Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nagging Through the Doldrums

Yesterday, while at work, I wrote a thousand words while on a break. I'm in the middle (oh, the sagging middle) of a novel, and I get my words wherever I can, even if it means writing in the driver's seat of my car during lunch.

This, to me, is the hardest part of writing -- the first draft doldrums. (Related: you already knew, I'm sure, that the doldrums is slang for the low-pressure area around the equator where the winds are calm, making sailing difficult. It's damned hard to move without wind. But this was something I didn't know: In the doldrums, you can also have variable winds, squalls gales, and even hurricanes. Now, doesn't that remind us of writing the middle of the book? Flat, nothing going on, never gonna get anywhere, OH RIP ROARING EXCITEMENT, RIDE THIS AS FAR AS SHE BLOWS BAYBEEEE, oh crap it's gone again.)

So when I'm writing a first draft, I push through. Every day, I sit in front of the computer and wait for a breeze. If there's no breeze, I turn on my desk fan. If the power goes out, I puff out my cheeks and blow on my screen, wiping the spit off as needed.

I do it because I nag. I'm a nagger, by blood. My mother was a consummate and professional nagger, and I follow in her footsteps even though I don't want to. It's not as if I sit down and plan to nag. In fact, I spend quality time trying not to nag. If I nag my wife, she doesn't know about the thirty times I swallowed the request trying not to say anything. My sisters know to tune me out when I get wound up on issues like their health or their housing (and I do try to hold most of it in, I swear).

But I nag the life out of myself.

My eyes open, and it starts. Write. Write. Write. Write.

I roll over. Write something. Write anything.

I roll to my other side. Just sit at the desk. Three hours, that's all.

I pull the pillow over my head. Fine. You want to be that way? An hour would do it.

I squinch my eyes harder shut. Half-hour?

I hold my breath. Okay, ten minutes.

Fine. Ten minutes and you can have a carrot muffin at the cafe.

As usual, the offer of food-as-reward works, and I give in, just to shut the voice up. Then, when I get to the cafe, I can usually browbeat myself into three hours of work, just from that one carrot muffin and double Americano.

People often ask me (usually with an annoyed tone) how I get so much done. But I think I've just figured out why I feel like such a slacker all the time. If people had any idea how much more I feel like I should do, how much of the time I'm struggling to tune out the guilt-laced whiny voice inside my head, they'd understand how well I'm actually practicing active, chosen laziness whenever I possibly can.

It is one way to get through the doldrums, though. A thousand words? Great! And oh, by the way. It's not enough. Get off your ass and write another thousand on your next break. See you on the other side of the ocean, where The End lives.


Sophie Littlefield said...

oh, did this ever strike a chord with me. Especially that last bit..."Oh by the way, it's not enough." I *never* feel like I've done enough in the day, even if I began at 6 and ended at midnight. I know this tendency to nag the hell out of myself is behind my productivity, but someday I would like to learn to shut that nagging bitch up - maybe even just one day a week :)

L.G.C. Smith said...

As to your super-productivity (and this applies to a lot of the rest of you around here, too) some of us have that nagging internal voice and still don't get anywhere near so much done. :)

Juliet Blackwell said...

Oh my, it's NEVER enough! Which is one reason I love you so much. I don't have much in common with those who are easily pleased...I like folks who push themselves to do more. And I love the crazy thought that you feel *lazy* about producing "so little" while working a crazy schedule ;-)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm in exactly the same boat right now. The words are coming at the rate of about one every fifteen minutes. I check the word count more often than I add new words. Then I got sidetracked by looking at the picture of that woman pouring water in her nose, so I must get back. I agree with your strategy - just forge ahead. I shall write today! When it comes time for the second draft, I can go back and add adjectives, punctuation and vowels. But for now, I need the words!

William Doonan

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