Nothing Magical About It

I’m going to pull one of the struggling writer’s favorite procrastination tricks out of my hat today: writing about writing. And maybe a little self-loathing sleight-of-hand, some sawing in half of my writing time, juggling of all the wrong priorities, and the hypnotic allure of social media. My lovely assistant, Pete the Tomcat, will be licking himself disdainfully in the corner.

canstockphoto5631497It’s hard to admit that I’m a little stuck right now with writing. I know this because when I went to writing group today, I was full of insight and unsolicited advice. I get all sage and knowledgeable when my own writing has stalled out. Despite the kind and generous members of the group, I returned home irritated with myself and the sound of my voice. Take your own damned advice, lady.

At the bottom of this crockpot of simmering emotion, is a strong sense that I’m failing myself. I need to start fighting above my weight class. I write safely – cutesy stories that amuse, personal essays that if, by god, I haven’t mastered after 8 years, I may as well give up the ghost. The novels are still mostly unseen by others.

Tomorrow I’m gifting myself a day with no social media. Whatever rage and impatience that is borne of my personal frustration will have to pour itself into characters and story lines. Action will have to lead me out of this wilderness of self-loathing. I regard it as singular progress that I don’t just hit the bottle or eat an entire cheesecake or return to my halcyon days of chainsmoking while thinking deep, but unwritten thoughts.

I have to write myself right. See you on the other side.

canstockphoto17581973 (002)A special thanks to my writing group. Each time we meet, your generosity, humor, and bravery remind me of the many reasons why I write. Thanks so much!

Lions, Lambs, and Fools

March was a wonderful, terrible kind of month, which means more writing material than I could put in one post. While I’m glad to be back, taking the month of March off from blogging was a good plan. I’ve refilled my mental reservoir, wrangled with some writing demons, and have reoriented to continue my mission.

On the Domestic Front

I am celebrating 18 years of wedded bliss today. We’ve survived each other’s foibles and families and now we’re just watching each other deteriorate. But we’re still laughing and that’s not nothing. In a few years, when our daughter sets off on her own, we’ll be shuttling each other to doctor’s appointments and not speaking for hours on end because we’ve already said it fifty times before. We just need to wait a little longer until we’re more forgetful and it will all seem new again. Ah, the ties that bind.

canstockphoto1577266We’ve had another busy month with our in-house band. In addition to playing viola, violin, and piano, my daughter has decided to pick up saxophone. We should get a bulk discount for rental instruments and I should get some parenting points for letting sax happen. When I was 14, I was listening to Rick Springfield and playing Baroque music on my flute. My kid is playing Ellington and Dvorák and songs from Hamilton. I love how the internet has enabled us to experience a wider slice of the world.

Winter returned with a vengeance after a couple of false springs. We’re in for sub-freezing temps for the next week with a chance of middling depression.


In this episode of “free isn’t free”, I closed my Facebook account. I wasn’t using it, didn’t find it interesting, and finally stopped lying to myself about what professional tools I needed. I wasn’t much help to Cambridge Analytica. To make up for it, I just mailed all my critical data to the RNC and the Kremlin. Привет, Господин Путин.

canstockphoto12227677.jpgWhen The Atlantic hired Kevin Williamson last month, I cancelled my subscription. I’ve finally hit a wall with media entities that give platforms to every wingnut on the spectrum lest someone accuse them of being biased or they lose a market share. The defense for the hire is that his writing is great – if great means deliberately provocative. There are a lot of great writers and most of them don’t advocate that women who have abortions be hanged. Skill does not excuse malevolence.

I started digging into Twitter, trying to decide if I need that account out there, collecting dust. What I learned is that people feel very strongly about Roseanne Barr and like to pick on high school kids. I’m not sure that this is useful for me to know. I don’t watch evening television, nor do I care for celebrity fealty, a concept that baffles me on many levels. I’m still not sure if Twitter is particularly useful as anything but a distraction. I dusted it off, took a look, and put it back on the shelf until the next time.


I wrote more in the last month than I have in the last year. I also forced myself to submit an essay for a contest, only to be overtaken by the worst panic attack I’ve had in years. It led to a lot of soul-searching and I’ve gotten fierce about how I approach writing and my work process.

I finally finished Hillary Rettig’s The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to canstockphoto5169727Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block, spurred on by my disastrous attempt to submit work. There were moments in the book where I was gut-punched, as she accurately described my experiences as a writer. She also gave a lecture worth looking at, if any of these issues are yours. I don’t get writer’s block, but I do drive myself crazy with perfectionism and procrastination (which are blocks of my own design). She provided some very helpful insight.

While I’ve learned that every writer and their process is different, the key word is “process”. What is really happening with the writing? What are the habits and thought patterns that serve as obstacles? And holy shit, lady, can you please just write without editing for once? These are the tough questions I’ve been wrangling with in the quest to be more productive, creative, and successful.

Coming to a Blog Near You

canstockphoto7243840After my futile search for a book club aimed at writers, I’ve decided to set up one of my own online. I’ve been doing a lot of research on what might work and have put together a website, so look for a blog post announcement in the next week or so for the TGS Writers’ Book Club.

Happy April!

Getting Mocked by Alfred Adler

canstockphoto3436262Over five years of blogging, and at least 50% of it has been whinging on about writing – doing it, not doing it, determined to do it, failing to do it. I’ve pitched to agents at a conference and not followed through.  I’ve been given the time, opportunity, and space to do it. I’ve set and promptly passed deadlines. I’ve made note cards, scribbled on white boards, discussed it ad nauseam with friends. I have skeletal novels and unfinished stories and poetry done badly. I have made myself feel physically ill, have anxiety attacks, and on occasion had a good blubber about it. Writing doesn’t make me miserable. Failing to do it does.

So why would anyone NOT do what they love to do? What kind of messed-up psychological bullshit is that?

When faced with an intractable problem, I have a process. It involves contemplation and research. I am now surrounded by books on perfectionism, human nature, time management, and failure. I’ve been reading through them, one by one, taking notes, thinking about what applies to my situation and what doesn’t. Every once in a while, I run across something that startles me.

Faint-heartedness is a characteristic of those who feel that every task which faces them is especially difficult; of people who have no confidence in their powers to accomplish anything.

Alfred Adler, Understanding Human Nature, 1927

I first heard about Adlerian philosophy in parenting classes many years ago, but had never read through his explanations. The distance between my exposure to knowledge and my implementation of it is quite great. Like Grand Canyon great.

As a rule this trait is evinced in the form of slowed movements. Thus the distance canstockphoto41149785between the individual and his approaching test or task, not only does not quickly become smaller, but may even remain unchanged.

Alfred Adler, Understanding Human Nature, 1927

If my life timeline is any indicator, I move at a glacial pace. I learn everything the hard way. I don’t listen to others, choosing instead to learn by falling on my own face, tripping over my own feet, and living in my own convoluted knot of a brain. If I read something that resonates, it doesn’t sink in for another 2-5 years. If I fail at something, I have to fail 25 more times before a lesson emerges.

People who are always to be found elsewhere when they should be applying themselves to some particular problem of life, belong to this group. Such individuals suddenly discover that they are not at all fit for the profession which they have chosen, or they find all manner of objections which serve so to annihilate their sense of logic, that the assumption of this profession actually becomes impossible.

Alfred Adler, Understanding Human Nature, 1927

This dude really gets me and it’s embarrassing. He saves the absolute best/worst for last:

Besides slowed movements, the expression of faint-heartedness is to be found in a certain preoccupation with over-safety and over-preparation, activities which have for their sole purpose the evasion of all responsibility.

Alfred Adler, Understanding Human Nature, 1927

Okay, I get it Alfred – I’m a big fat coward. I’ll research that a bit and get back to you – in a few years, after many more anxiety attacks, a few more faint-hearted attempts to be a writer, and another stack of note cards. You too-right bastard.

Thank You…Now It’s Time to Get to Work

canstockphoto7404562Thank you to the many bloggers, readers, and writers who stopped by my Freshly Pressed piece “Being Fiction, Instead of Writing It“. I have never experienced that kind of traffic and number of comments on a post before, so it really caught me off guard. I’ve done my best to respond to everyone, but I know sometimes I miss a comment or two.

I appreciated the conversation, the encouragement and the personal experiences that some of you shared. I learned that there are a lot of procrastinating writers out there and that we’ve all read way too much writing advice. This should be somewhat comforting to me, although I’m in a place where the less comfortable I am, the better.

canstockphoto16261737That being said, I’m going to keep this post brief and to the point. I have a novel 3rd draft to finish. I have a short fiction blog to work on and will continue to write weekly posts for The Green Study. When I wrote about my procrastination, it was a way of blowing out the pipes and addressing the situation. I have some writing talent, ambivalent ambition and a lot of excuses that I’ve used up avoiding the work. These things do not a novelist make.

Let’s take the bull by the horns. Today, I’m working on a synopsis and outline for my novel. It’s a little reverse engineering. I was a pantser on the initial novel draft, which has confounded and paralyzed me for the last couple of years. For me to move forward, I need to know where I really want to go. It’s the only way to end procrastination – doing something, anything, that is a step in the right direction. Today.

It might mean catching up on some rest, wrestling with five words, eating slightly better, taking a walk or it could be tackling the mess in the garage or closet. Dear fellow procrastinators, what are you doing today, to contribute to a personal goal, writing or otherwise?

Being Fiction, Instead of Writing It

canstockphoto1323495Over the last few years, I’ve written blog post after blog post about making changes with a mind towards writing. I quit paid work. I quit volunteering. I set up my study, surrounded by books, many of them about writing. I am supported by the people in my life. I talk about writing. I read about writing. I write about writing. On occasion, I even write things that aren’t about writing.

The only person in my life who doesn’t take me seriously as a writer is me.

The door is open wide and I look desperately out of windows, jumping at anything that is not writing. It’s an odd compulsion that I’m at a loss to explain. I read somewhere that writing is hardest for writers. This makes no sense to me. When I’m in my writing groove, I’m so damned happy. But I’m a dilettante, without rigor or discipline. And the time for lying to myself is over.

I’ve been a consummate caregiver. But my child needs less from me. My mother-in-law is moving into a nursing home. I’m becoming increasingly less employable and less relevant to others as each moment passes. The closer I get to unfettered time, the more conflicted and lost I feel. But the cost to my psyche of not writing is starting to outweigh everything else.

If you daydream about a day when you didn’t have to work and could devote yourself full-time to writing…if you wished that those around you supported and encouraged you…if you wished that you had the perfect writing space…if – if – if.

canstockphoto10947379Real writers know this is a shell game. I have met all my “if” conditions and I am no more a writer than I was at the height of activity – working, volunteering, caregiving. For me, calling myself a writer was just a lie to make all that other shit worth it. I could feel that I had a higher purpose, even when kissing someone’s ass in an office or getting barfed on by my child. I could always tell myself that when I had more time, I’d be awesome.

Well, it turns out I’m not awesome. I’m a procrastinator, a hustler trying to put up a good front. I remember watching a commencement speech by Neil Gaiman. He talked about how he got jobs by lying about where he’d been published and then made it a point of honor to get published later at the places about which he lied. Like him, I’m going to call myself  “chronologically challenged”. My talk has preceded my walk.

There are many people who write/blog/create memes about writing. I know – I’ve read or seen many of them, because it was something that I could do instead of write. I don’t experience muses or inspiration or manic writing. I lost the poetry of my adolescent years and the sentimentality of my twenties. My thirties were dominated by marriage and child-rearing. And here I am, wrapping up my forties in a clusterfuck of unresolved personal issues and middle-aged angst.

canstockphoto12404837Here’s the thing about inner conflict: it’s the heart of everything. It’s the recognition that you are your best friend and your worst enemy. It’s the battle between what was, what is and what will be. It’s the ultimate choosing of right and wrong, of what feeds you or what sucks your soul dry. It’s grabbing your childhood by the throat and saying “enough already!” It’s learning how to take all those chronic character flaws and turn them in your favor. It’s recognizing that there are certain things that you will never change about yourself.

I’ve been struggling the last couple of years, swinging wildly between determination and defeat. These last four months were a long finishing punch. It turns out that I do have a muse. An insistent, rather violent one who favors tankards of coffee, swear words and surprise hook punches. Okay, okay, I get it. I’m tapping out. You can stop now.

I’m putting a spin on my forties, when I decided I’d become a martial artist, super mom, Japanese ink painter, personal trainer, officer of the law, marathoner, web genius, everywhere volunteer and organic vegan superfreak. It was all research for writing. It sounds so much better than a midlife panic.

canstockphoto16261737It’s time to ante up or fold. I’ve run off in a thousand different directions and always, always, I come back to writing. And the only opposition to me seriously pursuing it, is me.

That’s a little embarrassing, considering the very real obstacles a lot of artists encounter. But so is getting kicked in the face by a 12 year old in taekwondo, painting bamboo 5,000 times and having it still look like a tulip, running so slow that I get lapped by the senior walkers, farting while bench pressing, nearly passing out during public speaking and offending people in the regular course of my life just by being me. What’s being a failed writer going to do? Humiliate me? Hell, I got this.

So I’m taking the best writing advice I’ve ever read and running with it: write. Set hours, set commitment, failure possibly imminent. I can always become an origami instructor if it doesn’t work out. canstockphoto8251234

The Ugly Duckling: The Ambiguity of Fairy Tales

canstockphoto17569045It was “show and trade” day in 1st grade. Everyone got to bring a toy from home that they could trade with another student. There wasn’t much I could bring. My mother finally gave in on a doll. It was a large plastic doll, a hand-me-down from another family. It was the kind of doll you put diapers on, except she didn’t have any clothes and one of her arms kept falling off.

Each student would go to the front of the classroom to show and talk about the toy that they wanted to trade. I was shy and it was the first year I had to wear glasses. They were black-rimmed, in the shape of stop signs, magnifying my eyes. I shuffled up in front of my classmates and stood there in plaid jumper and octagon eyes, saying nothing, doll hanging from one hand upside-down. A few awkward moments passed and then the teacher called the next student.

After everyone had shown their items, the trading floor opened, a mosh pit of grabbing and shouting “I called it first!”. I stood off to the side. The teacher gently called me over to the wall cabinet near her desk. “I’ll trade with you.” She dug through a box and pulled out a square envelope. Inside was a black disc, a slightly used 45 of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. I had just received my first audiobook.

canstockphoto14735381My mother played it upon request, in between her Steely Dan and Simon & Garfunkel rotations. It told the now classic tale of the ugly little duckling who endured ridicule and misery, only to become a beautiful swan. It’s a message I took very much to heart, believing that my day would come if only I were long-suffering and patient.

The ugly duckling story shows up time and time again in popular culture. I just re-watched “Strictly Ballroom”. The movie had a sledgehammer of a theme that with time, a little rhythm and some googly eyes from a boy, a tragically inept and bespectacled heroine turns into a woman of substance/beauty – worthy of admiration and respect.

As a child growing up in the 70s, I watched fictional women become beautiful and substantive through the most artificial of means – Wonder Woman spinning off her glasses and hair bun, Jamie Sommers getting bionic bits and pieces, and the bespectacled librarian calling on the goddess Isis for lip gloss and a miniskirt.

It wasn’t just about superficial beauty created through handicapped vision, bustiers and spackling. It was, under all of that glitz, about being a special little snowflake in a world of dust bunnies. It was a consolation prize for being miserable in the now, for feeling left out, looked over, and shoved aside. It was a selfish sort of martyrdom, a comforting bit of procrastination.

I waited and waited to become something special, to feel like I was in the skin I was supposed to be in and not just an ungainly duck. The magical if-then thinking was a comfort while I waited to outgrow the awkward stage of being me. Nearly forty years later and I’ve given up daydreaming, curtailed wishful thinking, stood in the moment I’m in and thought Well, how about that, ducky?

It’s not a fairytale ending. I wrote this thinking I’d likely end up with some sort of self-affirming bravado, but I don’t roll that way. The bottom line is that there will always be ducks who are ducks. Plain and simple. There’s a pragmatic clarity that I like about that thought. There’s no condescending cheer Be the best duck you can be or you’re beautiful on the inside as some sort of consolation prize.

I re-read The Ugly Duckling recently and it seemed more an odious tale about bullying and an ugly obsession with conventional beauty and conformity, than inspirational fodder for the homely. What we take away from stories can say a lot about where we are in our lives. And the reality is that swans are rather aggressive. If the tale were truer to life, that ugly duckling/cygnet would have kicked those mean ducklings’ asses all over that pond. Now that’s a tale I’d enjoy reading.canstockphoto21971542

I’ve been exploring fable and fairy tale themes in writing. Here are some helpful resources:

Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable by Adrian Room

The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar

The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of Grimm Brothers: The Complete First Edition by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm

Aesop’s Fables (Oxford World’s Classics) by Aesop, Laura Gibbs (Translator)