The Loci of Writing: Plantsing and Politics
It’s a year where satire and parody seem unnecessary – this political season has been aggravating and exhausting. I believe there are personal lessons to be learned and am mercenary about the sources. This last month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the people with whom I disagree. It would be a stretch to say I feel compassion or kinship or empathy, but challenging my thinking – a bouillabaisse of stereotypes, personal prejudice and simple loathing, is important to me.
It’s about the locus of control. I’ve been a bit baffled by the people who are intensely invested in Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or really, any political figure. It seems like they think one of these people would personally remove their credit card debt, mend their marriage, bring back their dead pets, educate them, make their children attractive, feed them well, make their everyday lives a bed of roses (but only after removing all the thorns, treating them with a non-toxic pesticide and laying them perfectly parallel). This is to say, they were relying on outside forces to make their lives better, provided they hand over their glass slipper of critical thinking skills and a vote.
This is where I can get into hostile and loud arguments with anyone, including friends. I am a cynic, but more than that, I cling intensely to an internal locus of control. Everything that happens to me that is bad is my fault. And most of the good things are luck meeting preparation. I just don’t speak the same language and when I hear a candidate’s supporters talk, it doesn’t make sense to me.
To hear grown humans blaming the shittiness of their existence on immigrants or a global economy or god forbid, the civil expectation that you be polite to other humans (all that political correctness, doncha know), is mind-boggling. To hear some men, especially those in positions of power and influence, referring to women by body parts, pejorative gendered terms and bizarre biological theories is like stepping into a world where logic is suspended and civility is maligned. It’s on this same planet where compromise and working together suddenly seems like an 8th deadly sin. It’s a planet where the locus of control in their lives is completely external and they have no personal responsibility.
I grew up with a lot of people who couldn’t see their way clear of their own shitstorm. All that fear and insecurity and lack of knowledge was externalized and laid to rest on the shoulders of everyone and everything else around them. The problem with living this way, is that it means nothing will ever change. If you practice blaming everyone and everything else for your problems, this is what you will be good at, no matter how the external circumstances change.
For whatever reason, I was one of those people who knew the only way out was to do. I joined the Army, went to college, slowly worked my way from a hotel toilet bowl cleaner to managerial roles. Every fuck-up of mine, I owned. It makes me less tolerant of blamers, less compassionate towards handwringers and less patient with sky-is-falling humans and that’s not the only downside to the internal locus of control.
For me, it’s always been that no matter what happens to me, it’s on me to fix it, to bounce back, to learn from it, to change it. That’s a big responsibility in a world where there are many factors we have no control over. My practice habits now involve trying to recognize what is truly in my locus of control and what is not.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been preparing for November and December. It is my time to finish a good enough draft of my novel to send out to beta-readers. I’ve cleared the decks of old projects and I began meditating a few minutes every morning to prepare myself for the day. I’m not very good at it, but that’s why they call it a practice.
It’s taken me years to get to this point. Three steps forward, two-and-a-half steps back. It has felt like a nonstop struggle to get myself to sit down and write and to practice shutting out all the shoulds so that I could focus. My responsibility. If I look to external reasons for why I don’t write on some days, I’ll find them. It’s easy. But there are two things that I have picked up over the years.
- If something is truly important to you, you’ll make time for it.
- If you’re going to use an excuse, add it to a list – you only get to use it once (thanks AB, for that sage bit of advice!).
Now that it’s National Novel Writing Month, up crops the old discussion about whether or not someone is a pantser (flying by the seat of their pants) or a planner (color-coded outlines ahoy). I am a fantastic planner. I have character cards typed up, timelines tacked to boards, a small town drawn out, chapter outlines (at least 3 of them) and all the mailing supplies for my beta-readers lined up.
It makes not one whit of difference to the writing, but I’ve accepted that it’s part of my process. When I write, I go where the story takes me and no amount of neatly typed notecards is going to change that. I’m a plantser. The planning pays homage to my internal locus of control – mirage or otherwise. The pantsing pays tribute to a creative spirit, which seems like something out of my control. And I honor it. I wouldn’t trust it to run the country, but I like to watch it race across the page.