My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, February 4, 2021

When Writing "Every Day" Has Been Taken From You by Cassandra Field

Guest Blogger Cassandra Field talks about a fascinating approach to take the beating heart and soul and best intention of "write every day" into a world where writing every SINGLE day is simply not a possibility.

Chris's advice to "write every day" is hard for someone like me to read. Due to some health problems, I can’t do anything “every day.” I have reached a point where I can put on non-pajama clothes almost every day, but all bets are off on everything else. That’s why it was such a breath of fresh air when he spent an entire post addressing the fact that the world his writing advice exists in is pretty ableist.

It can be energizing and empowering to have the realities of one’s life acknowledged like that, but it only goes so far. At the end of the day, a person living with a disability still has to take the demands of something like writing and tune it to their individual capabilities. No one can tell anyone else exactly how to do that, but “just keep trying” and “try harder” don’t quite cut it. I have developed some approaches and strategies for maintaining my dedication to doing things that require regular attention, even though I can’t do them every day. I can’t guarantee that they’ll help everyone, but they have helped me, and Chris has accepted my offer to share them with you.

At this point, I should make a disclaimer. Due to this post, I can technically call myself a published writer, but I am nowhere near commercially successful. For that reason, you might choose to take what I have to say with a grain of salt. What I do have going for me is many words on many pages (including this one). The number is still increasing, and some of it is even coalescing into a distinct project. And in case you’re concerned that I focus on writing to the detriment of everything else, I also have a house that isn’t a complete disaster, friends and family I still connect with, and a set of interests that aren’t completely neglected. For that reason, I think my perspective might be worth something to someone. What follows is how I do it.

Taking stock. The first step is to make a list of what needs your regular attention. I’m using the word “need” very loosely here. Yes, the things that maintain your life and health should be on that list, but you should also include things that your life would be really shitty without or would feel severely diminished without. It can be helpful to take in the whole gestalt of your list at once sometimes, so try to make your list fairly short. To that end, I recommend making your items broad categories, rather than specific tasks. For example, you could lump everything hygiene-related - bathing, nail-clipping, hair-trimming, etc. - into one item. “Writing” could include journaling or free-writing, a draft for a specific project, research, or reading things that broaden your perspective as a writer (so, reading almost anything).

Every step of this process requires a lot of honesty with oneself, and this step is no different. For every item you’re considering putting on your list, imagine how you would feel if you only did that thing a few times a year. If the answer is “fine,” don’t put it on this list! If writing is one of those things you would be fine doing only occasionally, you might not be as much a writer as you thought you were. That’s okay! Writing will still be there for you, whenever and however you want to do it. And you can still use the subsequent steps of this process for the things you are going to put consistent effort into. But I’m going to keep referencing writing, because this is a blog about writing, after all.

This is the first of two reasons I consider myself somewhat qualified to write this post on this blog - right up there with keeping myself clean, preparing nutritious food, and spending time with my family, writing needs to be on my list.

Not a to-do list. Once you have your list, take a good look at it and fully embrace the fact that you’re not going to do everything on your list at once. Take a moment to really let it sink in. There’s that need for honesty again. If you could relentlessly tackle all the demands of your life like a tireless machine (which would be a thermodynamic impossibility anyway), you wouldn’t be doing this exercise. Rather than thinking of this as a list of things to do, think of it as a list of things you could do. “If I have the energy available, I could do one of these things.”

The other thing that separates your list from a to-do list is that you’re not going to cross things off. These are things that need your regular attention; that’s why you put them on your list. If you spent some time writing today, that’s great! But you’re not done with it. It’ll be just as great if you manage to do it again tomorrow (but you might not, and that’s okay!)

Saying “no” and saying “yes.” By now you should have accepted that you’re not going to do everything on your list in one day. Therefore, on any given day you’re going to say “yes” to some of your items and “no” to the rest of them. On a really bad day, or a day with a lot of other things going on, you might have to say “no” to everything. That’s okay! Say your “nos” with conviction. If you apologize for your “nos,” you’ll build up a whole bunch of anxiety and regret around them, and that will make it harder to get anything done. Stand by the validity of your “nos,” and let yourself have days when you say “no” to everything!

Another important thing is to be very clear with yourself about what you’re saying “no” to and what you’re saying “yes” to. This has had a few effects on how I approach the demands of my life. The one that’s most pertinent to “writing every(ish) day” is that it keeps things from completely falling by the wayside. Simply not doing something might allow me to forget about it. Explicitly saying “no” to something keeps it in my mind, even as I’m saying “no” to it. Every “no” adds a little weight of priority to it on every subsequent day. Eventually it takes on enough weight that I say “yes.”

Conversely, explicitly saying “yes” to things makes it easier to let myself off the hook for them in favor of other things. I can say to myself, “Look, I said ‘yes’ to the dishes yesterday. I’ll say ‘yes’ to the dishes again when I need to. Today, I’m writing!” It also gives me little victories to celebrate on a regular basis.

Now we see why it can be helpful to keep your list short and general. It’s much easier that way to get a feel for which parts of your life you’ve shored up pretty well and which ones are starting to feel neglected.

Fine tuning. The previous section presented a system in which the items on your list gain priority the more you say “no” to them and lessen in urgency when you say “yes” to them, but of course life isn’t always that simple. Sometimes things stay urgent for an extended period of time. Maybe someone in your family is going through a rough patch, and they need extra family time for a few days. Maybe you let the kitchen get buried in dirty dishes, and it’s going to take a few days to get it under control again. Or maybe you made a brilliant breakthrough on your current writing project, and you need to ride that momentum while you have it. All of these things - and more - are perfectly valid, and you can take care of the other things when everything settles down a little.

Switching gears between activities can feel as draining as actually doing the activities, so if you’re especially low on energy, consider a temporary holding pattern. Just focus on personal care for a while. Have a string of movie nights with your furry friends. Stick to journaling or recreational reading for a few days. My experience has been that if I’m paying attention, eventually I gather the energy to do something different, and then I do it. I hope that turns out to be true for you, too.

If it’s starting to feel grossly negligent to say “no” to something, but you’re not quite ready to say “yes” to it, consider half-assing it. And stand by your half-assery as resolutely as you stand by your “nos” (because it is just a modified “no.”) Toss a few dishes in the dishwasher on your way to bed. Just wash your face and hands, change your clothes, and call it good. Carry a notebook around and jot down a few notes about what you were thinking while you weren’t saying “yes” to writing. Just keep in mind that you haven’t actually said “yes” yet to that thing you half-assed, so be sure to give it the attention it deserves in the future.

There are probably infinite ways you can tweak this approach to fit your needs at a given moment, but these are the ones that have been particularly useful to me. Don’t be afraid to tinker and experiment with it!

Revisiting the list. Your needs and priorities might change over time, or you might find out that your original list doesn’t reflect your actual needs and priorities as well as you thought it would. That’s why you should check your list occasionally and make sure it’s still working for you. If you keep saying “no” to something on this list, but your life is pretty good anyway, consider dropping it. If you have the nagging feeling that you should be making more room for something else in your life, consider adding it to the list.

This is the second reason why I consider myself somewhat qualified to write this post for this blog - after multiple revisions of my list, I still have to include writing.

I think this approach preserves the spirit of Chris’s writing advice pretty well. The essence of what he’s always getting at is that if you want to be a writer, you need to treat writing like it’s your job. That’s what your personal list does for you - it shows you what your core “jobs” are. So if writing gets - and stays - on your list, congratulations! You’re a writer, even if you aren’t writing every day.

Cassandra lives in St. Joseph, Missouri with her family, who refuse to let her call herself a failed scientist. She works with her hands, with her mind, or ideally both, as she can. Much of her writing consists of correspondence with individuals in her life. However, there is a work in progress, working title Heron Stories, which could be called science fiction, fantasy, grimoire, and research notes.

If you would like to write a thinly veiled promo for your own work guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment