Tag Archives: procrastination

just write the book

Good morning. It’s a Tuesday out there. Are you ready?

I have been reading books about writers recently, having found Writers [on Writing] (a collection of essays about writing from the New York Times) and the Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction, Vol. 2: Inspiration and Discipline on my sweetheart’s bookshelf. I am looking, over and over, for one thing: I want them to tell me how they do it. How do they get up and get themselves to the desk? How do they make the writing happen? How how how. I don’t want the theory — I want the practical: I get this much sleep, I get up at 6, I sit at the typewriter/keyboard/notebook and do not stop for two hours or six or forty-five minutes. Then I get up and I do something completely different. If I write a page, that’s great. If I get two new sentences, I feel successful. Eventually it all coagulates into a book.

Later, I’ll want the next part — how to get an agent, how to get it published, how to get it edited enough that someone besides my best friends will willingly read it. For now I’m still at the beginning and this is what I’m looking for: how to incorporate writer into a real life that also includes job and family and friends. Tell me how to we take care of our bodies while we do that, how to get a book finished when we have too many jobs and everyone’s telling us it’s impossible, how to write a book when we’re depressed and disappointed, how to do it anyway. Continue reading

un-practicing procrastination

graffiti: big red heart with the words "love yourself!" in cursive, written underneathGood morning good morning!

I’ve just had to go replenish my tea — moroccan mint (green with some mint) and nettle and tulsi and anise and cardamom. Today I needed a little bit of everything, I’m throwing in all the bombs, trying to figure out what will land, what will stick, what will help.

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Tonight’s the LitQuake LitCrawl! I get to share the mic at Carol Queen’s Good Vibrations reading with Gina De Vries, Marlo Gayle, Robert Lawrence, Allison Moon, and the ever-fabulous horehound stillpoint. (We’ll be in the Women’s Building Auditorium, 3543 18th St., 7:15 – 8:15 pm.) I just can’t wait. Do you have your LitCrawl evening planned out yet? Well, now you know what you’re doing for Phase 2! It’s going to be an incredible evening of literary fierceness — eat well today, rest up, do your calisthenics and stretching, then get out there and take in some words!

I’m finally figuring out what I’m going to read tonight — whew.

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Over the last few days, the writing has been coming hard. I am feeling overwhelmed, and so when I sit down at the computer, the first feeling that comes upon me is exhaustion (which I guess is not so unusual for many of us at 4:30am) and a sense of, how will it all get done? I’ve had the words “bird by bird” running through my head pretty constantly for the last couple of weeks — many of you have read Anne Lamott’s book by that name, and if you haven’t, I recommend it without hesitation, whether or not you’re a writer. The ‘bird-by-bird’-ness is related to the message I have taped to my computer screen at my monitor: one thing, everyday. Just take one piece of the big project, the enormous life change, the book, the essay collection, the lifestyle change, whatever big thing you’ve got looming over you, and focus on that little piece for today. We don’t get anywhere all at once; every transition/transformation, every big piece of work takes time and many steps.

I have to remind myself this, over and over, especially since I am an exquisite, practiced, adept procrastinator; I tend to prefer to put things off until the very last minute, right before the deadline, so that I can justify a day spent only working on that task (like, say, a performance for the LitQuake LitCrawl) — and then, the next day, I’ll be closer to the deadline for soemthing else, and will be able to justify ignoring phone calls or other tasks in order just to do that thing. The point is a life spent jumping from fire to fire, instead of pacing more steadily through a gently-warming, steadily-building (sustainable) life, one where I am much less frequently burned. (I’m not at all certain that that metaphor works.)

Here’s the point: yes, there’s a lot to do. I need to find regular workshop/office spaces in San Francisco and San Rafael, have three book projects to work on, have promotional materials to develop and disperse, there’s a talk to write, writing to edit, editing to send out to others. ) And there’s this puppy that needs time and attention, some more training, a relationship that needs energy and awareness.) These aren’t any of them things I can procrastinate my way into getting a day to complete; does that make sense? I’m talking about projects that require regular work, regular attention, steady progress and development; I can’t complete them in the mid night-to-five-am college-paper-writing crunch.

Those old methods aren’t serving me anymore (I’m saying this about a lot of practices these days) — and developing new practices and habits takes work and patience. I get frustrated with myself, get angry and overwhelmed, wonder when the work will be over. Oh, right: it doesn’t get over. It keeps building, because we’re on this path to a life that’s focused on the work we love. Still, that transition is a rough one. (What do you mean I deserve a life spent focusing on work I love?) I practice being easy with myself; it’s work, some days.

I’ve got more to say about procrastination — don’t we all? We keep coming back to what used to work, and trying again, trying again.

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a prompt for today: take 10 minutes with a character you don’t like very much, maybe writing about a time when you didn’t like yourself very much, or someone else you’re not fond of at the moment. (Just notice what comes to mind when you read that prompt, or sit with it for a moment — let yourself begin writing from whatever voices or images arise.) Write from the POV, if you can, of that person/character — who are they? What’s making them act the way that they do? Notice if you can write from a place of compassion for the character/person.

Thanks for your gentle patience with yourself as you walk through whatever changes you’re in the middle of right now — thanks for the patience and presence you offer to others. Thanks, always, for your words.

what hasn’t worked for you?

graffiti -- cartoon blackbird standing upright, wings pushed behind Sending you big love and encouragement today — Fridays, as you’ll remember I recently decided, are my writing days. They’re supposed to be days that I devote just to my own writing stuff, and not to workshop stuff or day job stuff or other people’s writing stuff.

So far today, I’ve spent about 30 minutes on my own writing and 4.5 hours on reading the local weekly cover to cover, weeding through email, reading facebook, researching computers, making tea and breakfast, following friends’ facebook links to other websites that needed in-depth exploration, a day-job work conversation (which was with a friend, but it was about work, and either way, it was not about or doing my writing), playing with the computer to make the monitors work right, making more tea … so, maybe I should say more honestly that Fridays are devoted to procrastination.

I’ve been devoted to writing since I was 6, and wanted to be an ‘author’ since I understood that that’s what the people whose job it was to make books were called. For the past 10 years I’ve been writing with some desire for publication, and have had some stuff published. I’ve written with many people in that time, and have learned some stuff about publication from their experiences, too.

Here’s what I’ve learned doesn’t work to get your writing published:

– leaving it in the notebook and expecting an editor to manage to find it when she’s randomly flipping through the pages while she waits in a long line for your bathroom during one of the big parties (that you actually never throw);

-typing it up and leaving it on your computer and hoping that an editor will somehow break into your machine from afar, across the Internet,  just because she got the idea that you must have good stuff in there that you’re not sharing and she must use any means necessary to find it;

– spending the better part of a day (that you’d originally planned to spend doing something else, like going to the dentist or depositing your paycheck or going on a date) getting a piece ready to send out to a call for submissions because you realized that the deadline was at 5pm that day, and then discovering that the deadline was actually a year or — OR realizing that the piece had to be usps-mailed and received by the deadline, not emailed — OR getting fed-up and discouraged with the piece (and depressed by and for your future) and thereby missing both the deadline and your date;

– hoping that somehow playing on facebook or reading blog posts or creating reading lists on Amazon will somehow convey to the world that you are a thoughtful, risky, innovative writer whose words deserve a book contract and six figure advance…

These have been among my favorite and most used methods of trying to get published, and I can report to you now that they have been uniformly unsuccessful. What attempts at publishing haven’t worked for you?

Today I’m going to try that one last method that I attempt much, much less frequently — actually sending a piece of writing to an editor.  Wish me luck.


Today’s prompt (and write!) — “13 ways of looking at a blackbird.’ Pat Schneider re-introduced me to this prompt, and I’ve offered it with each of my three workshops this week.

Create a short list of things or places that are interesting to you or your character or bring you or your character joy — try not to think about this too much: rubber bands, icicles, teacups, etc. The more ‘mundane’ the better!

Then take as your model Wallace Steven’s poem “13 ways of looking at a blackbird” — choose one of the items on your list, take 20 minutes and write a number of small ‘ways of looking’ at that thing. (When I’m doing this exercise with an erotic writing workshop, I like to use Letta Neely’s poem “8 ways of looking at pussy” as our model.

Here’s one of the writes I did to this prompt this week:

10 ways of looking at a candle

bright yellow flicker strobing my too-early morning eyes

quiet heat holding up the corner of the altar and i kiss the glass with my 2 fingers and name this flame for you

this one burns hotter than that one, honey — it’s ok if you yelp when the melt hits your skin

one more flicker in an angled raised platform of glass votives here in this church — I take the stick and pull flame form one to light the other. Might not be my faith but it is my mother’s, so I offer her prayer in a language she can understand

little pointy face pushes to find the source of the heat and singes whiskers

when the long holiday table is weighted down with the meal, we turn down the overhead lights and let the edges of platters and good once-a-year silver glitter and glint in the silence

somewhere there’s a picture of us holding the shamos together to light the menorah that first year in our new house — your crazy fat wrought-iron art piece menorah on the stone hearth — and every year now I miss the ritual I left behind, and I still think of kissing good luck every time a candle burns out and the warm smoke spools up from the wick

it doesn’t feel like another year older unless I’ve had at least one, plus a song

the kitchen smells like honey as I pour melted beeswax into the glass jars we found at the yard sale — a year from now, outside Denver, the thick fluted glass will split when my father’s wife lights the wick I set into the wax, but for now I am proud to have created something so sturdy and functional and sweet.

if you put it here under this dusty pot, we can keep looking at the stars while the water heats for tea

Thank you for the ways you can laugh at yourself, how you keep your own faith, and for your words. (Your words, your words!)