The Seat of My Pants in the Seat of My Chair

so it goesRemember back when you believed the Muse came in a vision and the stories poured forth like nectar from the literary gods?

Yeah. Neither do I.

Writing is hard work. It’s a solitary endeavor that demands discipline and focus and attention to detail. It doesn’t suffer fools and insists on personal accountability. Damnit.

A writer can’t believe her own BS. She knows in her soul whether she’s had a productive day or twittered it away. Literally.

A writer-friend and mentor — and someone I watched shiver while drip-drying at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon once because he refused to shell out two euro for a towel — recently confessed that he turned over hard-earned US dollars for Freedom.  He explained that this ironically named app  blocks his internet access for two hours at a time so he is forced to write and can’t be drawn away to check headlines or emails or funny cat videos or George Takei’s latest status update.

“Seriously! You? What about discipline, like turning off the wifi and closing email and apps and such?”

“Can’t do it,” he confessed. “I needed the intervention.”

In a world where attention spans are measured in 140 characters, we take help where we can get it.

Sliding into a world where my writing is taking center stage, I’m still searching for my groove. So far, here’s what I’ve learned.

Early mornings are where it’s at. That’s when my creativity happens.  I’ve got to roll out of bed, make the coffee, and start writing. I can’t give that time away to the headlines, Facebook, email or George Takei.  It’s all or nothing. Acceptable material by 11AM or drivel for the rest of the day.

It’s all about the priorities, people!  Know what really needs to get done, and do it. Ever had one of those brilliantly productive days where you fling emails back and forth like hot dogs at a baseball game, catch up on scholarly periodicals gathering dust on your desk, check-off ten things on your to-do list, and even fill up the car and get groceries on your way home? Thing is, those three things — the three really important things facing you that day — are still sitting, lonely and forgotten. My new task master? A desktop white board that stares at me every day, the single word TODAY scrawled across the top.  I list ’em there, and I try like hell not to get up until those three things get done.  I’ve yet to have a day where I’ve gotten all three  accomplished in the 10-12 hours I dedicate to that desk,  but it stares me down every day, until one by one, those things get done.

A change of venue can do a world of good. Two writerly friends meet every week at 11AM at Chad Lou’s, a coffee shop nearby that looks like it happened after grandma died and the family needed a spot to house her quirky old furniture. Every week, 11AM, they show up there, say hi, get coffee and pull out their laptops.  At 1PM, they pack up and move on. I was dubious — remember, I’m drivel by 11AM — but I joined them once just to see.  It was brilliance on a tattered sofa. I focused. I cranked out material — take that, white board! — and I added the weekly date to my calendar.  Dedicated writing time, out of my office, free from distractions, inspired by like-minded souls.

Embrace the Shitty First DraftSeriously, embrace it. I read Anne Lamott’s sage counsel when I first started writing and thought yeah, that’s nice. But that’s for good writers. I’m not a good writer, so my first draft’s got to be good to even be shitty. I’ve got to struggle to get my shitty first draft. Now, I sometimes write SHITTY FIRST DRAFT across the bottom of my evil white board, just in case I forget. I don’t struggle to write it so much any more. I just let the fingers dance around on the keyboard and see what happens. Some days, shitty is as good as it gets. But not always.

Don’t lose that thought! That thought’s my livelihood. I can’t afford to lose it. Like many writers, I’ve invested in Moleskin notebooks of all sizes and color. I’ve got pen and paper with me everywhere. I’ve dedicated specific notebooks to specific ideas or types of projects or assignments. I’ve recorded dozens of ideas in these dozens of notebooks.  I’ve not lost the thoughts, exactly. I just don’t know where I put them. Ahem. Enter Evernote. I may laugh at my mentor-friend for spending money on Freedom, but I worship the good souls who brought forth this organizational miracle.  In one place, on all my devices, all the time, I can capture my ideas, add notes to them as they come to me (like at the grocery store), and then — and here’s the best part — search for them and find them.

Deadline is not defined as 90% procrastination and 10% panic.  See, here’s the thing. I’ve learned this, intellectually. I know that my best work is done when I get started early, finish the shitty first draft, revise it, set it aside, come back to it, and still have it ready to go 24 hours or more before it’s due. I just haven’t gotten to the point where I do it that way. But I’m trying.  Good god am I trying.

But you know, Douglas Adams wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, without the distraction of that pesky internet, and here’s what he had to say about deadlines.

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

— Douglas Adams, author, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Yeah. You’re right. I’m not Douglas Adams.  Back to the evil white board.