Holiday Season Recap

Happy New Year! So far, January has been a productive writing time for me. Thank you, subzero temperatures? Despite my best efforts, I didn’t produce much during the latter part of 2015. There were many reasons, most of them mundane. In general, I introverted out. Too much stimulation and end-of-year tasks. I wanted nothing more than to put everything down and sit in front of the fire with a blank expression on my face.

(I compromised by zoning out during a drive across the Midwest to visit family. Don’t worry – I wasn’t behind the wheel.)

I may not have written much these past few months, but I did read a lot. Books, articles, blog posts. Several of them stuck with me so much that I kept opening new windows on my phone to keep track of them all. I’m sorting through them now and will share some them over the next few weeks, including the reasons why I found them so compelling.

Here we go.

I struggled with anxiety and stress during the holiday season. The world felt so dark, after the Paris attacks, after San Bernadino, after no justice for Tamir Rice….so much grief. So much evidence of the horrible things humans do to each other. These incidents are awful, no matter the time of year, but they seemed especially terrible juxtaposed with a season that celebrates light, joy, and peace.

I drew on my meditation practice, reminding myself that it was fine to feel whatever it was I was feeling in any given moment. I reminded myself that not everyone feels happy during the holidays. I remembered the importance of simply sitting with whatever comes up and not judging it. This helped. I wasn’t struggling to make myself feel or be a certain way. I was able to note my expectations for the holiday season and observe the tensions that arose when those expectations met reality.

And I stumbled upon Common Grief, a collection of blogs and articles from the Huffington Post. Reading other people’s reflections and experiences of grief reminded me that we are all interconnected. We’ve all grieved. And even though it feels like it sometimes, we are not alone in our grief.

So I’m sharing this, even though the holidays are over, because grief continues. But so does our interconnectedness and our shared expressions of peace, joy and light.

In Which Retreats Ruin Everyday Life for Me

photo (8)I’m still recovering from last weekend’s writing retreat.  I sit on my couch, watching the Olympics live (a sabbatical perk) and I am morose that no one is preparing homemade meals for me or that I can’t just pop downstairs to swim in a gigantic pool.

The other issue I’m having is that I’m running away.  I wrote a pretty decent first chapter on retreat.  I have a handle on my main character’s voice, the pacing and the key conflicts (which I set up quite nicely, thank you very much).  For the past few days, however, I’ve been paralyzed whenever I sit down to write.  I stare at the words, “Chapter Two,” and I race to check Twitter and Facebook.  Yesterday I physically ran away, going in search of a cemetery and almost getting stuck in a snowbank.  (Fortunately, both my car and I are too stubborn to get stuck.)

I resonated with Megan McArdle’s piece in the Atlantic: Why Writers are the Worst Procrastinators.  She has all kinds of interesting thoughts on studies about how failure shapes – or breaks – people.  What struck me on this read, however, was the observation that writers, who often excelled in English class and were told repeatedly what great writers they were, internalize the idea that writing is a natural talent.  You either have it or you don’t.  Either words flow seamlessly onto the page or you’re a bad writer.  Writers tend to procrastinate because they – we – fear writing bad stuff.

My problem is chapter one.  It’s good, certainly enough for a second draft.  I’m terrified of breaking it by writing a terrible second chapter.  I’m bothered by the deadline I created for myself – I’d better write as fast as possible, no matter how bad it is, so I can meet my (completely arbitrary) deadline.  Although it’s not entirely arbitrary – I want to get a second draft out to beta readers before I head back to work in the fall.  No wonder I’m terrified of both writing and not writing.

So once again, my issue comes down to patience.  Being patient with crafting a second draft after flying through a first last fall, as well as being patient with the slop I’m chucking onto the page right now.  Maybe I’ll keep my eye on the third draft.  Think of how much fun it will be to procrastinate once I’m into the next draft!