Nov 25 – Avoidance Addiction

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Hiding in the flower pot by Ray Closson
fotocommunity.com made available by Creative Commons license

Well.  I didn’t write on Thursday because it was, after all, Thanksgiving.  Family day.  Food and football.  Perfectly justifiable.  Then Friday rolled around and I felt I could still call it being on holiday, so to speak.  Then yesterday I spent much of the day giving myself reasons for putting off writing just one more day.

As I lay in bed last night, berating myself yet again for my eagerness to not write, I made a new connection.  A dear friend of mine is a recovering alcoholic and, while I don’t want to belittle the challenges inherent in that condition, my behavior reminded me of an alcoholic’s addiction.  My addiction is not for alcohol but for avoidance; as soon as I take one day off from writing, thinking “I can handle it – it’s just one day,” I find myself still not writing days later.

I have somehow made not writing a reward, a holiday, a special treat.  But I know in my heart that writing, communicating, expressing, creating – that is the real treat.  I read an article somewhere recently about the metaphors we make and how powerful they are in shaping our lives and our attitudes.  So, I need to change my metaphor for writing from duty to beauty, from a chore to let’s explore, from a weight to a date, from something to shun to nothing but fun.  (Please accept my profound apologies for that, but it was fun.)

Nov. 19 – What happens to ideas

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© Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I have always loved watching artists start a new picture on a blank canvas – one moment a scattering of random lines and the next moment a recognizable image.  It’s magic and never ceases to fascinate me.

The equivalent process for writers, from that first seedling of an idea through the accretion of exactly the right details, the right settings and characterizations, is invisible and thus, to me at least, beyond magic and on to miraculous.  In the past few days I have gotten two unrelated and yet very similar glimpses into that miraculous world.

I like to read the news on imdb (Internet Movie Database) and came across an article entitled “How J.J. Abrams Pitched ‘Revolution.'” I never learned how that pitch went, but the article started with this sentence: “It started with two men sword fighting in front of a Starbucks.”  The writer-producer Eric Kripke was the imaginer of that scene, and he had no idea who the men were or why they were using swords.  The article went on to state that his previous series, Supernatural, was inspired by a “similarly random mental snapshot – ‘a girl on the ceiling on fire.'”

How in the world, I wondered to myself, could anyone know how to move from that random mental snapshot (I love that phrase) to a full-blown TV series, running for years due to the depth of its created universe?  I stand in awe.

And then, thanks to Rick Mallery‘s generosity in visiting and following bloggers like me, I was able to read his story about writing his first novel, in which I found an unexpected glimpse into that process.  He described settling in to a comfy chair with a new notebook and pen.  Everything he had learned about writing fiction disappeared, distilled into a wonderfully concise direction: “Just start with a character who has a problem, and then make everything worse until it finally gets better.”  He goes on to describe the first few lines he wrote and how he moved incrementally into the story.

This was so helpful to read, I think because I held an unspoken conviction that if it doesn’t happen like the blinding vision of JK Rowling, where the vastness of the story and the world appears all of a piece, it isn’t real and it isn’t true.  Now that I write that down I see how silly it sounds, but there it is.

Whenever I think about writing fiction I get utterly overwhelmed, having no idea how to “do it.”  I think I have a story that wants to be told, but I get lost in the vastness of my ignorance and overwhelmed at the many many many words that would need to be found.  But, thanks to Eric Kripke and Rick Mallery, I caught a glimpse of the possible: of being able to move from the random mental snapshot to a completed tale.  Thank you gentlemen, and good night.

photo by Tattooed JJ, made available by Creative Commons license

Nov. 18 – Pushing Past Perfection

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Photo by Ming Tong, made available by Creative Commons license

This challenge of writing every day for a month has already proven an invaluable exercise for me.  I don’t think I’ve ever lasted this long with a resolution of any sort (except when I finally quit smoking for good, that is.)  I wish I knew what it is that is getting me to sit my butt down in the chair every day and hammer out another post.  But even if the motivational source is elusive, one result is not.

I can no longer be a text perfectionist.  If I am going to get something published here every day, I have to sit down, write it, read it over, proof it, publish it and move on.  That is SUCH a different experience for me, and it has made writing fun again.  Maybe that is where the motivation is coming from.

Writing has become less of a chore and a task and something that needs to be done.  Instead it is a few moments when I get to free my voice and my ideas and take the mind-boggling step of publishing those ideas for anyone in the universe to read.

I think it is knowing I am making this writing public that triggers the perfectionism.  If I were just writing for myself, the need for my writing to be perfect would not be not nearly as loud.

So, thank you to everyone for being out there and forcing me to let go of that crippling self-criticism enough to write these posts.  I hope that, if inner critics are loud in your life, you find your way to releasing their hold on your productivity.  All our voices need to be heard.

Nov. 7 – Capture the Wind Indeed

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Nablopomo Day 7.  Yesterday I committed to carrying around paper and pen to write down those elusive ideas as they float through my brain.  A step towards building content, developing ideas, corralling the chaos that is my thought process.  Great plan.

So…. I was walking to class this morning in a cold drizzle and I was close to being late so I was scurrying across campus.  I had an idea for this post, but I didn’t want to stop in the rain and I didn’t want to be late to class.  So I pulled the paper and pen out of my pocket and repeatedly recited a reminder of what I wanted to write about as I hurried to class.

Alas.  I heard a young voice call my name and turned to find a former student who wanted to tell me she had found her path, she loved her major and her professors and was doing well and on track to graduate in another year.  I was thrilled and delighted.  She looked radiant, and the encounter gave me a heart smile that persists even now.

But the idea was gone.  Not slipped for a moment, soon to be recovered.  Gone, blown away entirely by a two-minute encounter.

Lesson learned.  If I want to hold on to ideas, write them down RIGHT THEN AND THERE.  Don’t count on reciting it until I get somewhere where it’s easy to write it down.

I learned another useful lesson, my former student is shining, and I am happy today.

Nov. 6 – I Had an Idea

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Photo by Dominick Alves, made available by Creative Commons license

I have been thinking about what to write all day.  Had a number of ideas.  None of them got written down, and none of them are still available to me to write about.  So here we are.  Nine p.m. and all the good ideas have fled, wisps of creativity blown away by the winds of the day.

What have I learned?  If I am going to live up to my commitment to write a post every day this month, I need to get more aggressive about catching the ideas that tickle the edges of my brain throughout the day.  Using my phone to take notes might be a possibility if I’m not in class, but I’m in class many hours every day, and students look poorly on being nagged to put away their phones only to see their professor pulling one out “to take a quick note.”  So I am going to make a concerted effort, starting tomorrow, to write down the ideas as they float past.  I will have a handy dandy folded piece of paper and pen in my pocket for that very purpose.

I was going to call this Project Capture the Wind, but that sounds a bit more like a venture involving sails and excessive bean consumption.  I’ll have to think on that, and in the meantime I will at least make sure I have that piece of paper and pen in my pocket.  I can name the project later.

Nov. 5 – Taking Risks

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photo by andy_c, made available by Creative Commons license

Nablopomo Day 5.

Let me begin by saying I am not a risk-taker.  [My spouse will fall on the floor laughing at the understatement in the previous sentence.]  I would be just as happy to never ever everstick my neck out about anything.  Maybe it’s fear of confrontation, maybe it’s just wanting to be left alone, but I do not like taking risks, gambling, adrenaline rushes – any of it.  But I seem to keep sticking my neck out anyway, and it makes for some very uncomfortable times.

The latest such discomfort arose as a result of my ongoing struggle not to feel bored about teaching exactly the same few developmental classes for year after year after year.  I teach them differently every semester, but the challenges don’t change, and the basic content doesn’t change either.

While pondering that dilemma the other day I had a sudden conviction that I should make a proposal to my boss for a new program.  I have students whose writing is sorely outside the standards of academic English, and I don’t think that the “process” method of instruction is serving them well as they try to reconcile the structures of their home dialect with the demands of academe.

I explained to my boss about code switching, about research based writing instruction, about direct instruction in language structure, about my background in all of that.  He agreed to read my proposal, but his first response was a long diatribe about the local dialects and how he has spent years trying to harass the dialect out of his in-laws.  oh dear.

So I spent several hours regretting my impulse.  I am definitely rocking the boat by proposing this, as our writing department is deeply entrenched in a very old model of writing instruction.  And I get strangled and inarticulate when I am put in a position of having to argue for something I think is right and important and obviously a good idea and my audience strongly disagrees.  So I dread being put into that position.

I met with my boss last Friday (today is Monday) and heard nothing today.  I am not going to pursue it – I will wait to hear.  But I was able to move beyond regretting making the suggestion fairly quickly, which was an encouraging discovery for me.  I decided that if he isn’t interested I am going to find a way to create a curriculum on my own.

But it is so much easier to tell my students not to make choices based on fear than it is to follow that advice myself.  Hmm, another theme seems to be developing here in this month-long ramble through my mind – do as I teach, not as I do.

Nov. 4 – The Resistance

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Nablopomo Day 4.  Write a blog post every day?  Every day?  Does that mean every single day?  What about Sundays?  Do I have to write on Sundays??  Yes.

I am ashamed of how aggressively I find myself arguing with myself about why I should do something, anything, rather than write these few words.  I think that this is going to be a month of practice, of moving myself toward “being writing” and I beg the indulgence of anyone who is reading this – please bear with me as I use this month and this public forum to look at myself and at the behaviors that I have created to keep myself from writing.  What is it about writing that I find so distasteful?  I like to shape ideas with words, I like words themselves.  Sometimes words come easily, sometimes not, but I think it is something more than the challenge of the task itself that is creating this obstreperous mindset I find myself in when I am trying to talk myself into writing.

And there is so much I want to write.  So let’s get on with it!  Until tomorrow….

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