I Am That Girl Now

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

In which I realize that I went two weeks without posting

Um. Oops.

I will compensate by discussing what I've been up to of late, in the no-cable era of my life: Writing. A lot. Well, a lot by my standards, because I've been talking about and babblesheeting a book idea since 2002 and have not actually got the damn thing written, so anything is an improvement. I took inspiration from two sources: the lovely Dietgirl, who buckled down this year on writing her own book, and another friend of mine who actually finished her own first book last year. DG made the connection between "lard-busting" and writing by recognizing the similarity between the despair-filled feeling she had pre-busting and her current feeling about writing.

Once I'd calmed the hell down, I realised with a clunk that I've been here before! I felt exactly as I had at the start of my lard-busting journey. Hopeless, powerless, desperate, cranky, trapped. Just like we all bloody know dieting is simply calories in calories out, I know writing is a matter of picking up a pen - yet I've been feeling paralysed. People gave me sound advice, told me what's worked for them - yet to me it sounded complicated and impossible. I was looking at university courses, retreats, self-help books... the equivalent of a last ditch crash diet or miracle pill. I was looking everywhere else for the answers except within...

Just like with the fat, there will be no writing epiphany. There is no Great Moment - just a moment when you start doing something about it. And if you can string together lots of little moments, that's when you start to get somewhere.

It's moments like that where I start to wonder if either a) DG has pried open my head and is tossing the contents onto the screen for all to look at, or b) we all share some kind of wacky ultrabrain and each of us only gets to express X amount of our shared feelings/thoughts in a coherent way, and DG got that bit. Either way, it made me go EGAD.

The other genius in my life is my friend T., who gave me the following advice: a daily word quota. And to start small. Since my main problem has always been stressing over the quality of the thing, I've never gotten anywhere; focusing on the number of words, though, is somehow making it possible for me to be okay with the sub-par shite flowing from my fingertips as I re-learn everything I used to know. This week (counting part of this weekend) I've been following a 500-words-per-day quota, and after a false start I've actually been keeping to it. Forward motion is occurring. I may eventually raise the bar, but right now I'm not pushing: at 500 words a day, I'll still eventually have a book written, and I don't want to risk pushing myself too hard and freaking out again.

I do have a tendency to freak out. This goes badly along with my problem with beginnings-- not limited to writing, certainly-- in which I forget that I'll have time to get better at this, and have time to edit and re-do. My friends have all been coaxing me for years to just write and not worry about what comes out, but I always freaked out because I didn't know what I was supposed to be writing about, specifically, and so I'd end up with the first part of a first chapter that led absolutely nowhere near where the book was supposed to start.

Which is where DG's brilliant post came in. She broke down her method for success thusly:

  • I had a plan.

  • I was committed to changing my current habits.

  • I made myself accountable.

  • I made the task my number one priority.

  • I broke a large and overwhelming task into wee chunks. Baby steps!

  • I figured out what worked best for me.

  • I had a clear belief that I could do it.

  • I made a firm commitment to see it through, no matter how long it took.

AHA. What I needed was to apply the same tactics that I'd used with success in other areas: planning things out, breaking each part of the plan down into another thoroughly-planned baby step, and to relax and trust in the power of my own learning curve. I do get better at things, and I have seen this in action, and wallowing about in my current amateur state was not going to improve matters. There are two parts to every successful venture in my life: first looking ahead and scouting out any obvious pitfalls and scouting around them and planning, so as to minimize the fuckups, and then going forth and doing and fucking up anyway, but mostly in ways I had not forseen, and learning from that and continuing on. The key (which I am still so, so bad at) is to get from the first stage to the second. There's this panicky little voice in my head that assures me that if I plan enough, then I can avoid all possible fuckups, and I end up frozen at the point of entry, unable to proceed forward, because the sad fact is that there is no way to avoid fucking up at some point.

The thing I have to remember is this: If I do not fuck up, I do not learn. By definition, if I'm able to figure out all the possible problems in advance, then I'm still at the same level at the end of the process as I was at the beginning. I cannot get growth by sitting and thinking ahead; I only get growth by doing, and risking the fuck-ups.

The other part of that is that hey, fucking up isn't really that bad. If you're exploring brand-new territory, even if others have been there before and it's just that you haven't, then the only way you'll get the hang of the territory is by walking down all those dead ends and heading north when you meant to go south and getting stuck in the wrong lane and missing the turn. These things happen, and no amount of planning is going to make it possible to avoid them, and no amount of cursing yourself will make it possible to avoid mistakes in the future.

I got myself boxed in, at some point in my development, and started being so scared of making mistakes that I ended up not trying a lot of things out of a fear that I wouldn't be good at them. I wanted to be that brilliant girl who did everything well the first time she tried it, and if I couldn't be that girl, I was absolutely crushed. There's a certain amount of panic inherent in perfectionism, this fear of getting caught doing something wrong, so absolutely everything must be done correctly. And, really, if I look back at my life, that has never got me results. Short-term, sure, but I get fewer of those results because it takes so much oomph and drive and focus to achieve them, and in-between I just collapse and can't even get close to wanting to go through that shit again. All the things that I've achieved long-term, though, have been things that I give myself a certain amount of leeway on.

Enough. The only way to learn how to write a book is going to be to write a book, and so I gotta write. I'm doing the same thing as I did last time (oy, that was a long time ago): I have a general outline with a sort of fuzzy end, and in order to get myself started I worked out how the first chapter should go, and then got even more detailed about the first little section. Sometimes I won't need that much ahead-of-time frazzling, but at the beginning, I do-- and the funniest thing of all is that, if history is any indication, I'll end up completely re-writing the beginning anyway so it doesn't matter. And nonetheless I can't get started unless I go through that process. Go figure.

On a somewhat different note, I've thought back and figured out that the times in my life when I got the most writing accomplished were the times when I had no access-- or very limited access-- to cable TV. I'd like to think that I can get writing done with the TV on, or that I have the self-control to turn the TV off and just go to another room and write, but apparently that doesn't happen. Apparently what I need is to have that crutch pulled out from under me, so that if I want to do something besides going to work and eating and sleeping, I'll have to actually do stuff rather than sitting and letting the entertainment come to me. And with the doing stuff part of my normal life, writing on a regular basis isn't such a big step.

Anyway. Enough babbling. I'll check in more often, I promise!


  • Hi Meg,

    I've been enjoying your blog for the last 2 weeks or so (particularly the essays and rants) and even recommending it to my mom; we're both in WW, but she's much more uh . . . advanced? . . . then me, having done it for years. I just started 3 weeks ago and am still in Impulse Drive, I think (but I'm working on using it to my best advantage, thanks to your exercise essay).

    I've noticed the same thing you have, that when I apply the mindset I've just started using to grow healthier (and lose weight as a byproduct) to other things that I have fears/neuroses about or avoid (as I did the issues of health and weight for years), they make sense in a way they never have before. And using the lessons I've learned from growing healthier (as well as other areas of past improvement, which I'm really embracing for the first time) really commits me to good eating/living on a whole other level besides what I look like. I was recommend to WW by my doctor after I was diagnosed with Major Depression, and, in addition to being the right medication, integrating my mental and my physical health has made the work of both more meaningful. I'm now hoping to get back to my work of choice, art and graphic design. Good luck with your writing, and thanks for sharing.

    By Anonymous margaretei, at 1:30 PM  

  • ah ha! i KNEW i only had half a brain! this explains a lot... hehehe

    well done with the word quota! you are going magnificently. and thanks for your comment today, it's so true. if i don't write the crap i'll have nothing to edit. that makes sense! thanks!

    GO MEG GO!!!!!!

    By Anonymous dietgirl, at 2:46 PM  

  • *nodnodnods*
    Ok sometimes you say something so very perfictly that I want to cut it out and tape it to my frig.

    "I got myself boxed in, at some point in my development, and started being so scared of making mistakes that I ended up not trying a lot of things out of a fear that I wouldn't be good at them. I wanted to be that brilliant girl who did everything well the first time she tried it, and if I couldn't be that girl, I was absolutely crushed. There's a certain amount of panic inherent in perfectionism, this fear of getting caught doing something wrong, so absolutely everything must be done correctly."

    Completely absolutely what I go though the only way I can get anything done is to be so under the gun that I don't really care how it comes out anymore.

    I'm working on that...


    By Anonymous Kelly, at 11:52 AM  

  • Hi Meg
    I went to an all day seminar yesterday called "Get Motivated!" One saying that has stuck in my mind like a Koan, which may be helpful to your writing endeavor, was "Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly until you can do it well." I look forward to seeing your book in print.

    By Anonymous Cathy, at 1:44 PM  

  • Meg, I read a blog on www.scalzi.com by a published writer (non fiction, SF and other stuff) who had some advice (you would have to search for it) for budding writers (aimed at teens I think but still relevant). Basic thrust was that to be a writer you have to write, and that you must expect to be crap to begin with and to get better with practice- as you have concluded already.

    good luck!

    By Anonymous Jane, at 3:50 AM  

  • Hey
    I check your blog sporadically via "maspik teruzim". Essentially, each time I need motivation on the writing front, I check out mich's re: weight training. I see the similarities too. She inspired me to start my blog and blog the progress of my novel.

    I'm also using a daily word quota. People often react strangely to it (as though it's somehow un-creative to add arithmetic to the process). But, yeah, it works for me. And as other ppl mentioned above, I've decided not to care if the ENTIRE thing is crap. It can be revised. The goal is to finish. The other thing that's helped is blogging it.

    My favourite writing advice comes from Robert Heinlein's Rules for Writers. Robert Sawyer has them buried in his blog. All the best!

    By Blogger JuliaMazal, at 7:18 PM  

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