Derailed

Argh!!! It happened again. I feel so weak, so embarrassed, so ashamed.

This week has been very trying for my new routine. Our daughter recently turned two and has become very worried about us. My wife tells me this is totally normal for the age, but it’s still hard to deal with. Our daughter will try to keep track of us throughout the night–one hand on my wife, a foot on me (or vice versa)–and after our alarms go off at 5 am she becomes even more aggressive about not being left alone in bed. She becomes hyper sensitive to movement and sound and will wake, seemingly prescient that we’re trying to “rise and shine.” So this week my wife would slip out of bed and leave me with this bouncing betty of a baby who woke whenever I’d try to get up. Consequently there were a number of mornings where I didn’t make it out of bed until 6:30 or so and then, after making my coffee, she’d awake. Or I’d get out of bed by 6 am but then she’d wake up shortly after. It’s been hell. So there were a number of mornings where I didn’t get much, or any, writing done. Those days were angsty ones for me. I get super angsty if either the writing is going poorly or I’m not getting much/any writing done. Ugh.

So it’s been a hard week, and then on Thursday I arrived home pretty worn out and just craving some quality TV-vegging time. Normally I resist the urge to watch TV during the week, but Thursday night I decided to catch up on The Blacklist. I told myself that I’d just watch one. But one turned into two turned into three. Before I knew it it was at least 11 pm. When my alarm went off at 5 am I didn’t even hear it. I woke up after 7 am. Thankfully, I did manage to get some writing done that morning after awakening. Our daughter was more willing to entertain herself that morning than usual so I took advantage of the opportunity to write. Later that day, over my lunch, I wrote another page or so (500 words-ish). So for Thursday I ended up doing pretty well. I hit around 1,800 words. But on Friday after dinner and after my wife and daughter went to bed, I decided I really wanted to watch Ender’s Game. So I did. And it didn’t end until nearly 11 pm. I wasn’t in bed until after 11 pm and didn’t fall asleep until probably at least Midnight. Needless to say, I didn’t get up between 5 am and 6 am Saturday. I didn’t do any writing on Saturday and it didn’t feel good. On Saturday night, I decided to watch a new TV show I heard about, The Tomorrow People. It was/is awesome. But one episode led to two, two to three, until it was 5 am and I’d just finished the 11th episode. I finally went to bed because I was finally falling asleep. I woke up after 10 am (totally dead to the world until then) and have made it through the day, angsty that I haven’t done any writing.

And tonight, I wanted to watch the second Hunger Game’s movie: Catching Fire. But I managed to get my wife hooked on The Tomorrow People today when she saw the end of the 13th episode (I watched the last two episodes after waking up this morning) so she spent the day watching the show. It’s now 9 pm and she’s on the…9th (or is it the 11th?) episode. It looks like she’ll be monopolizing the TV for the next couple of hours until she’s caught up so no Catching Fire for me.

The point of all this whining? Well, I’ve been trying to figure out where I got derailed. It doesn’t seem like it was any one thing, but a combination. It was a combination of our daughter being extra needy and making it difficult to maintain the routine (either because I’d get out of bed and she’d wake up early demanding food and reading/playing, or because I’d stay in bed trying to help her get the sleep she needs), coupled with several days of less writing success, coupled with getting addicted to a new TV show, and breaking my rules about watching stuff after dinner. It makes me feel weak and pathetic to not have the willpower to control my desire to watch “just” another episode. In all fairness to myself, I think I’m probably not alone. I suspect with the success of the hyper-serialized nature of modern TV we’ll see TV addiction (for real) become a substantial social issue. Sometimes I wish I could deny myself, completely, access to movies and TV. The problem is that these days we already watch all our movies and TV via the internet. Unless we get rid of the internet, we can’t completely deny ourselves access to this sort of content. Plus, I don’t want to deny ourselves all the benefits of the internet just because it brings some things that are dangerous or time wasters. It’d be like refusing to use a stove just because the burners get hot. I also really enjoy some of the stories which are being told on TV–other than the fact that it often annoys me that a cancelled show means that you never find out the resolution to the story the series intended to tell. In that regard, books and movies are superior. That single aspect could prevent either movies or books from being completely overtaken by TV. People desire resolution in the stories they invest in, which is why canceling shows can incur economic costs to the Networks–even if it’s not a line item on a balance sheet. Cancel too many shows (I’m looking at you Fox) and viewers will be less apt to invest in any future shows your network releases because they’re leery of investing in characters and a story just to have it cancelled before they can achieve resolution. These days, when I discover a show I’ve heard about is backed by Fox, I don’t even bother because I’ve been burned too many times before by their willy nilly canceling of shows.

The truth is I don’t want to completely give up TV and movies just because there’s some danger there. Maybe that’s foolish. Maybe it’s like an alcoholic who goes into a bar, “just to use the restroom.” Not a good move. We’ll see. Perhaps a future post will find me filtering the internet, or canceling it, or other drastic measures. I hope though that I can learn to manage my humanity so that I can enjoy the best in movies and TV without having to hide under a rock afraid of the world and myself.

That’s all beside the point. Where am I at with my writing and my process? I’m debating about whether I should just try to continue on as is: no TV after dinner, bedtime by 9 pm, wake up at 5 am, write until 7 am. Or if I should try to make some changes. Should I try to be really radical and go to bed earlier and getting up earlier? Would that solve the issues I’m dealing with? If I got up at 4 am, would our daughter be asleep enough to seamlessly transition into sleeping the next three hours by herself? Or would she still wake up between 6-6:45 am? I suppose it wouldn’t matter then if she woke up earlier than 7 am because if I got up at 4 am, over the long haul I’d get at least 2 hours of writing (sometimes 3 hours, when she’d sleep until 7 am) in. But that means a very aggressive bedtime schedule. Being in bed by 8 pm would really be pushing it. I normally don’t get home until 6-6:30 pm which would basically leave an hour and a half for dinner, dishes, playing with baby, connecting with my wife, and getting ready for bed. It’s just a very tight timeline.

This, too, could be contributing to the writing malaise I’ve been struggling with this week. It’s hard being to bed before 9 pm, and hard getting up at (or around) 5 am. When I don’t feel like it might be worth it on any given morning (or the prior night), it’s hard to push myself enough to actually master myself and make it happen. There are also some auxiliary issues that have been rocking the overall boat this week. Namely just that with my wife pregnant with our second and tired frequently and our daughter being extra needy the house has kind of fallen apart. By which I mean that it has been a disaster: piles of dishes, clutter all over, and we haven’t been getting our regular groceries. I.e., I suspect that all these rhythms are tied together. It’s hard for me, early in the game, to be resilient yet in the face of assaults on all my/our rhythms. If it was one assault at a time it would be different. But it’s been kind of a perfect storm of disruption. We were getting in a good groove there for a while but now everything is temporarily derailed: laundry undone, laundry which needs to be put away, dishes to wash, dishes to put away, a floor badly in need of vacuuming and carpet cleaning, etc.. I don’t blame my wife for this: it’s mostly just a function of her exhaustion between being tired (from being pregnant) and trying to keep up with our daughter. And I don’t really have the time to lend much a hand–what with trying to eat, play with our daughter, connect with my wife, and getting ready for bed. Basically 5 days a week I don’t have any time to contribute to keeping the rest of the rhythms on track. And maybe that’s something I just need to build into my writing rhythms. Either that or I just need to stick with it and count on the resilience to grow as I stay the course.

I do also think that if we weren’t both trying to get up at the same time it would help. If I got up even at 4:30 am I think it would help reduce the impact of both of our alarms going off at 5 am. It might just be enough to make it work.

I suppose the truth is that when I get home from work I need to remain focused on getting to bed. Target 8 pm but tolerate up till 9 pm. Mostly, I just need to get back on the horse. Keep trying. Keep trying. Keep trying. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as failure, only succeed or quit. Since I won’t quit, I will succeed.

The other factor which I think undermined me this particular week was that this was supposed to be the week I wrapped up my story search phase. But when I hit this week, I didn’t feel any closer to knowing the contents of my story. I’ve got a number of the pieces and characters, but not enough to see the whole of the story yet. It’s kind of amazing, but I’ve already written 70,000+ words of story search alone…almost a novel’s length just in story search. That’s also kind of depressing. To have written that much without having yet gotten a grip on the story. But honestly, I’d rather write a shit-ton of words in a loose, free roaming format in search of my story, rather than try to write a shit-ton of cohesive drafts in search of story. I suppose it will become easier and faster the more I do it. I suppose even in story search there is expertise that the masters apply, which I’m still learning. We’ll see.

When I got to this week, after anticipating it for a month, it was pretty depressing to realize that I don’t yet have my story locked down. I still need another couple weeks or a month to get it dialed in, and yes, that frustrates me. But I suppose the point isn’t to hit my milestones, it’s to succeed in each phase of the writing process and successfully write my first then second then third (and so on) books. That’s what matters. Honestly, while I would love to write four books this year, even if I “only” managed to write two it would still be a big accomplishment. I suppose this is why they say that goals can be really ineffective–because you’re never measuring up to them. You’re constantly behind the ball and that’s really hard on morale. That’s why the recommendation is to focus on process, not goals. I suppose if I’d done so, I wouldn’t be feeling like a failure right now. So is there a nice medium? A compromise? Is there a way to adopt a much looser “goal” structure without the judgmental feeling which occurs when you don’t achieve them? A way to make the process king, but still have structure to adhere to? It would be nice to to have an idea when the various phases will be complete…and how many books I’ll write in a year. Otherwise I fear I could spend forever in, say, the story search phase…never quite getting to the point that I felt ready to proceed to the story design phase.

Maybe I need to turn myself over to the process entirely: trust the process. Perhaps I’ll discover that as the story search phase progresses, I’ll find the story I’m telling, and I’ll naturally determine the structural/design elements and transition into the story design phase–until finally I have all the pieces and a complete outline.

Coming up this next week–and beyond–I’ll focus on getting back in the saddle: going to bed early, getting up early, and stop focusing on the goals I had for this year. Instead, I’ll focus on the process, recognizing that it will yield the results I desire inevitably. I’ll also stop trying to identify an end date or point for the story search phase and instead focus on using the story search process to identify the necessary pieces of the story needed for the story design phase–transitioning into it at an organic pace.

 

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