One sentence at a time

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Shaking off the shackles of writer’s block (as any writer knows) is not easy, but I’ve learned that anything worth doing is rarely as easy as it seems when you start out. Occasionally, just starting out is the difficult part.

I decided to use the strategy my own coach, Scott Lewis, taught me when I first complained to him that I wanted to write–knew I could write–if only I knew how to get myself to do it. He asked me to commit to two minutes of writing a day and report back to him the following week.

Two minutes of writing a day? “Are you kidding?” I thought. “Anyone can do that!” I took the challenge. The first night I stared at the computer blankly. What to write? Being one of those people who takes her commitments very seriously, I looked around my room and decided whatever my eye landed on at the moment would be good enough to morph into the opening, and probably closing, sentence. (After all, two minutes isn’t much time to write more than a couple of sentences.) From the second night, I was writing for 10 minutes, and after that, I was pounding the keyboard in oblivion for two hours, not two minutes, a night.

I wrote my way out of my block the last couple of days by just sitting down and writing the next sentence, and then another. I figured if I didn’t like the direction it went, I’d be revising it sooner or later anyway.

It worked. That and a little help from some tunes of my favorite divas of ’80s dance music–Tina Turner and The Pointer Sisters. Why not? I left my plucky boomer protagonist, Chicken Cacciatore, in a quandry about pole dancing in public. All she really needed was some inspiration!

What’s it like being a novelist after 18 days?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Around 15 years ago I met a cute guy who owned a small town newspaper. I admit, I wanted to impress him, and since I wasn’t the only woman vying for his attention, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to dust off my writing skills and submit an article he might find worthy of publishing. Much to my delight, he called me after reading the article and said, a little surprised I think, “You’re a writer!” He also published the article.

While my plan to win him over romantically didn’t succeed, I gained something far more valuable than an LTR. From that day on, after years of dabbling in writing creatively, I actually began to think of myself as a writer. When people would ask me what I did, even though I worked as a telemarketer or an administrative assistant, I would say, “I’m a writer.” I went to writers’ conferences, read my poetry in coffee houses, and participated in workshops and literary events with writers whom I respected.

When I recently found out after all these years that this gentleman was writing his first novel and already had an agent, I thought, “Hey, I’m a writer, too. Why aren’t I writing a novel?” I didn’t have a reason to impress him anymore, but because he was the first to acknowledge me as a writer, I felt compelled to show him if he could become a novelist at our age, I could certainly give it a try.

Enter NaNoWriMo. It was the perfect opportunity to challenge myself to complete a rough draft without knowing a thing about actually writing a novel. It was such a hair-brained idea, I could not think of a reason not to do it!

Now it very well may turn out that he sells his novel and goes on to become rich and famous, or not. And it may turn out that all I ever accomplish is putting together a story of 50,000 or so words and never get it published, or maybe I’ll get published and become rich and famous. But the really important point here is that just as it was 15 years ago when I started thinking of myself as a writer, I am now thinking of myself as a novelist.

They say a habit takes 21 days to take root. I’ve been noveling for 18 days, so in just three more days, I will officially be a novelist. I dare anyone to tell me I’m not. I will never think of myself in quite the same way again.

Time for you, yet?

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Everyone used to tell me to take more time for myself, but I was on the proverbial treadmill, doing for my bosses and always being available to my loved ones when I wasn’t at the office. Time for myself was out of the question. I became so compulsive about doing for others that when I didn’t have anything to do for anyone else, instead of enjoying an activity of my own choosing—something that nurtured the things that I’d always claimed were important to me—I would pick up the phone and call a friend to find out what was important in her life.

I seem to have equated my self-worth with how perfectly I could serve the needs of others. I thought by so doing I could prove I was not self-centered and self-absorbed. I was so wedded to this concept of serving others that I couldn’t conceive of letting go and noticing all the large and small ways I was not serving numero uno. A voice inside often reminded me that taking precious time to consider my own needs was selfish, even though my childrearing days were long over.

Then, one day after I’d studied coaching, it struck me that I was giving away my priceless life in service to others who were using it to pursue their own dreams. At my job I was getting paid well, but I was not spending any of my time practicing or pursuing activities that nourished and supported me in ways other than financially. For me, the only way to overcome this inequity was to do something radical. I quit ignoring my needs cold turkey. I left my job, retreated to relative seclusion far from family members, and got a friend to pay back a loan I’d made to her by covering my living expenses for the year.

I have spent the past year being completely self-absorbed—and learned to love it! I’ve devoted myself solely to examining who I am and what my purpose is, and to acquiring some of the skills I need to live a fulfilling life. My loved ones (none of whom really needed my attention 24/7 anyway, since they are all adults) survived well enough. I seem to have defined new boundaries for myself in the process. I realized that I’d actually been resentful of all that I did for them, so I was constantly reminding them of what a huge sacrifice I was making on their behalf. That was tantamount to holding them emotionally hostage, which is what my slavish devotion to them actually was doing to myself!

On a recent airline flight I was reminded of the common sense logic of all this, as the flight attendant went through the familiar litany of instructions in the event that the oxygen masks drop. Put on your mask first before helping others. Helloooooo.

If you aren’t breathing, it’s awfully hard to help anyone else!