Monday, December 19, 2011


I used to hate this word. In the academic world, at least to college teachers, it means an examination of what we do to see how effectively (or ineffectively) it furthers a student's learning and development. And it's hard to gauge, complicated, and sometimes makes us a bit defensive. (What do you mean my students knew less at the end of the semester than at the beginning?)

With a short article from Writer's Digest, however, I have realized that it's way past time for a self-assessment of my writing habits. WAY past time. I've known so many writers who have very particular habits--a certain place to write, certain snacks, the best time of the day to write, etc.

My habits have always been pretty specific, too:

1. I write reclined in my wingback chair, laptop on my, well, lap.
2. I tackle a short online game before I start writing, to clear my head.
3. I write only during the day, not in the evening (unless I'm up at 2 a.m.).
4. I sit on my books for months, working on other projects until I finally get back to them.
5. I work on only one project at a time.
6. I put my writing last, after dishes, laundry, cleaning out the cat box, decorating for Christmas, cooking dinner--okay, pretty much everything. (I'm a bit like Cinderella, telling myself I can write IF I get all my work done, and IF I find a suitable dress to wear...)

So, what's wrong with all this, besides the obvious travesty in #6?

It isn't that anything is wrong. But the WD article suggested looking at my habits carefully to see how well they work, honing those I want to keep, and tossing or changing the ones that inhibit my productivity. And since I'm planning on signing up to be a school substitute in January, I have some definite reassessing to do.

Here are the questions I need to ask myself before then:

1. Is reclining the best way to tackle this? What about sitting at my writing desk, or even standing (it's better for circulation, and I've done it a little recently, with good results). Don't my legs start cramping if I write more than an hour at a time? Might another position help me be more productive AND healthier?

2. How much does online gaming get in the way of writing? Should I restrict my games to the fast ones? Doesn't Dragon Mahjong, for instance, sometimes delay me for half an hour, since I want to play until I actually win a game? How much time every day do I waste on this crap?

3. WHY do I only write during the day? So that I can stare at the football my husband is watching? Is television ever worth it, besides Grimm and Once Upon a Time? I already know the answer to this. I find most television mind-numbing or outright irritating... so why not write while the hubby is getting his TV fix? What is it I'm sacrificing my time for?

4. How effective is it to sit on my books for so long? What's the ideal time for stepping back to gain perspective? This one might be the most effective habit for me as it stands, actually. I reread my Death By Chocolate story, attempting to revise it, but it seems as if 1 1/2 months is not enough time for me to gain perspective. I added some detail, yes, but I didn't make the substantial changes to it that are probably needed. Lucy (hopefully) will see the holes and be honest enough to slash through them without mercy. I find that time is absolutely necessary for me, or I end up with three revisions of a work that don't even add up to a good edit. I know most writers are different from me in this, but it doesn't matter. I have to make sure that what I do works best for me.

5. I am too scatter-brained to work on two novels simultaneously, but my gut feeling with this work-on-only-one-project-at-a-time mentality isn't helping me be productive. I so want to finish a project that I slog through it even when it's utter crap, when it might serve me better to switch to something that could work better. Then again, I know two many friends who have five unfinished novels. This one might just have to stay as is. I have to think it through--perhaps try out a new habit or two--and experiment to see what works best.

6. Putting my writing at the bottom of my TO-DO list absolutely must change. Self-sacrifice cuts into my creativity more than everything else, and I need to at least fit in writing a little bit every single day. I've had "rewrite query" on my TO-DO list for two weeks now, and I know that today it won't happen. Will it happen tomorrow? I need to figure out why I believe my writing activity is not worth my time, and I need to find a way to show myself that it isn't a waste, that it deserves my devotion (and I deserve the time to write).

Wow, this entry turned out really long, and it probably bored the snot out of you, but if I can put these questions to myself, I might end up with a more productive 2012 than I would have otherwise... and maybe I'll be on a truer path to establishing my career as a writer.

So, what about all of you? Any habits you have that need a bit of assessment?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sitting on the Back Burner

How many burners does your stovetop have? Four? Five? Ten? Does it have one of those warming ones, a place where you can't boil water, but you can keep something edible for a while?

My physical stovetop only has four (though I used to have five), but I feel as if my own personal stovetop has about fifty of them--or perhaps I have some casseroles in the oven, as well, all baking at different levels of completion.

Ever burn anything on that stovetop? It's a bit easier to do if you have all your burners going full blast, but a bit of maintenance can let you know something's about to boil over, and you can turn down the heat or turn it off completely. I do find, though, that it's hard to make everything cook at the same time without turning something to charcoal or forgetting to turn on a burner at all.

This is where I stand right now. After the rush of NaNoWriMo, I've been shuffling around different projects, including actually finishing the novel I set out to write in November. That rough draft is now done, but I have several shorter things screaming at me, and I find this blog and my other have been neglected because of my time on writing and art projects and on holiday obligations apart from my writing (including a birthday party for my daughter, about ten holiday parties, a children's musical I just finished directing, Zumba classes, end of school activities for my kids, presents, stockings, baking, cleaning, do I actually need to go on with all the other items, or do you see what I mean already?).

In fact, these poor blogs haven't been on the back burner. They've been set on the countertop for days, and now they're growing that creepy white mold in fuzzy spots. Inedible. I need to toss out the crap inside and start over.

That is precisely what I intend to do. I'll be posting soon to let all of you know my plans. My Not Writing blog will be dealing with writing, marketing, evil voices, etc., but I will be working on a more consistent post schedule for it (to go with a more consistent marketing and writing schedule) and my Creative Arts Anonymous blog will be revamped to include far more of the creative arts, from painting to music to theatre. I might even throw in a bit of cooking and other artistic pursuits.

I hope you stay tuned. I'll be back here before you know it, once I've dumped out that moldy mess, washed and sanitized the pans, polished them until they are shiny, and placed them on the burners again. Hopefully I'll remember to stir them enough so that nothing burns on the bottom!

In the meantime, how are your recipes going? Any dish get finished? Did it taste good? Burn anything? Got some mold growing in your pans? I'd love to feel I'm not alone in this... but I think this feeling's pretty common for this time of year. While I'm planning, if you have any suggestions, feel free to post them.

More soon, I promise!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Other People's Opinions

Imagine this: You go to your closet, and instead of your regular clothing, the most fantastic clothing ever awaits you. For me, it would be some authentic period costume--probably post-Restoration England--the male or female dress--both are beautiful to me... something sumptuous, something you've always thought of wearing. Please don't imagine my costume, since most of you won't find it particularly appealing. Besides, it's my costume, not yours!

You put it on. You feel fantastic, newly made, as if suddenly the real you is pulled out into the open, shimmering in a way you normally don't.

Now imagine you are at a huge party, surrounded by people you know--ordinary people you know, wearing ordinary clothing, not the kind of stuff on your own body. You stand out immediately. They stare. Their eyebrows wrinkle up a bit. They lean in towards each other, mumbling words of suspicion, questions, comments like, "Why is he/she wearing that?"

It's similar to the dreams most of us have had of being in public either in pajamas or in the buff. And most of us find it disconcerting at least--or downright mortifying. But is it? What is it that makes us respond so negatively to this situation?

It's the physical representation of what most of us fear every single day: that people will see the truth of who we are and will judge us for it. We each remember moments in our lives when people have judged us. I've been called all sorts of things, and even though many of the names given to me over the years revealed far more about the people who judged me, I still find I hold onto these judgments as if they are valid. But why?

Because I fear something else: that my own view of myself is so skewed that these people are more right than I am. How have I prevented testing this theory? How have I managed to hold onto my own opinion? By hiding. If I don't show my true self--if I don't put on the costume that really suits me and sport it in front of everyone--no one will be able to know the real me, or judge me for it.

But I have come to realize that when I hide, I tell myself to be ashamed of who I am. I devalue myself, not because other people devalue me, but because I assume they will. I don't even try to show who I am, so certain (or fearful) am I that who I really am isn't worth anything but a good scoffing.

Imagine this scenario instead. You are dressed as who you truly are, with your own personal shimmer now physically undeniable, and as people surround you, they do talk, they do lean in towards each other to ask questions, but then they move toward you, eyes teary, their lips soft and smiling. "Where did you find that fantastic outfit?" one finally asks.

"I made it myself," you answer.

And it's true. All these years, you have been working on this costume of yours--it fits you like a glove, shows off your best features, and emphasizes the who you are in beautiful asymmetry. Okay, so a few of the seams aren't perfect, and the trim is a little goofy on one sleeve. So what? It's still cool, and it's still you.

So, why not wear it? Why hide the garment in your closet? What good will it do hidden? Sure, you can open the door and stare at it happily once in a while, but that's it.

Go on, then. You know what to do. Stop hiding. Put it on. No more fear.