Friday, 9 September 2011

Put Your Key in the Ignition

Let's talk about not writing.

I had the remarkable opportunity to take a promotion of sorts some time ago and I thought to myself that the extra cash would encourage me to write more, and to write the kinds of things I wanted to write - you know, those introspective meta science fiction exploratory zombie autobiography pieces that don't quite make as much on the open market as one would hope. I didn't contend with the days suddenly stretching from a reliable 8.5 hours to the new normal 9.5-10 and the occasional 12. This wasn't too different from my previous position as an hourly wage rockstar (it just sounds so much better than monkey) except that I now somehow made less, pay raise and all. Yes, I had joined the ranks of the disgruntled salaried types. Instead of spending my newfound wealth or lazing away my evenings typing madly and contemplating growing a beard as all respectable novelists do (although as a woman I was unsure how to about doing so and at times wished I had a lady writing mentor who could explain how I could radically change my appearance to signify my status as a serious writer without giving up either clean laundry or bathing) I found myself sitting at my kitchen table, staring at the wall. I was too exhausted to even move my eyeballs the four inches to the right in order to stare out the window instead.

I rapidly turned into a raging ball of sunshine so unfathomably furious that my parents stopped calling me. My friends only communicated through wall posts on Facebook and clerks would hand back my change without touching my flesh so as to avoid being sucked in to the miasma of despair that had overcome my aura. Also, I sucked pretty hard at my new position and failure tends to increase my stress. End result: no writing. I even dropped out of my writing group as I was no longer fit for human consumption.

A year before taking the new position, I lived in a different city with a different job and the same name. False aliases are a little harder to manage than you'd think. But I digress. My new year's resolution was to write every day and I made it to April before I got sucked into a toxic social situation that sucked out my will to write.

These two events, though a year apart, taught me something very valuable.

Stress is my nonstarter. When we stare at that blank page, we think of writer's block or too many tangled ideas as the culprits responsible for our inability to click the pen or do more than press the space bar. It's easier to blame these internal nonstarters. If it's internal, we can control it. We can bribe our muses. We can surf the Internet for inspiration. We can thumb through a dictionary or thesaurus. It's much more difficult to quit a stressful job or or ship your family to a friend's house for a week. And anyway, you want to stay on your friend's Christmas list and more importantly, off their hit list.

If our nonstarters are external, it doesn't mean we can't control them. At the very least we can mitigate their effects. My stepping down was an extreme move and an extremely necessary one. For those who can't step away from their position or their stressor, another method would have been working up to the thirty minutes I used to spend each night on writing. Five minutes isn't too much to ask and it nets me about 300 words. That's 300 more than I would have just staring at the wall. Yoga or pilates can be calming but if it's the anonymous group class experience you crave (as I discovered was more important than learning to breathe with my ankles next to my diaphram) you can take a group community college class to clear your mind of your stressor and give your overactive inner control freak a new focus.

What, besides stress, is your external nonstarter?

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