What if I just did the next thing that presented itself to be done and moved on? Pick up the dog toys, vacuum the dog hair off the carpet — what, again? — finally fill those empty shelves I put up in the living room last month, clear off the kitchen counter again.
In other words, instead of looking around and seeing everything that has to be done and saying, “Woe is me,” just take one of those tasks and do it, and then do the one next to it, and so on.
Just like my slow-moving writing projects — “Write the next sentence, even if it’s the only sentence you write today.” That advice has actually moved me forward a bit lately.
It’s funny — I tend to stall in the writing process after I figure out the ending.
“I already know this story,” my psyche says. “Tell me something new.”
“But I haven’t finished telling the story,” I protest.
“We both know how it ends, don’t we?” my psyche insists. “Ho hum. Move along.”
I wrestle my psyche to the ground, growling, “Now listen you. We know how it ends, but what happened before that? How did everyone get to the end?”
We lock eyes for a minute, maybe two minutes.
“Huh,” my psyche says at last. “How DID they get there? Maybe if …” and we had a nice conversation after that.
Part of my morning habit has become to play Hurdle, which is like Wordle except you solve five words: The solution becomes the first guess of the next round, and the four solutions become the first four guesses of the fifth word — at that stage you have two shots to get it right.
I’m also a fan of Wordler, which is like Wordle except you can play as many times as you want, unlike Wordle and Hurdle where there’s only one puzzle per day.
The other day I combined the two games: I used the Hurdle solution to start Wordler, and then I kept using the solutions to start another game.
I could have gone on for a very long time, until the solution to one puzzle was:
Being a writer, to me this felt like a command from another plane of existence.
WRITE what? The possibilities are endless. I can describe the early autumn chill like the first bite of a cool apple, or I can describe the whine of traffic coming and going Doppler-like on the road up the hill from here, or I can describe the morning fog that I wasn’t sure was my eyes or the air.
WRITE what? I can work on tomorrow’s blog post or I can advance my science fiction saga or my Christmas story.
WRITE what? I can just pull a random poem out of the ether, or develop a random scene from any old where, or rage against the machine — that silly machine is always up to something worthy of a good seething rage.
The bottom line was pretty clear, however: WRITE something that fills the page with writing, because that is my calling, after all, and those who don’t heed their calling are, well, heedless.
And so I wrote, which was a better use of my time than an endless game of Hurdle, believe it or not.
I am working my way a second time through Bob Goff’s book Dream Big, but this time I’m doing the exercises he recommends along the way. He starts with three big questions: Who are you? Where are you? What do you want?
Who am I? A guy who likes to string words and sounds together as melodically as I can. Where am I? Stuck. What do I want? To get unstuck.
In answer to one of Bob’s prompts, “Are there some recurring themes in your behaviors and choices?” I wrote in all-caps, “PEACE. NONVIOLENCE. PUPPIES.”
Being less glib, I recognize that a recurring theme in my behavior is what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance — a reluctance to move my dreams ahead — to finish my work, to get better at my musical instrument(s), to learn my craft — not so much the craft of writing, but the craft of shipping it out to willing customers (and I keep shaping that thought in terms of “customers,” rather than people who share my love of words and stories and songs. I suspect that’s part of the problem.)
It’s not that I don’t think my stuff is any good — the three novels-in-progress are the best I’ve ever crafted, but something pathological in me won’t finish them. Am I afraid that even my best isn’t good enough for the world? That would be so silly, and I don’t believe that’s the issue.
I suspect I have a touch of agoraphobia. Red was so worried that I might become a hermit that among her last entreaties to me was not to be one. I do tend to retreat into myself on a routine basis. I identified with the character in my friend Linda R. Spitzfaden’s novel The Other Side of Everything who wanted to step outside but was unable to do so for reasons no one could understand.
I want to finish my novels and go out into the world and be the wordsmith and podcaster and novelist and singer-songwriter who have always been lurking in my soul — I want to be Ray Bradbury and Judee Sill and Uncle Warren and Paul Harvey and e.e. cummings. They are in there, bursting to leap out and show the world what they’ve got. “I got the Resistance and I got it bad,” each of them says in turn and then goes back into hiding.
Another unfinished project is that I have struggled to sit down and write thank-you notes to all the people who sent me condolences or came to Red’s funeral two months ago. I wrote a note to myself Sunday night: “GET UNSTUCK. Monday: Write one thank-you note. Write one paragraph of Jeep. Write one paragraph of (other unannounced work in progress). Buy stamps.”
OK, that last one was everyday life trying to sneak back in. Everyday life is my favorite excuse for the recurring theme that I know what to do and I just — won’t — do it. “Yumping Yiminy, Uncle Warren, break out of the damn rut and be who you are!” I concluded my journal entry.
I’m pleased to report that before I sat down to post this Monday morning, I wrote my first thank-you note, I wrote several short paragraphs for Jeep Thompson and The Lost Prince of Venus, and I wrote several short paragraphs for (other unannounced work in progress). It’s not much, but it’s a start, and if I rinse and repeat every day, I think I can start dreaming big again.
8:24 a.m. — Where shall I go today, as I sit in the easy chair in the living room? Shall I write about a loud and sweaty rock concert with crowded crowd and leaving with the world sounding muffled as my ears begin their slow recovery? A sunny quiet afternoon sitting at a picnic table watching birds fly overhead and ants and flying insects make a visit? Memories of a golden retriever chasing after a disc and returning it proudly and perhaps haughtily?
Or am I not flexing my imagination enough? Should I follow the bicyclist who just swept past the front door, decked out in helmet and green and yellow uniform-ish garb, head bent over the handlebars in concentration to garner as much speed as he can on this long downward slope? Where is he going, and is he simply driven to push his body to the limit or is he on a desperate mission to spare his loved ones a danger they don’t even realize is imminent?
I “should” be on Venus. I “should” be wandering the Good Old City. I “should” be compiling content for my September 1 debut. But I am ever petulant — whatever I “should” be doing is exactly what I resist. Why do I so often fritter away my precious time doing everything except what I “should” be doing? I am a mystery to myself.
Actually, at first I sat down with a notion that I might, just for fun, write about sitting at a street-side table at a Paris cafe. I just remembered that notion now, a half-hour later, because instead of Paris, I browsed Facebook for — was it 10 minutes or 15? — before thinking, “OMG, it’s 8:24, let’s get to writing.”
I don’t know Paris from Tatooine; actually I know Tatooine better, having spent hours in dark rooms watching images of that far-off imaginary planet, many more hours than I ever spent studying Paris. How could I describe a cafe I’ve never been to, in a city I’ve never seen?
Well, how could I describe a planet I’ve never been to, that doesn’t even exist?
The Paris challenge is tougher — people who have been to Paris or who live there can take issue with my descriptions and say, “That never happened! That doesn’t exist!” while that is a moot complaint with the planet — of course it doesn’t exist. Or of course it does — in my imagination — and my mission is to make it real in yours.
And that cafe — it’s on a sunny street like any sunny street in any grand city, and I’ve deliberately left out any view of the Eiffel Tower — I may not know Paris, but I know my cliches — and my companion is a raven-haired beauty with a beret perched at an angle, but we are there to discuss business, not pleasure, and her demeanor is colder than that of the cheerful waitress who brings us wine and asks — I don’t know what she is asking, I don’t understand French beyond laissez faire and que sera sera — but my colleague understands, and she has a brief conversation with the cheerful girl that I suspect will lead to a meal being delivered in a few minutes.
She leans forward with a bit of a smile — I think she enjoyed taking control of the conversation while I was helpless to continue — and outlines the details of the business we are to conduct over the next few months.
I spend a few moments contemplating what every man so near to a pretty face contemplates, but mostly I try to focus on the business. I think women must know how easily distracted we can be, and they use our short attention spans to an advantage. That will be my wry reflection months from now when I realize the business transaction worked out better for her than for me. I’ll remember the curl of her lips when she smiles, and the flash in her eyes, but that one detail she glosses over and will swear she warned me about? Lost to memory and a pretty face under a jaunty beret. Men are so stupid. I know — I’ve been one all my life.
I found myself on the 150th page of my 21st journal and found myself wondering what I have learned by scribbling on hundreds of pages in eight years and four months of regular journaling. One thing I’ve learned is that I keep tripping over the same dilemmas and bad habits I was tripping over when I started.
Oh, I’ve made progress — if nothing else I’m more aware of what I need to be doing when I’m not doing it. I do have quite a few more books to show for the effort, even if no one is buying them. The moral of that story is write the books you want to write: Chances are very good they won’t sell enough to make you a living, so you may as well enjoy the process of making them. The love is in the writing. The reward is in producing the words, linking the ideas and the stories from here to there.
It’s not the next Harry Potter, is it? It’s not the next trilogy so grand they’ll need four movies to tell the three stories? Yeah, well, but it’s your story, it’s your book, told from your unique perspective, and of all the people who say they always wanted to write a book, you are one of the tribe who actually sat down and got it written. Coming up next is the joy of sitting down to write a second book, and a third, and get into even rarer territory.
The journey is the reward. The pleasure is in the writing. Oh, it would be nice to hear the sweet sound of applause, but if you do the writing right, you have the sweet feeling of fulfillment. Whether the applause will ever come is somewhat out of your control, but reaching the finish line? That’s all in your hands.