Saturday, December 7, 2013

Putting It Off or Getting It Done





It’s snowing. Outside. Right now. I have to go out and shovel in a few minutes. My home faces north and when you live in the Midwest that means that when the white stuff eventually begins to melt --- usually sometime in April your side of the street still has ice on the driveway while your neighbors across the street are hosting picnics on theirs. Accordingly, one has to keep up with it. Shovel or perish, as it were.

That brings me to our exercise of the day. Writing is like shoveling snow. Sometimes, in my case, it’s like shoveling other substances as well but we’ll discuss that at another time. For now, let’s look at writing and shoveling snow, and the similarities they share:

1) You have to get your tools ready. For snow, it’s gloves, boots, coat, coffee, and shovel. For writing, it’s a keyboard, a word-processing program, and coffee. Otherwise, you’re just sitting there, or standing there, with your…well, you have to get your tools ready.

2) You begin with a white expanse and change it to a dark one.  With snow removal, you proceed in an orderly line across your driveway until you hit the bottom of it (in my neighborhood, real men use shovels, not snow blowers. There’s a deed restriction to that effect). With writing, you go line by line across the paper, or the screen, until you hit the bottom of the page. That brings us to the truism that

3) The job is never really done. Just when you think you have finished shoveling it starts snowing again, at least until the aforementioned April. So too with writing; you no sooner hit the bottom of the page than a fresh, new white one pops up.

4) There’s always a reason to put it off. You may have a driveway to shovel, but  it’s too cold, or it’s still snowing, or you have a blog to write that’s due tomorrow, or there’s a Law & Order: SVU marathon that’s running somewhere on cable. You may have a novel or story to write, but you’re too tired, too distracted, you have phone calls to make, or there’s a Law & Order: SVU marathon that’s running somewhere on cable. However,

5) You still have to start, or you’ll never get finished. That is true of just about everything, actually. But never fear, because

6) If you’re lucky enough to live next door to Jim Bell, you can just watch him if you want to learn how to do it better. That’s true of writing, and it’s probably true of snow shoveling as well!

So: what’s your excuse, the one that stands in the way of getting what you want most --- the one that you put in front of yourself ---that prevents you from doing what you need to do now?





36 comments:

  1. For me it's just pure laziness. I try to tell myself that it's all fine because I'm painting the book cover. Though there's no much point, really, if I don't actually write the book.

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    1. Roger, my fedora is off to you, I draw the same way I did in kindergarten, with stick figures. I'll look forward to the cover AND the book when it gets done.

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  2. Ha! Always glad to gab with a neighborly writer about the craft.....but of snow this LA boy knows goose egg. I have never in my life pushed a snow shovel.

    But I will add to your snow analogies, Joe. This is from Ray Bradbury. He said writing for him was giving a character an obsession then following the footsteps in the snow. I like that, even though I'm more of a planner than the great man. He followed and "found" his stories. It certainly worked for him.

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    1. Thanks for sharing the Bradbury quote, Jim, I was unfamiliar with that one. As far as shoveling snow goes, if you can write you can shovel: you just have to put your back into it.

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  3. Ha! In my neighborhood real men use a snow blower instead of having someone else plow it out of the way. At least, that's what I tell myself since I have a snow blower.

    My biggest excuse is volunteerism. When you get involved with a cause or two there's always a never-ending list of things you can do.

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    1. Oh, Eric, hiring it out in my neighborhood is unheard of! All of the children of age are too spoiled to even know which end of the shovel to use!

      Volunteerism may be an excuse, but it's a noble one. Bless you.

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  4. I can't get past the fact that JSB has never pushed a snow shovel. Seriously, that's mind-blowing to me. As kids, we got them for Christmas.

    Shovelling snow involves the husband, the dog, at least a couple of neighbours, cups of cocoa, and the feeling that, even if we can't beat Mother Nature, we can at least keep her at bay. We feel fit from the exercise, healthy because of the fresh air, and tired.

    I don't get a lot of writing done when I'm napping.

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    1. A snow shovel for Christmas, Amanda?! Ho Ho Ho! If I got my daughter one for Christmas, she would return it as defective if she broke a nail!

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  5. You guys are so good for me here! Now I have to actually think about my excuses for inertia. Hopefully that's the beginning of a sea change in productivity for me in 2014. Thank you!

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    1. Kathryn, let us know how that works for you! When you get around to it, of course!

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  6. Reading blogs by writers and coming up with lists of how I procrastinate are two things that slow me down in the morning when I should be writing.

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  7. Born in Chicago and lived most of my life int he northwest. Then moved to the Caribbean and now live in New Orleans. Friends from Oregon just sent me pics of the nine inches of snow they got with the note, "Look at what you're missing." I replied, "I'm not experiencing it, but I definitely am NOT missing it." Then sent them a photo of my wife on the beach in December when we were in the islands. THAT'S what I miss.

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    1. John, I either forgot or never knew that you lived in NOLA; we'll have to get together at Cafe du Monde some morning on my next visit.

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  8. Really needed this today! Feeling inadequate is my current excuse. ~ B.D. Black

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    1. Inadequate is an ever-present mountain in my road as well, anon. It's why I carry a spare container of blasting powder in my arsenal. It usually works, at least often enough to fool everyone. Hang in ther.

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  9. Just back from Michigan, where I shoveled many a driveway in my youth. Now I live in Fort Lauderdale where it did snow once, enough to cover a windshield and make the front page of the newspaper. Funny, I never feared snow when I was younger but now, living down here in perpetual sunshine, just past my 63 birthday, I am afraid of the empty white expanse. Perhaps it is simple fear of falling and not being able to get back up.

    Your metaphor is for me, Joe, so very apt today. Am going to face the icy white page right now. Thanks.

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    1. Kris, I am of the age as well where I wonder if I have one more fall left in me or if I used them all up last year. I don't really want to find out, either. Steady as she goes. I'm looking forward to your next book.

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  10. I'm currently living in the Caribbean, but I grew up in Upstate New York. It's December and 79 degrees outside. Mind blowing.

    My biggest excuse is a nebulous fear. When I keep my head down and focus on writing and editing, I'm good. When I start thinking about the afterward part: self publishing, or querying agents, that's when I start to flick through the channels to find the inevitable Law and Order: SVU marathon. I'm not sure if it's failure, or rejection, or something else, but it's there. So far I've just been focusing on writing. It's all we can do anyway.

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    1. Elizabeth, my younger daughter will be in U.S. St. John in June at VIERS for ten days. She's looking forward to the weather.

      What you describe is a problem that affects a bunch of folks, including myself. One way through it is to take a legal pad and write down on each page each step between where you are now and goal. You finish one step, and you tear off the page and start the next one. Or, as Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen put it in their indispensable book PROCRASTINATION: "Life by the yard is hard, but life by the inch is a cinch." Hang in there.

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    2. Your daughter is going to love it! We just relocated to Puerto Rico from Georgia because of my husband's job, and it's so very gorgeous here.

      I love the legal pad idea. I made myself a business plan the other day, organized by ideas I wanted to pursue traditionally and what would be better self publishing. I had it all on paper. It was necessary to plot out the coming year, but it also filled me with this nameless fear. The other of querying made me want to bury my head in the sand. The thought of looking up cover artists for my self pub stuff made me run for the remote so I could catch L&O: SVU in time to see Stabler throw his fist through a wall.

      I can do the legal pad. I can take each step and write it down and check each step off. I like lists; lists are my friends.

      Thank you so much for this suggestion!

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    3. You're welcome, Elizabeth. I use it all of the time. I get overwhelmed with "I gotta do this, I gotta do that, blah blah blah" and when I write each thing down it puts an entirely different perspective on it. Hope it works for you, too!

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  11. Six below this morning up here in MT. Just a little bit of snow in the valley. Up on the peaks they're x/c skiing. As a kid in Michigan they chained me to my snow shovel. I'd be out there shoveling all day and into the dark. Now I've got a snow blower and I'm using it, no matter what you say. Not only is it cold here, but you gotta wear a facemask when you go out. The windchill pushes the temp down to minus forty or so.

    Now JSB is sitting there in his baggies and sandals drinking a latte and wondering what the heck their talking about. You should write a story where some guy from CA is kidnapped and taken off to AK by this disgruntled fellow who does voice-overs and audio books. !!

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    1. OMG! It's they're not their. Awww shucks.

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    2. Hrm....a plot slowly hatches.... heh, heh, heh.....

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    3. Jim, I grew up in the Akron/Cleveland area and the closest I got to a snow blower was the punch line of a joke that is definitely not appropriate here. You almost have to have one up there, and in Michigan, and of course, where you live. We only THINK we have winter in Columbus.

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  12. Shoveling snow is an apt analogy, especially from my point of view here in Alaska. Here's a pic of my street side mailbox in Dec 2011's record breaking snow. By March, that pile was over 12 ft. high.

    The biggest getting in the way thing for me is my own self. I tend to have my fingers in a lot of pots, and sometimes forget the all important things like sleep.

    There's nothing quite as weird as waking up from a vivid dream at 4 AM in my recliner with my laptop still logged on, and words on the page that I don't remember putting there. Often as not they turn out to be pretty decent stuff too, such that I have to look around and see if there are little book elves sneaking in and writing while I snooze.

    Even worse is waking from your dream only to discover that it is not your at all, but someone else’s dream. And they are dreaming about you having a dream that you are dreaming their dream but is not a dream, it’s real. And Scooby Doo comes out and goes, “Ruh Roh Raggy, rit’s real!” and Kukla, Fran, and Ollie come in and try to sell you an RCA Whirlpool 2-Speed Washing Machine … this has been a dramatized presentation.

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    1. By the way, for those interested, today and tomorrow are the final days of my Kickstarter fund raiser to raise funds for intensive book research and filming of a video documentary of the process of writing my current series ICE HAMMER. Click the link to find out more.

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    2. A couple of years ago, Basil we had so much snow throughout the winter that the snow removal folks ran out of places to put it. They had to start trucking it out to the country. It stayed so cold that we never got any melting. The parking lots had piles eight-ten feet high so you had to navigate carefully because you couldn't see what was coming.

      Re: dreams...I had one the other night that was so vivid I'm still not sure it didn't happen. I keep waiting for the police to show up at the front door.

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  13. I've read/heard finish the draft so many times that that's why I'm trying to do with a first draft full of plot changes, characters that don't belong and ones that need to change.

    Wouldn't call it writer's block but a complete loss of peripheral vision. As I try to finish, I can only see out of a thin horizontal slit.

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    1. Anon, my suggestion on that one would be to give the ms. as it stands right now to someone --- preferably two or three someones --- who you trust to tell you the truth in order give you a good thorough opinion as to what they like and, equally as important, what doesn't work. Whatever they tell you, don't get discouraged. Keep plugging.

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    2. 70k words first draft, not going to do that. Print it out and read it myself first.

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  14. Snow- and other shoveling analogies aside, I think a point was missed here: you have to know when to stop working on a book and go on to the next one. What you do with the first is up to you, of course...and so on. I'm reminded of that guy in the commercial that goes through all the life of his daughter without finishing that "great American novel." To preserve the analogy in this thread, each snow storm is different and the more storms you have to face, the better you are at facing the next one.

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  15. Steven, it's not so much a point that is overlooked as a different problem which arguably may have some of the same root problems with not writing at all. Certainly it's deserving of its own posting and discussion which one (or more) of us may throw out for discussion in 2014. I don't have that problem, but I know of people who do. One of my oldest friends has been writing the same stories for years, decades even, an excellent writer who just can't let anything go. I call him "Kafka" and threaten to send all of his work to a publishing editor, as is.

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  16. Great post! I'm going to use it as our chat topic tonight at http://writerschatroom.com .

    And I'm going to get to my writing...After I finish shoveling the driveway.

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    1. Thank you, Audrey! I'm honored. Hope it goes well. And good luck with that driveway.

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