Writer, Reader, Tea Drinker, Chrononaut

Month: February 2016

The One Thing

Yes, I meant that to be capitalized. The One Thing.

Lately I’ve been feeling like I have low (minimal, really) energy (am I coming down with a cold? did I overdo it with productivity last week?), and yet I have all these things that I want to do — need to do — that range from Great Art (working through the How to Revise Your Novel course, writing a new story, blogging about this journey) to Basic Life Maintenance (making dinner, taking out the trash, cleaning the house, exercising, sleeping).

And that’s to say nothing of all the other things that I want to do (learn to play the ukulele, create a container garden, divine the art of making sourdough bread).

All of these needs and wants build up, and then because I have minimal energy, I get overwhelmed. I get so caught up in all the things that I want to do, to accomplish, that I end up doing nothing. Nada. And then I feel terrible because OMG LOOK AT ALL THE TIME I WASTED I AM SUCH A TERRIBLE XX <insert role — writer, wife, friend, etc.>.

Sorry, that was my lizard brain. It shouts at me. A lot. I try to remember to beat it back with a stick.

A stick like “The One Thing.”

The One Thing is the one thing that, if it was the only thing you did today, would allow you to declare the day Good Enough. You made progress on something, moved the ball forward even an inch, and can feel good about yourself/your project.

This “One Thing” concept is really helpful for those of us who tend to be productive (once we can get over inertia), because “Hey, I did my One Thing. What ELSE can I do today?” is a common result.

It’s also incredibly helpful for establishing limits. I’ll talk about limits soon, because I loves me the limits. Seriously.

Give it a try. Ask yourself, “What is the one thing I could do today that would make this day satisfying?” or “What is the one thing I could do today that would move (my project/art) forward?” Try it with your workplace, your home, your relationships, your art. See where it takes you.

Need another example or some inspiration? Check out “The One Thing” by Gary Keller, and take a look at Tim Ferriss’s “Productivity Hacks“.


Stomach, or brain, upset

I finally finished the short story I’ve been struggling with, and I’m relieved and frustrated. Relieved because I finished it and found an ending. Frustrated because I don’t like the ending, and it has me wondering if I just naturally lean to grim/dark stories.

That’s what has my brain upset: my gut says the ending is right, but my heart says “Really? Is this all you can write? Grim/dark stuff?”

I read existential crap literature in college and I couldn’t stand it. Yes, life can certainly suck, and seem like it has no point, but I don’t want to read that, especially for pleasure. So if I keep finding myself writing grim/dark stories when I don’t like them, what does that say about me?

Then I think about people like Stephen King who write dark stories, and yet seem to be decent not-dark people.

I just have to remind myself that it’s just a first draft, that it’s not definitive, that I can change it. Make it better, make it the way I want it to be. Lighter, happier, more joyful.

That would take some work and a lot of rewriting.

Or I can keep the ending and make the most of its darkness (give it some meaning, and not just leave it as is with existential nonsense), and then write a new story that is lighter. Essentially shelve it and move on.

This is assuming that I can actually write a lighter tale. <sigh>

Writing in the Margins of Life

I’ve been working on a short story for the past week. Granted, it has not been at the top of my priority list (things like “dinner” and “sleep” have been higher up), but I told myself* that I would write one sentence minimum a day. Usually, I start with one sentence, and then before I know it I have two, and then a paragraph, and then sometimes pages.

Lately, it’s been one sentence. A day.

It’s a strange thing to watch a story evolve so slowly. It’s almost like it’s in slow motion, or Wachowski brother Bullet Time. It seems ridiculous — one sentence? How is this progress?

But it is.

I had an image in my head that started the story, but nothing else.** No protagonist, antagonist, conflict. You know — the things you need for a story. In the past, I either knew them from the get go, or they came about as I wrote. This time, as much as I tried to force it***, the pieces wouldn’t come together.

So one sentence a day.

For some reason, the slow pace has given my mind space to ponder the story, and each sentence is one step closer to fulfilling that story. What story? I have no idea. But it’s starting to get interesting.

With just five sentences in four days. James Joyce would be so proud.****

I guess I am, too. I worried that I had screwed up, that I was doing this whole writing thing wrong (AGAIN!), that my creativity was shot, and that it was All Over.  (Cue the Drama Queen scene chewing.)

Then again, maybe not. Maybe by not forcing it, by giving it some space to breathe, maybe that was what was needed to open up, to relax and find the story.

All of this in less than five minutes a day. Scribbling a line as I waited for a webpage to load, or between composing emails, or before running off to the bathroom (talk about deadlines!).

Find the margins of your life, and write that one sentence, draw that one line, compose that one hook. The results may not come fast, but it’s still more than you had. You’ll be closer to the finished piece, and maybe inspiration will find you as you give your art the space to breathe.



* Well, vowed, actually, since I discovered that I start going a little crazy if I don’t write fiction every day, even the tiniest bit.

**I had a title, courtesy of a flash fiction challenge by Chuck Wendig, and then eventually an image.

***By “force it” I mean sit with an open notebook and brainstorm. By “brainstorm” I mean beat my Muse with a writing stick yelling, “Tell me what to do with this story or the writer gets it!” Erm.

****Most likely, James Joyce would have his hat blown back by my writing speed.

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