Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring Brings New Life and New Habits

It's hard to believe it's almost the end of April and spring is blooming all over. It seems that it was only a few weeks ago that the winter holidays were passing and we were celebrating the new year.

I've been taking pictures on walks as Spring keeps bringing new revelations in my local area. These walks always bring a smile to my face and make me feel hopeful about the year to come. These pictures were taken in the first week of April when cherry blossoms were blooming in orchard park--a small park behind my home. Now we have apple blossoms, pear blossoms, and most bulb plants are definitely out of the ground--daffodils and tulips are plentiful.

To add to the whole rebirth and new life this spring, my husband and I found out on Easter that a second grandchild is on the way. Nothing is more reaffirming than knowing that life moves forward--whether through spring blooms, new babies, or simply a realization that no matter what happens we can move forward and embrace life again.

This has been a challenging 2015 so far for me. My father's death in December and the subsequent responsibilities after that were more trying than I gave them credit in the first couple months. So, I've been struggling in the first few months of 2015 to once again find the right balance of family, additional chores, non-profit volunteer work, managing finances for multiple people in my life, maintaining better health and getting exercise. I have managed to do all those things by trying a variety of schedules over the last couple of months--some more successful than others. Now I need to add back my full-time writing career.

There have been many times in the past two decades when I've been off my writing game for a month or two. Times when my work life became too crazy with travel. Or times when major events happened--marriage, births, job change, retirement. But this time it has been five months. I admit it is really hard to get back on a regular schedule.  Writing requires giving myself permission to take the time and make the space for creation of long work. I don't mean physical space. I mean psychological space. That place where I push out all my preconceptions of the world and allow whatever forms to be taken into account.

Short stories are never a problem. I can do those usually in a day or two (outside of editing). A short story allows me to dip into a world, present a type of vignette, and then get out and feel satisfied. Longer work requires daily commitment and making that space. It's like meditation. My normal world must be shut out so I can let the other worlds in--the worlds that my characters embody, that my themes require. A longer work forces me to make that psychological space every day for more than a day or a week--often for more than a month. It requires me to form a habit of writing and, when I break that habit, it is easier to let go and not re-commit again than to find a way to fit in the time and to make that space.

I've heard from some authors who say they can't "not write." They have so many stories begging to be told that it drives them crazy not to write. I have that same experience. However, telling a story that is the length of a novel (50,000 to 90,000 words for me) takes a daily commitment. No matter how much I want to tell that story it is never easy. I have to know my characters like I know my best friends. I have to pay attention to them and their struggles in the same way I would with my siblings. I have to listen, evaluate, discuss, help make decisions and move the story from challenge to coping to success. All of that, for me, is a type of psychological work that I am unable to do in 15 minute bursts. It takes more concentrated time and commitment.

For all of you who have suffered loss or massive change in your life, and find yourself unwilling to engage with your characters problems and leave the security of your "normal" world, I empathize with that struggle. I can only say that what has worked for me is to do small bits at a time. It's kind of like desensitization. I take only one chapter and step into the void with my characters with a promise that I can withdraw if it gets to be too much. Then I do it again, and again, and again until I can find a way to remain present in that world but not in so much empathy with the characters struggles that I can't continue. I have been doing that a few thousand words at a time and it's helped. I've written five short stories in the past few months--dipping into my three worlds for my three different series. It is definitely frustrating not to have made more progress on the longer works. But it's helped get me to that point of forming a new habit and not being scared to go back there.

I turned a corner last week, finally putting all the pieces together; and now I'm ready to return to my 10,000 words a week schedule. What I need to do is to figure out how to make the time for that. Now that I have very successfully avoided this by filling all my time with other things, I need to once again create a schedule that allows for five to six hours a day of writing.

Because of all that has changed in my life, the new schedule will be very different from what I had last fall. That means forming new habits. That means struggling with keeping those goals every week as the new habits solidify. Now it's time to execute the plan. Finally, I'm ready.


Judith Ashley said...

Congratulations! Fundamental changes take time to formulate, execute and integrate. So pleased to see you maintain your writing with short stories - writing is writing, new words are new words. Sending positive thoughts your way.

Jessa Slade said...

I feel ya so hard. When the words are coming well, I forget that it was hard. And when it gets hard, I forget that I have any idea what I'm doing. And I'm not even crazy, particularly. Gah, we can only keep going.

And eat chocolate, of course. Go, go, wrytr grrls!