I was never one for setting a strict writing schedule. Setting personal deadlines hasn’t really worked for me. Even enticing myself with a reward has proven useless. As fellow Ruminate blogger Sophfronia Scott says, “I suppose I’ve come to an age where I don’t deny myself simple pleasures in order to have a dangling carrot hanging out in front of me.”
There’s no reason to deny the little joys in life—like a trip to the coast or purchasing a fresh new book. For the cost it takes to write, a finished essay or poem or story is reward enough.
So then, where is the motivation? How does work get done?
I’d be lying if I said I just sit down and “do it.” Because I don’t. When I do sit down, 90% of the time some idea, complexity, image has struck me hard and I have the momentum to re-strike that spark onto a page. The other 10% of the time, I slip into my desk chair like a February polar plunge: every ounce of my body clenches and cries out to return to the safe, warm, non-productive space of my bed.
The problem with this 9:1 ratio is: inspiration or a great “muse” do not a writer make (at least, not a very productive one). I know the rules, the wise “ass to the seat” proverbs from great writers like Dorothy Parker, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, and many, many others. Somehow, on days when my cup is empty, this advice helps me plunge into that sub-freezing water, but it does not help me swim.
Writing is terrifying. Thrilling. Exhilarating. Defeating. Energy-zapping. Invigorating. It can be all of these things at once and each of these things separately. After some heavy thought into why I have such trouble writing when I do not feel inspired, I realize I cannot stand looking at what Anne Lamott calls the “shitty first draft.”
Though, this might be all of us. We wrangle ourselves into the chair, rustle up the energy to bang out a sentence, and yikes! did I really just write that? I’m a fraud; I’m a hack; I’m not good enough to write instructions for Ikea furniture.
This is what I mean when I say the “ass to the seat” proverb does not help me swim in the icy sea. It helps me to jump, but it does not lend me a floatation device to keep from sinking.
I’m not sure of the answer. I know when I continue to polar plunge, when I make that jump every single day, the swimming is easier. My muscles get used to the icy charge, my system is less shocked each time. It does not make the shitty first draft less shitty, but there’s certainly more material to work with. There’s more room for my mind and soul to become inspired, and the ratios become more even.
One thing that’s helped is a personal blog. A space that it is solely mine, a place of total autonomy, where even the shitty first drafts get a little play (hey—that’s what a personal blog is for, right?), helps make the frigid swimming feel less frightening. It has not yet helped me find the perfect writing schedule amidst a nine to five job, but I’m getting there.
What blogging has done has helped me feel more grateful. For everything. For the pieces of my life that seem mundane and or even painful, and especially for the pieces that have filled my soul. A writing friend of mine once described blogging as “the new miracle multivitamin for writer’s block.” I believe she’s right, and in this cold, life-killing sea, these miracle pills might save my life.
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