15 Minutes

I took a little break from social media, but over the break, I was still having trouble writing. So I ordered this book, and it came just in time.

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 I liked that Rosanne Bane focused on writer’s resistance, because while we might use the term “writer’s block” loosely, rarely do people suffer from true writer’s block, during which they spend hours trying to write but are unable to produce anything. Most of us, if we’re being honest, aren’t actually getting to the trying part, where we set aside all distractions and focus on writing, because we’re struggling with resistance to the idea of writing. Using a layperson’s vocabulary, Bane explores the brain science of our writing avoidance and self-sabotage. She explains what happens in our brain when we experience stress around writing, how our habits form neural pathways, and how we can re-form our habits successfully using our knowledge of the brain.

The best thing about this book is that it begins at the beginning. When we read about successful writers, we usually learn about their writing habits. Serious writers write every day, perhaps even a certain number of words or pages each day. Many of us read about our idols and attempt to emulate them, but as is the case with most resolutions, we lapse and let it go before we have time to make a true routine out of our writing. Bane doesn’t just tell us that we should write every day; she shows us how we can make that happen in the long term, by providing concrete solutions and explanations of how they work.

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One of the best solutions is the 15-minute rule: on the days when you plan to spend some time writing, commit to writing for just fifteen minutes. You might have a target goal for something you want to finish, and you should leave some time unplanned in case you really get into the zone. But the commitment never stretches beyond fifteen focused minutes. (This is a little different from morning pages, in that this time is your Product Time, when you are striving toward the completion of a story, poem, etc. instead of journaling or freewriting.) I’ve found that once I tell my brain I only have to write for fifteen minutes, the resistance lifts, and I can continue what I’ve started. It works better for me than setting large word-count goals, because when I have something big to work toward, I’m more likely to avoid it. When I’ve only committed to fifteen minutes, it’s easier to get myself out of bed and start writing.

This is just one piece of valuable advice from Bane, who divides the writing life into Product Time (meeting goals of product completion), Process Time (creative activity without a productive goal), and Self Care (rest, diet, and exercise). She addresses all three of these aspects with regard to brain science. She has some quirky advice for training the brain into a writing habit, including setting up writing rituals and sensory associations that can help you to create a routine. While all of her advice is worth following, I recommend committing to one or two new habits instead of trying to implement every life change right away. For example, it was enough for me to commit to my daily fifteen minutes of writing and a weekly process activity without also learning to meditate, at least for now.

If you’ve lapsed on a Gregorian calendar New Year’s resolution to write every day, you have a second chance coming up with the lunar new year (Chinese New Year and new moon) on February 9th/10th. It’s a great time to set intentions and start new things. Rosanne Bane’s book is available everywhere, and she has a blog as well: The Bane of Your Resistance. Check it out. Happy writing!

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Oh, and…Other Plugs for Other Things

I wrote a post on slut shaming for Broad! last month. We’re also accepting submissions of writing, art, and photography for our summer issue until March 1, so visit our submission guidelines, please!

Singer-songwriter Alexis Pastuhov has a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the production of his new album, “Murder Your Darlings”. Check out his music and the video he made, share the campaign, and maybe donate a dollar. If you donate $15, you get a copy of the new CD; if you donate more, you can get other fun rewards. He only needs a little more of a push to meet his goal within the next 12 days!

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Getting Lost Again

This month I posted a book review/meditation on Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost for Broad!. It’s a book I love and I hope others will read it too. In the post I ended up lamenting the difficulty of ever getting lost in the digital age. So much of Solnit’s book is about writing and art that it made me think about how getting lost is a worthwhile part of creating, and I want to expand on that by connecting writing to my discussion of the internet. I use a lot of social media, but I’m increasingly disenchanted by it. I think this is how it feels:

social media ballLike a loud, colorful, burgeoning thing.

Social media can be good for publicizing published work, and sometimes for making professional connections with other writers. Is it really helping anybody write? Hell no. But writers, myself included, are always on there, tweeting #amwriting, using 750words.com (which I didn’t like after all), blogging instead of working on our stories, distracting ourselves from getting any real work done. This is why I plan to spend large spans of my winter break time with my computer off, or at least with Freedom on. It’s not so much that I want to be uber-productive on my vacation, although I hope I get some projects done, but that I want to recover my own internal rhythm: my attention to the books gathering dust on my shelves, my spontaneity, my uninterrupted thoughts. Maybe I’ll just drive somewhere without a plan, and then not put any photos up on Facebook. Everybody needs that break sometimes, but I’ve been thinking about lifestyle on the whole, as a pattern of actions, and in the long term I want my connections with people to be more meaningful, if less frequent.

Some of my friends in Guard Llama Comedy made this video about social media, so I’ll leave you with that.

Not a Book

       

    Lately I’ve been staring at the background of my email, which Google has designed as a series of mountain scenes. My favorite is an aerial shot of the snow-capped mountains beneath a cloudless sky. There everything is sunshine, behind the translucent subject headers of the emails to which I have not yet responded, and I stare at it because I would rather to be there, in that bright land of healthy, blue mountain air. I check my sunshine-blue email in front of my window, outside of which everything is green and saturated with real daylight: green garage, green shed, green grass, green pine tree, green bushes, inexplicably green garden that I stopped watering after my landlady informed me that her squash had already grown by mid-August, because at that moment I had to say f*** it, then.

This spring I thought I could become a gardener, but it turns out that gardening requires an attentiveness to other living things, and also a regular schedule of being home, and also knowing what you are growing and which ones are the weeds, and possibly a good incentive, like needing to harvest one’s own food to survive. I failed on all of these counts but I blamed it on the drought in Colorado. My boyfriend, A., suggested that I not try caring for an animal companion just yet. This experience reminded me of a movie I watched on instant Netflix where Sandra Bullock plays a writer who gets out of rehab, and she and all of the other recovering addicts are advised to buy and care for a spider plant, as an entry point to self-care and relationships. I am not an addict nor am I recovering, but I think I must suffer from the same kind of fog-laden solipsism that makes people keep spider plants long after they shrivel and drop small pieces of their brown, disintegrating bodies onto the carpet, because the rest of our lives demand our attention so much more loudly. Of course Sandra Bullock’s character was a writer in that movie. She even said once, in defense of her alcoholism, “I’m a writer!”, and this explained everything, until we learned it was all about her mother.

This is the opposite of my garden.

The gardening situation is a case of not-a-book, a joke A. and I have been tossing back and forth about me. A few months ago I confessed to him that books are the only things I am actually good at, meaning, the writing, reading, and analysis of. This is one binary through which I can organize my successes and failures in life: books and then everything that is not a book. I have been browsing through many how-tos and self-help guides regarding writing in an effort to somehow defibrillate my own story drafts, and also because I require that kind of emotional support from strangers, and the general consensus appears to be that nobody writes unless they absolutely have to, and usually because they are not going to be successful at anything else. I am miserable when I don’t write, and I am miserable when doing anything else for a living, so I have to include myself in the ranks of those who write because, really, it’s all we’re good for.

Fiction writing requires the opposite of common sense; it requires other senses that nobody really seems able to name, despite all of the books that have been written about it. I have the fiction writing sense, but all of my practical, common sense is the result of my parents’ teaching, meaning that it’s not actually common sense for me at all but rather a painstaking memorization of certain functions. I have learned passable skills for daily life; I am a high-functioning writer the way that people with certain disabilities, disorders, and addictions can be labeled high-functioning. I have been taught how to work and play nicely with others, how to show up on time, how to say things like “fast learner” and “experienced” in interviews, when, in reality, it will take me three times longer than my coworkers to master the use of the espresso machine because where are all of these parts supposed to go and which button again? I am not efficient in performing hands-on tasks, or truly friendly, or good at selling products; I only know how to pretend to be these things. I know how to form alliances and play to my strengths, so that in my workplace I will be well-liked despite my deficiencies. The espresso machine is not a book, and this is the whole of our joke about me. The other day A. solved an intractable problem with my bottle of honey by simply chopping off the tip of the plastic spout so that the hole was larger, thereby increasing the flow of honey into my tea. I was elated. The chances are good that I would never have thought of that. Honey, I reminded him, is not a book.

Luckily, surrounding myself with other people who do possess common sense means that I am constantly amazed by the everyday magic they can perform on my behalf. From my loved ones, I learn simple tricks for negotiating my relationships to the objects in my life. But I think I will probably never have that innate quality that allows most other people to routinely see and do the obvious. This has resulted, growing up, in my vague sense of failure to become a self-sufficient adult. I could never, like my sisters, develop a sense of direction based on the frequent routes we traveled. Landmarks hovered in my memory but their placement in space shifted; their contours and coloring, even, differed in my mind from their actual appearance. This continued until I learned to drive­—also not without trauma—and even then, I couldn’t find anything until my family (in an effort to keep me alive, if not self-sufficient) gifted me a personal GPS.

My best friend from high school grew up to be a licensed ship’s captain; another friend learned how to build and repair a car. These both require the kinds of down-to-earth hands-on practical skills my father endeavored to teach me, but I was not that kind of student of life. I admire these friends not only for what they have achieved, but for what their skills tell the world about women. We so often have to prove that we too can take care of ourselves, that we can be even more self-sufficient than the opposite sex. As the legend goes, Albert Einstein could not tie his own shoelaces, but we have no such legend for Marie Curie, who had better have been able to dress herself. I think sometimes that I would be doing more good for feminism if I could just change my own oil. Alas, I have no patience or memory for practical tasks. I suspect that this would change drastically were it to become necessary to my livelihood, but the incentives as I see them now are much too abstract to motivate me toward anything other than writing stories.

So now, gardening, too, can be numbered among my failures to interact with the physical world and its penchant for the obvious. Obviously, A. pointed out this summer, the bed to the far left is all weeds. He was right, but it was not so obvious to me. But those might not be weeds. They could become tomatoes, I said. How do you know? Maybe they’re all just little tomato plants. They were not, and they are still not, but I remain stubbornly attached to the possibilities I can imagine for those weeds. It seems the imaginary daylight of Google, the impossible blue of that background, will always be slightly more compelling, and somehow, a little more real for me than the real.

 

 

Speaking of books, I have been very busy with them since this semester began. I wrote this blog post in September. Last month I also wrote a righteous post for Broad! titled “Did you Even Read It All?” about the “Having it All” debates. As a caveat, I was maybe too upset about our tendency to not read anything closely on the internet, and the trend of labeling people bad feminists. But you can read the post for yourself and let me know what you think.

Last month Molly Templeton also published my how-to piece, “How to Stay in Love with a Broken World“, over at The How-To Issue tumblr, which is her wonderful response to the New York Times Book Review’s How-To issue this summer.