Saturday, March 06, 2010

Thoughts on the [I'll Do Anything To Avoid] Writing Life

For the first time since I began this trippy adventure in July, last week I had no editing assignments to work on. After months of proofreading dissertations, transcribing sermons and HR videos, editing standardized tests and study guides, and even writing my first book proposal, my agenda was clear. I finally had time to work on my own projects. Oh, I had so many ideas! Fictional plotlines, personal essays, and random tidbits of prose show up all over my life on the back of dinner receipts, cocktail napkins, used envelopes—you name it. But oh no. When faced with actual opportunities to write these ideas into existence, I seem to find any number of diversions. Quite frankly, it’s getting ridiculous.

As the restful weekend rolled over into last Monday, I immediately thought, “What better way to plan my week of luscious writing productivity than to write a ‘To Do’ list?”

Sidebar: The word “productivity” immediately induces gags and shudders, since it was the primary buzzword in my previous life. My “productivity” (i.e. weekly average of Medicaid-billable client-contact therapy hours) was the ultimate measure of my loyalty as an employee and worth as a person, it seemed. Of course, supervisors meant well, but in the end it was all just a numbers game. The bosses couldn’t help it—they were cogs in the same wheel in which I was spinning. Still, just that momentary jaunt down memory lane sent me to the medicine cabinet for the bottle of Pepo-Bismol. Oddly enough, I don’t think I’ve used it since July—it’s probably out of date. Oh well. Gulp.

Aaah. I feel it’s cool, soothing calm coursing through my digestive system. But alas, I digress…

Anyway, I started my “To-Do” list: Call the Cone. Call sweet Nana. Write letters. Pay bills. Transfer counseling license from Kentucky to Tennessee. Mail books to Mom and Neen. List items on Ebay. Plan meals for the week. Grocery store. Go to the gym. Sync calendar and emails. Answer the 400 random emails lingering in my inbox. Answer all 50 of my forgotten Facebook messages. Return the last 10 calls on my phone that I’ve been avoiding.

From there, however, my list grew from mildly neurotic to full-on crazy. Ablaze in my manic, agenda item-checking glory, I added more and more bulleted points of banality. Alphabetize CDs. Organize library. Detail inside of car. Find missing Pampered Chef measuring cup (Really? REALLY? I’ve lived in 3 states in the past 10 months, and I’m really going to look for a missing glass measuring cup? Perish the thought!). Make a SPREADSHEET for my “To-Do” list. (For real. Have we met?) Organize photo files on computer. Clean out hard drive (I don’t really know what this even means.) Clean out closet. Go to goodwill. On and on and on.

No lie, by Thursday I was making a master list compiling all my other lists. A shopping list, a house list, a meals list, a writing list, a life list…Good grief. No wonder I didn’t get anything done last week.

I read about writing—Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, J. Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (and everything else she writes), Writer’s Weekly, Writer’s Digest, Steven King’s On Writing… You name it. I listen to audio recordings from writing retreats and seminars. I think incessantly about plot construction, character development, secondary storylines, settings…you name it. In their own way, all these people seem ultimately to say, “Get your butt in the chair, shut the door, and start writing.” And this makes so much sense, doesn’t it?

Yet last week, I cooked, read, cleaned, organized, napped, and even went to the gym. I hate going to the gym. The only thing that sustains me through an hour on the elliptical machine is an extra long playlist of Amy Grant songs from the 1980s, and I still don’t feel particularly happy about it. Then I made a spreadsheet. Never in my life have I done such a thing. I’m not sure that I ever will again, to be honest. But now I have a neatly organized and existentially profitable record of the areas in my life that need my attention. I can add internet links for comparison shopping, highlight and/or strikethrough items upon completion, and reprioritize the list according to events of the day/week/month/year/moon cycle.

What I don’t have is anything to show for my week of [non]writing. Still, I suppose writing on “why I’m not writing” is a start—a circuitous start, to be sure—but a start, nonetheless. So…off I go into the wild blue yonder. That’s the beautiful thing about this crazy writing life. The muse seems always to be sitting in my office, patiently waiting for me to finish my tap dance, ready to hear what I have to say, ready to change the station. Then I’ll stop flailing and invite my muse to join me…maybe in a waltz. No tap this time, though. And definitely no spreadsheets.

Shall we dance?


Julie said...

Love your words and love you. That is all...

Cynthia said...

Aw...I made your to-do list...or one of them anyway;)

Funny how the things that don't make it on "to-do lists" are typically the most meaningful moments of our day.