or, more likely, first thing tomorrow. No need to hurry, that's what I keep telling myself.
(Maybe I'll come to believe it.)
I learned that you can't trust a Rocky Mountain front range wind to continue blowing in the same direction all afternoon long, which means you need to pause before brushing off your sanding surface each time to check the wind. That is, if you don't want to get sawdust all over your clothes and in your eyes.
(And all over your borrowed knee brace.)
And I learned, or relearned, that it's not worth it to spend three and a half hours on a Puzzle Pirates Examiner article and slideshow. I'd been meaning to talk about the Duty Navigation puzzle, yes, but I didn't need to go on that long. I should have split the dang thing into four posts once I saw how wordy everything was getting. But no, I kept it all in the same post and made five different images to upload--for probably less overall return than if I'd split it up and not bothered with slideshows, come to think of it.
And had no time left afterward for working on my short story revision. Dang it.
It's OK. Whatever I didn't get to today, I'll have time for tomorrow, just so long as I move it up to the top of tomorrow's priority queue. That's the theory, anyway. No need to shove every single thing in every single day, so long as everything gets to happen sometime.
the low cost of entry for staircase resentment
Took me long enough, but today I finally got back to the Living Room Closet Door project.
John, to give credit where credit is due, has already gotten back to work on his portion of the home improvement projects, which is to say, repainting whatever still needs repainting. He's more or less finished the bathroom as of last week and plans to do the bathroom door tomorrow. But I didn't manage to bestir myself upon those closet doors until today.
When we left for New Orleans, I was working on the third of the four bi-folds. I'd finished stripping the paint off both panels, but I'd only half-sanded the one. This was disappointing; I'd wanted to get it done and reinstalled before we left. This became unfeasible, so I consoled myself with the intention to jump right back into it the moment we returned to Boulder.
Which didn't happen. Pretty much every day up to January 10 was filled up with preparations for Epic Derby Weekend. And pretty much everything since has been filled up with the aftermath of the left knee sprain/strain. Again, it could so easily have been worse--I'm grateful there were no broken bones nor surgery involved (knock on wood, spit three times)--as injuries go, this is peanuts--but even so, things have been exhausting. Making appointments, going to appointments, acquiring this borrowed brace and deciding when to wear it, getting used to wearing it, staying aware of the injury so I don't reinjure it--no wonder I've been sleeping late and napping heavily.
As anyone who's sustained an injury (or is otherwise disabled) knows, you have to develop strategies just for moving around your world. My mobility was noticeably limited on the day after the injury. At brunch, getting from our table to the bathroom was sort of serious business. Getting down the stairs to the car so we could go to brunch was kind of awful. Just putting on my shoes was demoralizing. I was able to do it myself--just--but there was a brief spell of tears and despair on my way there.
It's been a lot better since, to the point that I'm wearing the brace primarily to remind myself that I'm injured and need to take care. Nevertheless, certain maneuvers, such as stepping over the bi-fold panel propped up on its buckets, or sitting down on the floor to smear wood putty into the panel's munched-up corner, requires conscious planning on a limb-by-joint level.
In any case, that panel is sanded to my satisfaction now, and the wood putty is drying. Tomorrow I'll stain it, and over the next couple of days I'll coat it with polycrylic. If I can also sand the other panel tomorrow and get my writing done, that would be fantastic. I like to do the sanding outside in order to minimize the need to vacuum inside. But that requires good weather outside, and there's a chance of snow on Wednesday.
I'm really tired of being in this prolonged limbo between having put most of our belongings in storage in order to stage the condo unit for listing, but not having finished the home improvement projects needed before we can list. I want to get these closet doors done, all the doors repainted, the kitchen repainted, and everything else that needs doing done so we can sell the place already.
And this third-floor business is for the birds. I totally saw this coming, y'all. I was telling people last summer that one of my personal reasons for wanting us to move was "I skate roller derby. I risk injury on a weekly basis. I need to live somewhere accessible." And now I am injured. Again, it could be worse. Thank goodness I'm not on crutches or in a wheelchair. So many people have it so much worse than I! But it doesn't take that much of an injury to come to resent deeply those 28 steps I have to climb or descend just to leave or come home.
this fictionette got taken apart to see what its insides look like
- 1,199 words (if poetry, lines) long
Today: The Friday Fictionette for January 16! Also, baby's first MRI, I think, and a brief rant about the politics surrounding women's reproductive care.
This week's Friday Fictionette (excerpt here) is a fantasy short-short that wandered into the horror zone. This happens sometimes. I actually do identify as a horror writer, which sometimes surprises people. "You? Write that? But you seem so sweet!" It's oddly similar to the reaction that some of my family and friends had when they found out I play roller derby. "You? I can't imagine you doing that..."
(My usual response is, "You don't have to imagine it! Read this short story! Come watch a bout!")
Thankfully, I'm more or less surrounded by people who are happy to adjust their mental image of me to accommodate new data. Not everyone is that lucky. I know... well, I'm sure I know one or two people who'd rather get me to adjust my life to conform to their mental image, but right now I can't think of who they are. I'm sure they're hugely outnumbered.
Speaking of roller derby, and why I haven't been skating this week, I had my MRI today. That was fun. I think it was my first time getting one--if not, it was my first time in about 10 years. I may have gotten MRI'd, or maybe CAT scanned, when I had that horrible migraine scare involving loss of peripheral vision and sudden unaccustomed klutziness. I think that's when I found out that the correct answers to "Are you claustrophobic? Would you like a Valium to help with that?" are no and also no, at least for me. What's worse than being scared of a medical procedure? Being scared and knowing that my body has been drugged into a sluggish dead weight, so I can't fight or run away! Not doing that shit ever again, thank you very much.
Anyway. Have you ever had an MRI done? It goes something like this.
First, they ask you a bunch of questions. Are you pregnant or do you think you might be pregnant? Do you have a pace maker? Have you any metal bits inside of you? Previous surgeries? Are you pregnant? History of kidney failure or kidney disease? History of cancer? Might you possibly be pregnant? What about--
Yes, I know I'm repeating the pregnancy thing. They repeat it a lot. They repeat it more than they repeat the other things. They even have a placard in the changing/locker room, "IF YOU THINK YOU MIGHT BE PREGNANT, TELL YOUR TECHNICIAN IMMEDIATELY." This is, of course, after you've filled out all the paperwork that asked all the questions. Basically, if you're a woman, you are presumed not to be able to answer this question honestly until it has been asked sixty gazillion times, by every person in the office as well as by the walls themseleves. Apparently, uterus-equipped humans are stupid and untrustworthy. "All right! All right. You got me. I was gonna just not say anything, because the condom broke last night, and coming in for an MRI seemed more convenient than the morning after pill, but since you asked me for the tenth time, I'll come clean."
I mean, seriously, they ask you about pace-makers all of twice: once on the phone when you make the appointment, and once on the paperwork you fill out in the office. Clearly the industry is a lot more concerned with the possibility of killing a fetus you may or may not know about and may not even want than they are with killing you. If you're able to get pregnant, that makes you everyone's property and everyone's business and everyone's responsibility, and also utterly incompetent as an adult. And also expendible as a life in your own right.
Do I sound bitter? I might just possibly be. I don't hold it against the specific place where I got my MRI, understand; it's just the prevailing social politics of women's medical care that I'm fed up with.
Once you answer all the questions satisfactorily, you divest yourself of all your metal objects. This done, you are ushered into the imaging lab, which looks like the docking station for a very small spaceship. They slide you into the very small spaceship. Then they give you a call button to push if you need someone, a set of noise-cancelling headphones, and the instruction to lie as still as you can for the next twenty minutes.
Then they leave the room. At which point you start hearing scary alarm noises, and you wonder if maybe you should have left the room too, because it is evidently on fire. Or maybe it's about to get bombed. Isn't that what air raid sirens sound like?
The noises soon change from "whoop! whoop! whoop!" to variations on "d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d," at which point you realize that although the machine looked like a small spaceship it was in actuality a gigantic dot matrix printer. Or maybe a Braille writer. Braille writers are louder.
(When they offered me the headphones, I asked them, "What're they playing?" They told me, "Anything you want! Right now it's James Brown." I'm glad they told me. Once the noises started up, there was no way I could have figured it out for myself.)
About five minutes into the process you realize that you don't actually like having your hands clasped over your belly. It seems to constrict your breathing. And your fingers are slipping. And your right shoulder doesn't feel entirely supported by the bed. How narrow is this bed, anyway? And the knee they're taking pictures of is kind of tired of being straight out. And you would like to scratch your nose. Can I move now, please? How about now?
(Given how twitchy I got today, I'm not sure how I got through LASIK without twitching anywhere above my neck. On the other hand, LASIK took only about five minutes per eye.)
Then at last you hear the "whoop! whoop! whoop!" siren again, and it's over. You get up, reclaim your things, go pay what you owe for the procedure (ouch), and receive a CD which you are to take to the doctor for your follow-up appointment. (Have we no email? Have we no FTP? Maybe this is a HIPAA security precaution, that they can't just send the digital images over to your doctor direct?) And then you're free! Free to go home and collapse in the bed, because lying still for a medical procedure is apparently exhausting as hell.
That was my adventure with magnetic imaging today. No answers regarding a recovery plan yet, however. I don't get to talk with my doctor about the results until Tuesday morning. Alas.
Until then, fingers crossed.
happiness subtraction and things that end in CL
The doctor examined and palpitated and probed my knee and questioned me thoroughly about what hurts and what doesn't. "And you say this feels a lot like your injury two years ago? And that one was diagnosed as a hamstring sprain? Hmm." Because she doesn't think this is a sprained hamstring at all. She thinks it is at the very least a mildly strained ACL.
I DID NOT WANT TO HEAR ANYTHING THAT ENDED IN "CL" TODAY.
But only mildly strained! Probably! But there's nothing like misdiagnosis for encouraging yourself to make an injury worse. "I'm confident we'll get you back skating this season," she said, "but I don't want to get you back out on the track too soon and risk this turning into a complete ACL tear." So there will be an MRI as soon as we can schedule one. (And I will be grateful for our medical insurance and our savings account.) And then we will know enough to put together a recovery plan.
And for now, there will be no skating. There will hardly be any exercise. The doctor was ambivalent about letting me do any of my old PT exercises at all. "Just range of motion stuff," she said, "no strength building yet. Let the ACL heal and keep icing until we get the swelling down." There will be rest and icing and ibuprofen and there will be sadness.
(Apparently there's a faction that disrecommends icing, but I think there's a huge stretch from the studies they cite to the conclusion they're peddling. I'm going to listen to the doctor who actually looked at my knee before I listen to some article on the internet, especially one that's pushing an unhealthy dose of FUDS--fear, uncertainty, and doubt.)
So I'm wearing my borrowed brace, doing range-of-motion exercises gently and slowly, hobbling around, avoiding the ice on the ground wherever I can, and grumbling. A lot.
BRB, drowning my sorrows in short story rewrites and Examiner posts.
OK, yes, and in Puzzle Pirates.
i have a sad, so i am counting my happies
As expected, I did not skate at BCB's first practice in the "Barn Shelter" tonight. As expected, this made me sad. So I am thinking of cheerful things, so as to keep the sad away.
Some immediate cheerful things are right here on the desk with me. They are a bottle of beer and a bowl of pasta. Tasty things to eat and drink are inherently cheerful. They add cheerfulness to the sum of cheerfulness at the cheerful end of the cheerful/not-cheerful see-saw. What I'm saying here is, even if you're not all that happy, treating your tummy and tastebuds to something yummy is an easy, no-effort way to increase your happy points score, if only by a little.
Some cheerful things happened today. John and I went to see Into the Woods at the Cinnebar in Louisville. Being somewhat familiar with the musical, I was worried there might be an excess of Disneyfication in the film adaptation. It turns out there was not. With regards to Act II, Disney did not flinch. Oh, the body count is slightly lower, but mostly that's because the character count is too. Where in one really notable case they spared a main character's life, it was very much not to make a happier ending. It arguably made another character's ending that much more tragic. (Yes, I'm circumlocuting. I'm spoiler-adverse. Go see the movie.)
More importantly: the adaptation is really good. It's faithful to the feel of a Broadway musical, not just in preserving the score but also in preserving the sense of limitations in what you can show onstage. Which is not to say that they didn't take advantage of the possibilities of film, but rather that the choices they made were artful and wise.
Some cheerful things had to do with writing! For the first time since October, I put up a post on Boulder Writing Examiner. Yes, my Examiner gigs are supposed to be at a much lower priority than my fiction. It's not meant to be a huge deal. But after two months without a single post on BWE (and barely anything on Puzzle Pirates Examiner other than the obligatory weekend blockade round-ups), it feels triumphant. Like waving a flag and shouting, "Not dead yet!"
I also finally put up all the accompanying material for last week's Friday Fictionette. The Wattpad version of the teaser is up, as are the excerpt and cover notes posts on Patreon. Woot! Just in time to swing into action on this week's edition.
And some cheerful things are coming soon in the future. As you know, I have been reading and thinking about the wisdom of Havi Brooks quite a lot lately. And one of my thoughts was, "It's a brand new year. It's been a while since I purchased a Fluent Self product and made myself feel happy and creative and productive thereby. Maybe it's time." Right on cue, Havi announced a New Year's "Plum Duff Days" half-off sale! So I ordered myself a copy of the DIY Rally/Retreat kit, which will arrive any day now.
By stunning coincidence, the DIY Rally/Retreat kit includes a 2015 calendar. I was just thinking I'd like a new wall calendar...
Anyways, it appears that Plum Duff Days continue through January 19th. For information on that, read a recent post by Havi (this'll do nicely) and look for the Plum Duff link and password.
Yet more cheerful future things: "Broken Bombers Trivia" tomorrow night (a group of BCB skaters, the core of whom are on injury league of absence, show up for Geeks Who Drink and rock the house), me getting back on skates very carefully on Thursday night, the knee brace that a league member loaned me for my sprain recovery, the fact that I'm almost done my writing for the day and can play on Puzzle Pirates for a bit before bedtime, a whole new day full of possibilities will begin when I wake up tomorrow...
My! The world is full of cheerful things. I am a very lucky person!
please excuse fleur from class today, she got all used up this weekend
I'm very sorry. The Friday Fictionette went up on Saturday morning instead of Friday afternoon. It did, however, go up, so you can now read the excerpt here or, if you feel like chucking a buck in my direction, downloading the whole thing as a PDF. It's called "Three Reasons to Be Afraid of the Dark," and it's about a wizard.
Not that it's an excuse... well, it is an excuse. I am full of excuses. But it's a good excuse. I just had a ridiculously big roller derby weekend, this weekend. First, there was the annual Black & Blue Ball on Friday, for which outfits needed to be assembled, gifts needed to be packaged, and pot-luck contributions needed to be arranged. Then, at last, it was time to actually go to the event. Basically, it was tons of the sort of fun that swallows up a whole day. There is always a price to be paid for fun.
Speaking of paying the price, I'm eternally grateful to our Events Committee for putting on the Ball in the first place. For them, it was everyone's fun that took up probably weeks of their spare time and energy. So. A toast!
Saturday, our league hosted a mix-up bout tournament. That's another event that takes a huge helping out of everyone's lives to make happen. And this one I feel like I can speak to with a little authority, since I'm on the Bout Production Committee. I don't feel like I near hardly pulled my own weight there, though; next bout I hope to be of more help. We set up the venue starting at 1:30, the coaches checked in at 4:30, my team started warming up at 5:15, the venue was done and cleaned up by 9:45 or so, and we were at the afterparty until 11:00. So that was Saturday.
I would have been more cheerful about the whole thing if I weren't done and out of the tournament by about 6:20. My third or maybe fourth time out on the track, I managed to sprain my knee, and that was it. The only time I hit the track after that was to join my team for their consolation/congratulation laps. Otherwise, I was sitting down with ice on my knee, or very carefully floating around the venue, keeping my left leg as stationary as possible while propelling or stopping with my right. It sounds stupid that I didn't immediately take my gear off, but, oddly enough, skating was easier on the injured joint than walking was.
And of course Sunday morning I could barely put on my own shoes. The knee didn't want to bend enough to get the foot into arm's reach.
I whine, I complain, but in reality, I'm very lucky. Three seasons of roller derby, and my worst injuries have been sprains. I know at least three skaters who are out with broken ankles at various stages of recovery, and one who tore an ACL on a skiing trip not two weeks after passing her minimum skills test. She was looking forward to trying out for the travel teams, but now she's out for at least six months. It's heartbreaking. A sprained knee? That's nothing. The timing was disappointing (seriously, knee, couldn't you have waited until the last ten minutes of our final bout instead of the first ten minutes of our first? sheesh), but I'll probably be back in action in just a few weeks. I'm very, very lucky.
And I benefit from having gone through the exact same injury two years ago. I'm not going to keep reinjuring myself for two months before taking it seriously. I'm taking it seriously right now. I'm taking it to the doctor on Wednesday, I'm pulling out my old physical therapy instructions and doing the exercises, I'm borrowing a knee brace from a league mate--all the good things.
Speaking of lucky, on Sunday we got to lay track in our brand new practice location. We have been on month-to-month leases for years, and 2014 found us homeless not once but twice. But now one of our very own skaters has offered to be our landlord. She's given us half her huge barn to convert into track space, and we're happy to pool our resources and put in the sweat equity to do it. The dirt floor got pounded flat and covered with plastic last week, and yesterday we assembled the sport court and taped the track boundaries. Today another crew from the league came in to take care of a few remaining tasks. Tomorrow night we'll have our first practice there. (Which I will probably miss, thanks to the sprained knee. Drat.)
I was on the track laying crew yesterday. Wouldn't miss it for the world. Sure, my left knee was stiff and swollen, sure, I was hobbling a bit, but as long as I moved slowly and carefully I was able to cary sport court tile around and lay it in place. I was even able to very carefully stomp the tooth-in-loop connections down with my right heel.
I won't say it didn't hurt my heart not to be one of the first people skating on the track. But seeing people skating on it Sunday afternoon gave my heart a lot more joy than pain.
Today? Pfeh. I have been absolutely useless today. I was owed an absolutely useless day, darn it, and I darn well took it. So there.
look behind you isn't that a drabble
- 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
I knew I was going to forget! December 31st came and went, and I totally forgot. It wasn't until I was pulling up my Category Archive page on Specklit to include in my updated writing resume that I realized that my latest drabble is up over there.
Since today was empty of anything but whining to blog about--seriously, I slept pathetically late and got just about nothing done before going to the Denver Roller Dolls' drop-in friendly endurance practice tonight--well, it seemed appropriate to distract you with drabbles!
Far as I can tell, there are three basic types of drabble. There's the one that ends in a punchline: drabble as joke. There's the one that's more of a still-life, each sentence moving the camera focus slowly toward the powerful reveal: drabble as set piece, I guess? And there's the type that's flash fiction in micro, a tiny snapshot that includes just enough detail and motion to imply a longer story. That last sort is my favorite, but probably the hardest for me to write. I'm not sure I've achieved it, but I think I've at least wound up somewhere in the vicinity.
I will not have a drabble up during the first quarter of 2015, alas. Specklit is a market that never buys one drabble per author at a time, and I only submitted two. If one fell short, the other would fall with it. Of course, for all I know, neither was quite up to snuff (though I'm personally very proud of the one based on "The Emperor's New Clothes," and must make sure to find a new potential home to send it to). Anyway, I'm going to try to use all the time between now and the Quarter 2 submission deadline to put together a full ten-drabble portfolio. (Yes, while I'm working on my short story revision and my novel revision. Optimism!) As it turns out, Virtual Writers' World, one of my online sources for daily writing prompts, encourages "Dash 'n' Drabble" Fridays. It makes it easy to roll weekly drabble production into my daily freewriting.
woe! an incomplete dragon
Sometimes, with this blog, you get woo. Sometimes you get excerpts from my dream journal, complete with possible interpretations. Sometimes you get lucid dreams, astral projection, magic, witchcraft, spirituality, religion.
And sometimes you get conversations with imaginary people.
Re-reading Havi's post on avoidance yesterday led to rereading also the post by Emma Newman that inspired it and then Havi's post about sitting down and having a friendly chat with your fears. There are other ways to deal with fear than facing them down, as it turns out, and I'm getting a lot out of them now.
Emma's post was about finding sufficient courage to be her own hero. Which put me in mind of the classic Knight in Shining Armor facing down a Dragon. So I started thinking of my story, the one whose revision I've been avoiding, as a dragon. Big. Big, scary dragon. Rugged scale and sharp claws and teeth the size of mammoth tusks. DRAGON, blocking the road.
It's the story itself that's the dragon, and the road it's blocking is THE ROAD TO WRITERLY SUCCESS. It's that important to me. If I don't pass it (revise and resubmit the story), I lose as an author.
Wait, you might say. That's all-or-nothing thinking, there. A career is bigger than one story. What if you just, well, go around the dragon? You could work on a different story, progress toward WRITERLY SUCCESS along a different road.
But the problem with that is, what if the next time I have a story on the brink of possible publication, needing only a rewrite to make an editor fall in love with it... I give up on that too? THERE ARE OTHER DRAGONS OUT THERE. It would be one thing if this were just not the story to work on right now... but right now the possibility we're courting is most definitely "I never finish anything because I get scared and run away."
It's down to habits, right? And skills. And patterns. Finishing and submitting stories is a skill I want to get better at, a habit I want to foment, and a pattern I want to establish.
Anyway. My story is a DRAGON blocking my road and I am a HEROIC KNIGHT challenging it!
But I don't want to slay my story!
But the dragon... wants me to slay it? "Finish me off," it's saying, "Finish me off!"
But, no, I misheard. What the dragon is actually saying is, "Finish me up! Finish me up!"
So I look closer at the dragon. And its nose is missing. And its internal furnace lacks necessary components. And its wings are crooked! And it's so very, very afraid that it will never be a finished dragon who can soar and breathe fire.
The dragon needs a hero, y'all. That's what I found out last night when I took my ten minutes or so to sit with my avoidance. The unfinished dragon needs a hero who can make it complete. I'm going to be its hero, y'all. That's what I'm gonna do.
This morning there were more discoveries, because I had that chat with my fear I was meaning to have. It went something like this:
ME: So, hey there, fear. You're here, aren't you? I can be OK with that. What are you afraid of?
FEAR: (Huddling in a corner, the picture of misery) I'm afraid that you'll take one look at your story and find out it's a terrible story. And you'll be ashamed of yourself for writing it.
MY UNSPOKEN REACTION: Well... that's silly, isn't it? I mean, an editor looked at that story and said, "There is much to love here." Then that editor took personal, precious time to do a rough edit on it, just to show me how she imagines it could be made it better.
ME: OK, I respect that fear. It's scary stuff. Let me ask you this: What if you're right? What if looking at my story did make me ashamed of myself? What then?
FEAR: (Huddled tighter in abject terror) It... it doesn't bear thinking about.
MY UNSPOKEN REACTION: Well, dammit, that's not helpful. Think about it anyway! No, that's mean and aggressive and hostile, and the poor thing's clearly terrified....
ME: What do you need to feel safe enough to think about it it?
FEAR: (No answer, just more misery)
ME: Here's what I think will happen if I become ashamed of myself as a writer: I might stop writing. Which is indeed awful! But... how is that different from what's happening now? By paralyzing me with fear, you're creating the awful outcome that you're trying to avoid. That isn't very helpful, is it?
FEAR: (Silent. Miserable. Maybe a little shamefaced.)
ME: Honey, I appreciate that you're trying to keep me safe. I really do! But I need to be able to write, so, fair warning, I'm going to work on my story today. But here's what I will do: First, before I even think about rewriting it, I will read it through as is, beginning to end, looking for all the reasons I have to feel proud of that story. Your timely warning that SHAME might be lurking right around the corner has enabled me to dodge that hell out of that jerk and keep writing. Seriously, thank you!
FEAR: (Still silent, still huddled, but maybe there's a hint of a smile going on in there. It's nice to feel listened to. It's nice to feel like you've been of help.)
All of the above was actually kind of surprising. I didn't know the dragon was going to have no nose. I didn't know what FEAR was going to say. But I guess it's not too different from day-to-day writer-brain. I mean, when I'm freewriting or writing rough draft, half the time I don't know what I'll be writing three sentences from now. It shouldn't be so surprising that when I create a character called FEAR and I invent a conversation with her, she says things I didn't know she was going to say.
Anyway, I still need to do what I promised FEAR that I'd do. It's late, I've been out to Brighton (which is an hour away), I skated for two hours at the very edge of my endurance then two hours more just for fun--but I think I can manage to read myself a story before bedtime.
revisiting destuckification and legitimizing the avoidance
I said "solid work week," and I meant it, gosh darn it. And today has been a solid, if oddly scheduled, work day. I haven't reached my five hours yet, but I will, even if it takes me right up to 1:00 AM. Even if it means I have to ... *gulp* start working on the short story rewrite.
Remember that bit about how procrastinated tasks get heavier and heavier the longer I put them off? Well, right now that rewrite feels like it weighs some four or five tons of weaponized plutonium. The avoidance tendency is strong with this one. How strong? Strong enough that I tried really, really hard to meet my five-hour quota today by writing resumes. And the volunteer WFTDA Editor position doesn't even require a resume. I lingered lovingly over that application, though. Ditto the new DMS resume. Oh, did I linger.
It is possible that I am lingering inappropriately over this blog post, too...
Avoidance! It's what's for dinner. And also for elevensies. Which means it's time to review some avoidaince-avoidance strategies. That is, strategies for avoiding avoidance.
I come back to Havi's post about avoidance (and how to get out of it) time and time again, hoping it'll magic-bullet me into World Fantasy Award level productivity. Or any sort of productivity. Magic bullets! Why can't there be magic bullets? I was so comforted by Bruce Holland Rogers's book, Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer, where he repeatedly and unashamedly says he doesn't want to do "self-help," he has no patience for "self-help," what he wants are tricks that work. I want a trick that works. But Havi's post (from which all blockquoted bits today are drawn) is really more about ongoing self-help than it is about magic bullets, and I suspect it's because there really aren't any magic bullets.
But it does have a magic bullet for shooting a different problem: My tendency to start getting impatient with myself over the avoidance. Worse than impatient. Angry. Frustrated. Depressed, and wondering whether I've been a fraud all along. When I get like that, I need to reread the following words and hold them close to my heart:
Youíre avoiding the thing thatís holding all your dreams? Good grief! Of course you are! That symbolic weight? Itís that much potential for hurt and disappointment.
If you werenít avoiding it on some level, Iíd be worried about you. If you could do the thing easily and painlessly, without having to spend years and years working on your stuff to get thereÖ Iíd probably assume that it didnít mean everything to you.
"Doc, I have these symptoms that are really worrying me. I want to do the thing, I want to do it so bad... and then I don't do it at all, for weeks at a time. What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing's wrong with you, honey. What you're describing is a symptom of how much you want the thing."
"But that doesn't make any sense!"
"It makes perfect sense, sweetie. The more important a thing is, the scarier it is. The scarier it is, the more you want to run away. Perfectly logical when you look at it that way."
So I reread that post, and I go away with my permission-to-experience-avoidance renewed. Not that I want to experience avoidance, mind you. But I am experiencing it, and I can't exactly work through it while I'm busy denying it. So I need to stop denying it. So I need reassurance that experiencing avoidance doesn't invalidate my I Am A Writer claim. So that's the magic bullet I get out of rereading Havi's lovely post.
And then there's the ongoing self-help work part of the post: sitting with the avoidance and recognizing its legitimacy.
And every time I recognize that itís legitimate for me to feel whatever it is Iím feeling about the way things happened to be, I get room to breathe.
But that sort of self-work takes time. And I don't want to take time about it. I want to get that rewrite done this week!
Which is where the whining and moaning and the "It's not fair!" complaining comes in. Which I guess is OK, as long as--like the famous writer said about writing itself--I indulge in it in private and wash my hands afterwards. So. This is where I run away and have my "It's not fair!" temper tantrum off-stage.
[ muzak interlude ]
OK, I'm back. With thoughts. Here's my thought: I'm going to take a little time to do the self-work. Just a little, every day, telling myself things like, "I see you there, avoidance. I recognize you as a valid expression of fear. What am I afraid of, and what do I need to feel safe enough to do the work?" And I'm going to allow myself to count it toward my total count of time spent working on the short story, just like I would time spent staring into space, mulling over plot problems, or typing up verbose character backgrounds and worldbuilding notes.
Basically, I'm legitimizing the time spent working on the avoidance. Which will go a long way toward legitimizing the avoidance itself.
I wonít say that itís easy or anything. But it beats the hell out of drawing the conclusion that stuckification and avoidance mean that my dreams arenít important to me.
Because they are. They must be. Because they still scare me.
I'd rather not be scared. But if I've got to be scared, I rather be scared and productive, rather than simply scared stiff.