Treasured Writing Rituals I’ve Discarded

signing pic 2

In honor of this week’s topic –  a writing routine we used to depend on but changed and why – I dragged out this old photo of me at my very first book signing. That’s January of 2004, when my essay collection, WYOMING TRUCKS, TRUE LOVE AND THE WEATHER CHANNEL, came out. I look so fresh-faced and excited. You can practically see the visions of sugarplums and lucrative multi-book contracts dancing in my head.

~pets past self~

At any rate, I’m over at the SFF Seven, talking about my old writing rituals, which ones have gone by the wayside, and why.

How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating and Cheerfully Meet Deadlines with Room to Spare

We brought home this fresh boxwood wreath to hang on the front door and Jackson immediately inserted himself in it. For those keeping score at home, he’s just shy of eight months old now.

He’s going to be a Big Kitty.

I’m looking forward to the holiday season this year. I have ideas for decorating and even a cool homemade gift for people. I take this to mean that I’m feeling rested and the creativity is flowing. Part of this, I’ve suddenly realized, is because I changed some of my fundamental habits. What’s more is, I change a bad, lifelong habit without really realizing it.

Which is just extraordinary to me.

It’s *hard* to change habits – we all know this. Especially the bad ones. Those junk foods we crave but shouldn’t eat. That wine we shouldn’t drink nearly so much of. The TV shows we waste time on. The internet surfing when we should be working. I imagine each of us could list our top five bad habits – and then write a book on how many times we’ve tried to change them, how and why it ended up not working. (Because if it worked, it wouldn’t still be on the top five list, right?)

So, here’s one of mine: I’m a procrastinator.

Always have been. Back in school, I was the kid who wrote EVERY paper the night before it was due. I never studied until the day before the exam. (Well, the entire weekend in college for brutal classes like organic chemistry.) I once read the Iliad and the Odyssey over a couple of days during reading week before finals. Even with work, I don’t really get going on a deliverable until the deadline was breathing down my neck.

Deadline stress was my eternal motivator.

Which is awful. If you’re like me, you know just how stress-inducing this Very Bad Habit is. The late nights, the great fear that you won’t finish in time or that, if you do finish, the product will sucketh mightily.

I’ve known this about myself pretty much all my life and just hate it. And yet, over and over again, I would fall into the same pattern. Always dealing with the next fire, the next emergency. I always kind of envied the work-ahead people, but never found a way to break this habit.

Until just recently.

You know what worked? I didn’t change that particular habit, I changed other things that just happened to result in me at long last not relying on deadline pressure for motivation.

It’s like I tricked myself into operating differently. Isn’t that amazing?

I’m amazed.

So, what happened is, I had a number of writing deadlines. One was external – my first ever turn-in-your-book-by-this-date publication deadline, which I was determined not to blow – and several internal deadlines, important to me for keeping everything on track.I really, really, really did not want to be finishing that book the night before the deadline. I could not risk that it wouldn’t be as good as I needed it to be. No shortcuts, no crossing fingers, no Hail Mary’s. I wanted lots of time to get it done and get it done right.

So I planned out all my work. I finished another project that I wanted out of the way, to clear time for the one with the external deadline. I planned my dayjob work so that nothing would actually catch on fire enough to divert me. I worked in both measured paces and intense doses, depending on my time and inclination.

This was the amazing part.

I finished both projects early. Like, 7-10 days early. I’ve *never* finished anything early before in my life. Bizarrely, everything else fell into place, too. I’d wanted everything done before Thanksgiving, so I could relax and not worry about ongoing projects. I finished all my day job work by early afternoon Monday – where usually I’m working into the evening before we leave, trying to clear my desk.

At that point, I realized I had nothing on fire. Nothing that I was leaving undone.

It was miraculous.

I’d somehow learned to do my work ahead of time, in an un-stressed, no-deadline-pressure way, all because I’d restructured my other habits.

Now those of you who’ve followed my blog for a while know that I’ve long been a proponent of writing every day. I have my rituals, my good and productive habits. This overall change in my pattern of behavior grew out of that foundation. I suspect that’s key – I didn’t change everything overnight.

But I also think it’s important that I never tried to stop being a procrastinator. I changed the way I work towards a goal.

And that has made all the difference.

(with apologies to Robert Frost)

The More You Do…Works Again!

This was back in June, but isn’t it pretty. Most of the cholla blossoms are dark pink, but some this summer had  a lovely pink hue.

I mentioned earlier this week that I was devoting myself to getting my rhythm of writing back. As I anticipated (from past experience), the first couple of days were truly painful. I turned off the internet and stared at my screen. Each word felt dredged up from the goop. The characters were obstinate, I felt uncertain about the story. (Okay, I might have hated it for a few minutes, here and there.) It’s like pulling cold dough from the refrigerator. You just have to persevere and keep working it until – hello! – suddenly it’s elastic and responsive. Then, when you leave it alone, it happily rises without you.

That’s where I got to yesterday – I hit my stride, the sweet spot. The story caught fire and I easily hit my word count. (Which I scaled back to a goal of 1K. This is like I’ve mentioned in the past, that I have to build up my endurance again, just like time away from the gym. Once I get settled into a steady 1K/day, I can gradually increase.)

Then I noticed something else – the rest of my day fell into place, too.

Productivity, it seems, breeds productivity. I’ve said before that I believe in the maxim “the more you do, the more you can do.” This kind of thing just demonstrates it for me again. If I can get over that hump of indolence, then everything goes better. The dishes get done, chores are whipped out, phone calls get made and work projects are easily wrestled into submission.

Now I’m going to try deflecting some bullets with these nifty silver bracelets…

Left Brain Overload

So, as I may or may not have mentioned, the day job is CRAZY right now.

As in, more work than can be humanly accomplished.

So, it’s taking a great deal of focus for me to get the work done. I’m getting through it, meeting my deadlines (so far), but I’m not getting anything else done. That is, no writing.

At work they’ve given me minions, lots of junior staff to help me. This is a great thing, except that I have to be able to tell them what needs doing. I can’t go off to some appointment and leave Mickey alone with all those broomsticks. Yeah, we all remembered what happened then. So, the upshot is, I have to be online early, because my minions are on the east coast. I have to deal with the emails that accumulated overnight. I’m digging into the day job by 7 am.

Now, long time blog followers will immediately see the problem here.

That’s right! This is totally fucking with my rituals!

*Ahem*

Yes, I’m taking deep, cleansing breaths.

David suggested that I just flip my usual schedule. Instead of writing in the morning, then switching to day job, I’d do the reverse. I know a lot of people do this. I tried it yesterday. I worked at the day job from 7 to 4. And then I had nothing left. I could have worked more, but my creative side had fallen asleep. Or taken off for the beach. She’s probably drinking dirty martinis somewhere and lolling in the sun.

She’ll come back, David reassured me. When you have the room for her.

And that’s just it. The day job is sucking all my brains, like a zombie shuffling relentlessly forward. (That analogy is just for you, Sullivan.)

It’s interesting to me, when I find the limits of what I can balance.

At any rate, at least I’m not involved in the National Book Awards brouhaha. What an exceptionally poor series of decisions there. And poor Lauren. Here we all are already paranoid when we get awards that it’s a mistake. Then for her, it WAS!

May the attention and sales make up for the pain.