Can This Writer Be Taught?

After the debacle of the A To Z Blog Challenge, I vowed I’d never again let impulse be my driving force. Right. And that’s exactly why it wasn’t a truly impulsive move when I accepted a 5K-per-day writing challenge posted by a long-time friend, Jeff Rivera, on Facebook. Honest. I thought about it for at least 30 second before posting: “Bring it!” in the comment box. OK, so 30 seconds isn’t that long, but at least I’m making progress. Besides, a lot can happen inside the brain in a nanosecond, so technically I had some idea of why I’d take on such a challenge with a friend who wanted those 5K words verified each day. (No way to cheat. Damn!) The challenge was also posted on a Friday, intended to begin the following Monday, giving me a chance to bow out as gracefully as a chicken with its feathers on fire.

Amazing the mental processes that can go on in just 30 seconds, isn’t it? Especially if they’re rationalization and/or excuses.

But the more I thought about it, the more I was ready to “bring it!” Five thousand words per day, delivered by 4 p.m. (not my style of writing at all) was just crazy enough for distracting me from the emotional turbulence of my WIP . It’s a memoir I’ll publish under a name far removed from mine, but it’s still my story and really tough digging up from its grave. Most of my time has been trained to putting it away and carrying on with eyes on the future. Best to just barrel through for the sake of minimal bruising. And tears. And—the biggie—shame. I was going to write this thing without ever feeling the emotions.

Who said adults don’t indulge in magical thinking?

All the emotions and heartbreak of that time just hammered me faster, harder, and more deeply. Oh, joy. And I had to get up every day for a week and keep facing that boxing match. To get through it, I added more rationalizations, most of them actually rational. As much as I’d like having the world spin my way, it’s never going to happen. Writing might be a free fall into the cracks of creativity, but a career as a writer has deadlines and demands not personally tailored to my liking. Bette get used to it. I also reasoned that it was a good way of fiddling with my process and discovering where my mojo and muse best like to be tickled.

That helped a little, but not enough.

Each day’s writing left me physically, emotionally, creatively, and intellectually exhausted, which I expressed through full throttle bitchery. I also ate like a teenage quarterback and fried my stomach with pots of strong coffee. By the time Friday, that blessed day when it would all end (yeah, still in magical thinking mode), I was fighting for every second of consciousness and fending off panic attacks with excessive walking of the dogs. That Friday came over a week ago, and they’re still sleeping it off.

It’ll be another couple of weeks before I re-visit those twenty-five thousand words I wrote that week for evaluation, but now that I’m caught up on sleep and have a week’s worth of nutritious food pumping through my veins, I feel sane enough to look back and evaluate whether or not it was worth it, whether or not there was anything in that challenge that proved this writer can be taught.

It turns out, I can be taught. Yay!

I actually did learn a lot about my process and writing in general, and I’m putting them here for future reference on those days when I feel all is lost. So here’s what I learned:

  • I can meet externally imposed deadlines (an inevitability in a writing career) if I stay focused and determined.
  • Tackling difficult material is what it is. There’s no way of barreling through it effortlessly. Writing is difficult no matter what the subject, so give it some respect.
  • I actually like writing every single day and don’t need a challenge or discipline or goals to do so. All I really need is an excuse that allows me to do so. It’s time to stop looking for that from outside forces and grow a pair that makes it easier telling others, “Sorry, can’t give my time for what you want. I’ve got my own good times to enjoy, even if I disguise it as work.” (I’d probably leave out the “disguised as work” part. Don’t want to tell all my secrets.)
  • Those that truly love and care about me actually flourish when relieved of my self-sacrifice.
  • Finding the right voice for a project isn’t a matter of scanning a menu and saying, “I’ll take that one.” It’s a hard-won prize that comes from experimentation, writing through voices that don’t work, and having enough skill to recognize it speaks..
  • I write a higher word count when the work count tracker is turned off. I’m more productive when focused on the story, not word count.
  • An exhausting challenge, once in a while, is a tool I’ll always keep in mind when I’m feeling stale and the work stinks of needing a bath. Pushing beyond my limits is like wind sprints for distance runners—it pumps up endurance and puts the longer runs into a different perspective.
  • The biggie lesson I learned is that goals coming from my own “I want” or “I need” (internal locus of control) are gifts I give myself. I need to open those gifts more often. Goals I think I should aim for because that’s what s/he does or expects or it’s their process (external locus of control) are always a set-up for failure. They belong to someone else, and I’m a really lousy thief.

Ta-da! Done cataloging the lessons learned. And I’ve got an additional twenty-five thousand words hacked out for this WIP, which might be the worst gathering of drivel ever assembled, but at least they’re there and stand as markers on what works and what doesn’t. That’s pretty cool, but cooler still is that I’ve dug down into the writer I am and learned some valuable lessons I wouldn’t have otherwise learned.

This writer can be taught, and for that, I am grateful.

Now it’s “Onward, McDuff!” and using tools gathering during my 5K battle to write a damned fine story. All I need now is a whole buncha sweat, a few emotions thrown into the blender, and revising a couple dozen times before turning it over to writing buddies for critique.

Wow. All of a sudden working in a sewage plant is sounding pretty good.

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