Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Affirmations for Writers Who Haven't Finished a Novel Yet, A 12-Step Model.

If the easiest part of doing anything is starting, then the most difficult part of doing anything is seeing it through to the end.

I'm a habitual quitter, particularly in writing, but my life is really a long, drawn-out series of unfinished projects.  From baseboards to flooring, from artwork in the closet waiting to be hung to outdoor project ideas for which I've collected items but haven't even attempted to put them together, I'm a minefield of great and terrible ideas that I just never got around to finishing.

On the one hand, that's a drag of a person to be.

On the other hand, once I start crossing all these half-finished projects from my list of things to do, I will appear to be a rock star with how quickly things get done around here.

Adam Levine:  Rock star or eye candy?  Yes.

So, on the cusp of Nanowrimo 2014, here's what we're going to do:  We're not going to talk about writing this year.  Yep, you heard me.  We're not going to talk about it, we're going to "be about it."  Next year, once we've got a completed novel under our collective belt, we'll give out all the advice we can spew ... but our advice doesn't matter if we haven't finished anything.  Ever.

So what about those twelve steps I mentioned the other day?  How can we incorporate the affirmations of a twelve-step program into something we can use to finally finish the writing we set out to do?

My 12-Steps for me would go something like this:

1.  Admit you suck at finishing your novels, at getting your ideas down on paper even if they don't come out perfect the first time around.  All those half-finished manuscripts?  Yeah, you suck.

2.  Believe that finishing something, even if it's not a masterpiece when you sign "The End," is the only thing that is going to keep you writing at this point.

3.  Don't worry anymore about closets that need to be cleaned or sorted, laundry that needs to be put away, or any other worries during your writing time.  It's your writing time, and everyone and everything else can wait.

4.  Search your soul and realize who you are and want you want to do.  You can't be someone you're not, so don't try.

5.  My blog is my confessional:  I've admitted my wrongs and failures and that gives me a clean slate from which to begin.  Find a place to clean your slate, too.

6.  Stop procrastinating and stop focusing on things that don't really need to be done at this particular moment in time.  The big picture isn't being remembered for your shiny bathroom floor, but instead in the remembrance that you wanted to write a book and you went out and did just that.  Go, you.

7.  Look deep within yourself to that spiritual place inside, and embrace the comfort and peace that comes with realizing that you can do this.  Setting goals--and achieving those goals--is the cornerstone of what gives us satisfaction as human beings.  Set small goals and work off of them.

8.  Make a mental note of all the terrific characters, plots, settings, conflicts, resolutions, titles, book jacket ideas, etc that have come your way throughout the course of your life when you were least expecting them, and apologize for not giving them the attention they deserved.  Maybe they'll come around again.

9.  Making amends?  How about just a solemn oath, right hand raised, that you're not going to be the same writer you were last year.  This is the November that you'll have something in the Outbox to edit come February.

10.  It's not enough to read over these--or any other affirmations--once.  We aren't a "once and done" type of people.  Revisit the reasons we don't finish things.  Analyze again the ideas behind why we'd rather not do anything at all if we can't do it perfectly the first time.

11.  Always ask yourself (or whatever other deity or religious icon you feel like asking) if you're on the right path.  Remember, it's been said that we're all geniuses, but "if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."  (Did Albert Einstein really say that?)  Either way, if the novel doesn't work out, ask yourself if the short story might be more your thing.  Be firm in your goals but stay flexible in your reality.

12.  Finally, if you've felt some kind of awakening, share the message with others.  Join a writing club.  Check out your municipality over at the NaNoWriMo site.  Attend a write-in.  Tell people you, too, used to be a quitter, but tell them how now you aren't.

Or better yet, show them.

Maybe, like those suffering from addiction, we'll never be fully "recovered."  Perhaps one morning, coffee in hand, we'll be sitting in our favorite spot to work when we'll suddenly be gripped by a nearly overwhelming compulsion to organize underneath the bathroom sink.  Maybe a quick break to the restroom will lead us to believe that the glass shower door should be replaced with a curtain rightfuckingnow.

Alas, dear friend, remind yourself who are you and from where you came.

You're a writer.

You've got this.

Till next time,
Cherstin, out.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A 12-Step Program for People Like Me.

Are you a person like me?  I'm sorry.

No, really.  I'm sorry.  Because I get you.  I do.  I understand how you let opportunities pass you by because you can't give it--whatever "it" is--a hundred percent at that very moment in time, and that, in the moment, you believe that if you can't give it one hundred percent, it's not worth doing.

I also understand your frustration later, when you look back after the fact and realize that maybe you could have at least tried it, and that even giving 80% of yourself would eventually get you over the finish line, even if it's 20% slower than other people.

My uncle died this summer.  My dad's brother.  My husband and sons got to meet him in March of this year when he came to Florida for my cousin's wedding.  He stayed at my dad's old house, which now belongs to me, and he was so grateful to have had the opportunity to do that that he wanted to leave some tokens of appreciation for my two boys.  To the oldest, he left a guitar and amp; the other a long board (skateboard).

Days turned to weeks turned to months.  I sat with the "thank you" card in my top desk drawer all that time, never filling it out because I wasn't sure if it was too rude to include a typed letter inside.  I knew I wanted to say more than I could write on the card, so I was going to have to include an insert.  I wanted to hand-write the letter because I thought it was a bit more personal, but I never seemed to have the time.

I never had the time, because I believed I couldn't be content just typing something and sending it off.

He died.

Prior to that, it was my dad.  I wanted to go see him in December so I could show him something on Facebook, but I didn't think he'd be able to see my phone screen with his glasses on so I was waiting for my husband to borrow a tablet from his work.  "As soon as I've got that tablet, I'll go down and show my dad this thing on the Internet," I told myself.

He died on January 4th, before my husband could ever borrow the tablet.

Had I gone down to see him in December and just used the damn phone, I would have at least seen him one more time before he died.

People like us, I'm not sure what they're called.  Ultra-perfectionists, maybe?  I can think of a few other, choice descriptors, but I wouldn't want to insult you.  If I know you, you probably do enough of that on your own.

With November rolling around again, I now have a grand total of five unfinished manuscripts floating around my desk.  Five.  Five years, five great ideas, handfuls of fleshed-out characters, hundreds of pages of story arcs and plots.  Pages of description.  Outlines.  Settings.  You name it.

But I have yet to finish.


Why can I start so strong but not seem to make it to the end?  (I'm not sure if "end" means the end of the story or the end of the month, because I fail at both.)

Regular folks finish NaNo every year, but I get so hung up on the perfection of the whole thing that I can't finish.  My desk has to be perfect.  My coffee has to be perfect.  I need quiet.  I need a plant on my desk.  The dog has to be laying right here.  I need the right pen.  A blank notebook.  A device not tethered to the web.

I have every gadget I have ever thought I'd need, yet I still can't manage to finish.

If you're like me, we need help.  A program.  A twelve-step program.  Something to keep us honest.  A way to realize that the means doesn't justify the end, but rather the other way around.  I looked into some of the 12-Step affirmations, and I think with a few modifications, we might have something we can work with, but we first need to define what it is to which we're addicted.

Is it an addiction?  Is it more a compulsion?  I'm asking legitimately because I've never been diagnosed.  It's just something I've come to live with, like that small hole at my tailbone, or the way my right eye gets lazy when I'm tired.  (No lie on either.)

Maybe we're addicted to our own version of "how things are supposed to be."  For example, I never want to write when my 3-year-old is running around.  As a stay-at-home mom, that severely limits the number of hours a day that I can actually write.  (Read:  "Zero.")  I mean, he's here.  He doesn't have anywhere else to go.  I can't drop him off at the library and tell him I'll pick him up in a few hours.  He came from my vagina, and that pretty much makes him my responsibility.  But should I give up on writing just because he's here?  Wouldn't some kind of a compromise ("just try it," for example) at least ensure I get something written?

So we're addicted to our perceived idea of perfection.  And now we need to fix that.

Til tomorrow, and our writer's version of Step One,

Cherstin, out.