Write On: Run around the block first
By Corbin Lewars
Several of my clients were struggling with what I call the fundamental step of writing: applying butt to chair. There are so many reasons to not apply your butt to the chair, and in my clients’ cases, all of them were extremely valid. One was recovering from surgery, another was caring for a daughter with cancer and another was moving. All of us have rich complicated lives and often this means we cannot or do not make time for our writing. And that’s ok. It’s more than ok, it’s reality. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about this nor feel guilty or angry. Instead, we should accept illness, caretaking, job loss, and our general responsibilities as being part of our life and then try to make time for our writing the following day, or week, or for one hour in the evening when our life finally slows down enough to do so.
My clients know this, they tried doing this, but we’re faltering, hence the phone call to me. After talking with each of them I realized they were taking the rather simple directive “Apply butt to chair” and making it extreme. One client had been in and out of hospitals with her husband for a month. Just as he was finally recovering, she found out she needed knee surgery. After a month of being frustrated with how little writing she had been able to accomplish, she called me with a plan. “While I’m in recovery I’ll finish chapter 8 and 9 and send them to you and then the following week I’ll….”
“Whoa, whoa hold on!” I interrupted. “This is what you said a few weeks ago and then felt horrible, remember?”
“But I used to send you at least a chapter a week and I need to get back on track.”
“Of course you do, but first you need to run around the block.” Knowing that she was a runner, I made the analogy that after taking time off from running, or any exercise for that matter, one often resists starting the practice again. “It’s raining out” we say or “I’m tired” or basically, “I don’t feel like exerting myself and getting sweaty when lying here by the fireplace reading is so much more comfortable.” So a few weeks pass, maybe a month, and we haven’t exercised. We become overwhelmed with guilt and make exercise a horrible demon that we can’t face.
“But in actuality,” I reminded her, “You enjoy running. And you also love writing. Nothing beats that timelessness feeling when we’re in flow.”
“I know!” she squealed. “That’s why I want to get the next two chapters to you this week.”
“But that’s running a marathon. Why not start with a mere jog around the block? Tell yourself you’ll write today for thirty minutes. If you get in flow and want to keep going, great, do it. But if not, at least you applied your butt to the chair for thirty minutes more than has been possible in a month.”
She told me how after taking months off from running she signed herself up for a 10k. “I finished the race, but pulled a hamstring doing so. That’s what I’m doing, isn’t it? Only with my writing.”
“Yes. And I don’t want you to hurt yourself. When you set your expectations so high, you can’t meet them and then beat yourself up emotionally about ‘failing.’ Be gentle with yourself. You have dealt with a lot this month. It’s completely understandable that your writing got off track. But it will get back on track, if you let it do so at a reasonable pace.”
A few weeks later, she emailed me to say, “I’m still not done with Chapter 9, but I’m applying butt to chair a little bit each day.”
“Congratulations!” I replied, “That’s all you need to do for now.”
November is NaNoWriMo month, which is the marathon of all writing assignments. I have attempted to write a novel in a month and it was crap. It took me years to fix it and in doing so, I learned that I’m more efficient if I allow myself to write at my own pace. But I love the idea of setting slightly higher writing goals for myself for the month of November. One year I set out to write 30,000 words while my writing partner claimed she was going to write 10 poems. We celebrated at the end of the month with a feast and wine. I don’t even remember if we met our word count, it didn’t matter, because we met our goals of being focused on a certain project that we had been avoiding, We applied our butt to the chair more than we had in October, August, July, hell, maybe the entire year.
This year my goal is even smaller and more vague because I’m very busy with editing work. I told my writing partner, “I hope to spend 2 hours a week working on my own writing projects.” “Great!” She cheered. “I hope to feel inspired again.” And that’s it. That’s our November goal.
If you have found yourself avoiding your writing, another creative endeavor, or anything that used to make you feel good, think about a way you can bring that area back into your life. Don’t say you’ll paint ten paintings in a week or write a 500 page novel, but perhaps start with getting the paints out and remembering how beautiful they are. Write a page of the novel and remember how funny and insightful you are. Remember how good it feels to create; to get lost in the words or colors and forget about the outside world for a period of time. Remember how good it feels to nurture your creative side and do the things you love. Because you really do love doing them, you may have just forgotten that temporarily.
Corbin Lewars (www.corbinlewars.com) mentors other writers at the Drawing Room on Ballard Ave. She is the author of Creating a Life: The memoir of a writer and mom in the making, which was nominated for the 2011 PNBA and Washington State book awards and her essays have been featured in over twenty-five publications including Mothering, Hip Mama and several anthologies. She lives in Ballard with her two children.
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