Archives for June 2013

THE PLANE SEAT AT MY DESK

plane seatLast week I posted about the amazing amount of writing I got done on a flight from San Francisco to New York—two blog posts and 10,000 words on the sequel to Chasing Grace: A Novel of Odd Redemption—all because I was without my normal distractions: emails, the kitties, the breakfast dishes, Words with Friends, phone calls, and my #1 Discomfort Default, Bejeweled Deluxe . (The slightest hesitation over a word or phrase, the iPod Touch almost opens itself to the Bejeweled Deluxe game and a few moments of blissful-then-nervous unconsciousness.)  I promised last week to experiment with pretending I was on the plane while actually sitting at my desk, and let you know how it went.

THE RESULTS ARE IN, AND THEY ARE MIXED!
Okay, some days went really well. I did the breakfast dishes before sitting down to the computer at 7:00, closed Outlook completely and resolved not to open it until the alarm went off at 12:00, put my iPod Touch with all its Bejeweled and Words games in my desk drawer, gave the kitties a particularly sumptuous breakfast, which they chowed down and then waddled off to the bedroom for an extended nap.  I sat down, imagined myself surrounded by a 747 and the Zone, opened the Chasing Grace sequel file, and ripped out 11,000 and the draft of a webinar I’ll be giving this summer. Fantastic!Frankie and Flynnie

Other days, I did the same prep, except that I didn’t really believe I was in an airplane. I wandered over to the window, watched the ocean pound onto a sun-soaked beach, and decided it would be horrible—a sin, really—not to go outside and enjoy the splendor of nature before the fog rolled in. Or the kitties’ circadian rhythms went haywire and they would not sleep, and stood mewing plaintively at my feet until I looked down at them, which they interpreted as an invitation to jump into my lap, and that always means crawling up onto my shoulder, which means a love fest. Or the phone rang and it was a new client. Or…you get the picture.

WHAT IT MEANS
What does this mean? Maybe it means that some days, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Maybe it means that for some inexplicable karmic reason, I wasn’t supposed to get as much done on some days as I was on others. Maybe it means that my hyper-productive hours on the plane were really just the result of an unconscious disembodiment in order to escape the boredom and discomfort of the flight. Maybe it simply means that’s how the cookie crumbles.

More likely, I suspect, it means that some days I remember, and am awake enough, to call up the Zone and surround myself with it—and other days, I’m not. And that the Zone doesn’t really care, but is always there, waiting, happy to be contacted whenever I’m ready.  And maybe that’s true not just of writing, but of life.

What do you think?

Writin’ on a Jet Plane

I recently flew from San Francisco to New York. In the course of those five hours, I wrote three blog posts and two chapters (10,000 words) of the sequel of Chasing Grace: A Novel of Odd Redemption.

What happened? I didn’t have my regular computer with the games and the internet connection to Facebook and a host of interesting sites. I didn’t have my phone, or my kitties, or the breakfast dishes, or any of my other normal distractions.

These things are fun, and part of the fabric of my life. I don’t want to give them up. It’s just interesting to notice how much I got done when they weren’t around.

THE PLANE SEAT AT MY DESK  
This experience showed me how focused and productive I can be when I eliminate distractions. I don’t have to do it all day, every day, but it could be very useful. If I were to take three mornings a week, and just pretend I were on a plane from San Francisco to New York, I could get enough done that I might also include in that week:

  • A walk in the redwoods
  • Lunch on the Square in Sonoma
  • A hike in Jack London State Park in the Valley of the Moon

CHOSING MY HABITS  
The only reason I don’t work this way is habit. I could easily mock up the plane in my mind, create a separate temporary play or napping space (with litter box) for the kitties in the back of the house, and ignore the dishes and the computer games. But I rarely do.

If I don’t stop to think about my habits—work and otherwise—I just go through life on automatic.  This week, I’m going to spend three mornings on a jet plane and see how much I can get done.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

How to Call Up the Writing Zone

calling up zoneWhen I start thinking about how long it’s going to take me to finish what I’m writing, and about how good or bad it’s going to be, I am doomed! Creepy, paralyzing thoughts overtake me:

* What if I can’t do it this time?
* What if I don’t get it done on time?
* What if it’s terrible and I don’t have time to fix it?

I want the Zone to descend, and put me out of my misery. I want to know that it’s going to go quickly, and beautifully. I want to know ahead of time, before I even turn on the computer, that everything will be all right—and fun! I want the Zone, and I want it now!

PRIME THE PUMP
Oddly, sometimes they only way to get at the Zone is to start writing without it—and let it find me. It’s almost as if the Zone realizes that I’m doing something really hard, something very uncomfortable, in the service of writing, and so it comes to me. I start out befuddled and dull-witted, but willing to get something on paper anyway.

The Zone thinks, “Cool!” And before I know it, I’m humming away, oblivious of time and space, getting words on paper that at least can be edited.

I love this quote from Write that Book Already, by Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark:

“The Zone is a creative state of mind in which the writing flows…You feel connected to your own imagination, ideas flow, synapses connect, and before you know it you have filled the page. New writers make the mistake of thinking they have to feel the Zone before they begin work, when more often it is the other way around. Getting in the Zone comes from the act of writing…Just don’t wait for the imagined, perfect moment…Start writing and the muse will come. Not every time, but keep at it and the muse will come enough for you to get the initial writing done.”

Words to live by, along with Annie Lamott’s admonition to write “shitty first drafts.”

The Zone will find us if we’re courageous enough to go after what’s within us, even without it.

What do you do to find the Zone?

Why I Love Writing Deadlines

deadlineWriting under a deadline gives me freedom. Deadlines tell me when the project will be finished. They help me plan my time. Instead of just working, working, working with no end point, I can divide the job into smaller segments and schedule each segment so that the whole task is done by the deadline date. Deadlines tell me when I’ll be “free at last!”

I would much rather work with a crisp, clean deadline that have a project on which I could conceivably work until the end of time, trying harder and harder to do perfect work. I’m much happier with a date certain when I can say, “There! That’s the best I can do in this time frame.”

If I don’t have an external deadline for a project, I usually create an internal deadline—a time by which I can say, “That’s all she wrote.” Still, my journey to making friends with deadlines was not exactly a straight line. Here are some of the breadcrumbs, the mini-lessons I had to learn:

MASTER BRAIN FREEZE UNDER DEADLINE (BFUD)
It’s befuddling, but easy to overcome! With BFUD, the negative mental chatter simply takes over temporarily. All the mean, nasty, self-critical inner voices start yelling at the same time:

  • “You’ll never think or write fast enough.”
  • “Quick! Quick! What’s the perfect thing to say?”
  • “C’mon! Out with it!”

These voices can be overwhelming and cumulative. Our brains decide that listening to all this disheartening chatter is simply too much. They go on overload and just switch off. They freeze, muttering some version of, “If this is what it’s like to be awake, let’s go to sleep!”

The creative spark within us sputters. We stare into space, horrified that we’re not producing anything. Meanwhile, time flies by. We become so paralyzed that we can barely recognize that 2 + 2 = 4. Brain Freeze Under Deadline is nothing more than negative mental chatter gone wild. The solution is to take a deep breath and march through these steps:

1. Recognize that BFUD is just what Buddhists call “monkey mind.” The voices are not reality; they are just the fear-based part of our minds on a screaming binge. What they say is almost never true. These are just monkeys, not facts.

2. Stop the runaway monkeys. Don’t let the monkeys’ worry and craziness take over. Clear your mind in whatever way works for you. Stand up and stretch. Pray and throw yourself on the mercy of whatever is divine to you. Walk around the block. Pat the dog or kitty. Break the pattern somehow.

3. Find something to enjoy about the writing that needs to get done and focus on that.

REMEMBER: YOU CAN DO IT FUN, OR YOU CAN DO IT DIRTY 
You can do your project in the Zone—even with a deadline—or you can fight with it and, at best, wrestle it to the ground and “defeat” it. Either way is fine, but you get to choose.

The books for which I contract have to be done by a certain date—whether or not I’m inspired. I can take a little time and energy to call up the Zone and have a ball doing them, or I can rush in thinking, “I don’t really need the Zone this time. I’ve got this one nailed.” When I do that, I usually realize very quickly that I am so, so wrong and that I can’t really do it on my own—or that I won’t have much fun doing it that way.

It is much more pleasant, much quicker, and much more productive to work in the Zone.

How do you make deadlines work for you?