Tuesday, July 28, 2009

BYU WIFYR 10: Louise Plummer

Louise Plummer: “The Anxious Writer’s Life”

I’ve never been able to put “writer” down as my profession on anything. Because it sounds presumptuous. Because I don’t spend that much time writing. Instead, I worry about it, think about it, read it.

Even after publishing and receiving good reviews, I don’t feel any more comfortable with the label.

Writing makes me anxious. But not writing makes me anxious, too.

I knew I wouldn’t get much done on my own so I took a class. Success: I produced a 15-pg story. Then, in response to an assignment, wrote a story about Annie and Hennie Sehlmeier. (A family like mine.) Story didn’t work, but I liked the characters and wanted to write a novel about them. Decided to go to grad. school to write it. Didn’t finish it there, but finished it with goal of Delacourt contest.

Publication of 1st novel carries anxiety, too. Will it sell? Worst: am I a one-book author?

I did it again, but not easily or quickly. I usually got most of it done by leaving home for chunks of time.

I’d start with a character with a problem. Play around with ideas, names. (Can’t start writing without the right names!) When I get the right first sentence, then I’m ready to start.

(Story of how she got idea for next novel. Didn’t work out. Moved back, started another one.) What if’s haunt me now.

I’m paralyzed with anxiety, and will be until another novel is accepted.

Writing is an anxiety-producing activity. It is re-examining values, at it best, and this produces anxiety. We search for ways to justify and articulate this readjustment. Writing involves sticking your neck out and being vulnerable.

Kenneth Atchity’s A Writer’s Time: A Guide to the Creative Process from Vision through Revision is what has helped me the most. Atchity writes that secret of becoming productive is learning how to harness anxiety and transform it into productive elation. How writers manage anxiety can become a mark of distinction. Some fail (those who get addicted, depressed, etc.). Challenge is not to avoid anxiety but to turn it into positive energy.

Most of us hate to think—it’s hard. Our brains are thrifty, prefer to keep to known channels. We resist altering those channels or construct new ones. Constructing a new one causes anxiety.

We need to know how our minds work in general and how our own works in particular. Keats called writing “soul-making.” Handout of Atchity’s diagram of how minds work. Right brain, left brain, managing editor. Intuitive: dreamer, outrageous, weird, Goldberg’s “wild mind.” Rational: constructed by society and education. Operates by analogy, makes comparisons, judgments. Slow-moving, sensible, analytical, critical. A writer can’t finish a book without rational mind. Writers need to use both of these. There is conflict there. There must be. Managing editor: constructive interactor between the two. Diplomatic, encouraging, deal-maker.

Most non-writers cope by allowing one part of mind to dominate, usu. rational. We want to fit in. People who let intuitive dominate are in a nuthouse! Writer must not let one dominate. We must tap into intuitive no matter how depressing or contradictory to go there. We must accept that opposing feelings need to coexist.

Writers need to have the initial dream of yourself as a writer, as having things to say. Then your particular project begins as a dream, maybe a hallucination. Becomes an obsession, then a compulsion: I can see myself doing that. I can do that. I will do that.

Will separates dreamers from the doers. From the will the managing editor is born.

Ambition, determination: combination of desire and will. Desire without determination yields pseudo-artists, would-be writers. 2nd stage of dreaming is decision to act. Involves stages of incubation, doodling, setting up timeline. Taking vacations. Writing a draft. Taking another vacation, revising, vacation.

Atchity’s first rule of writing to avoid block: Never sit down to write until you know what you are going to write. This defines writing as the physical act of writing. It doesn’t include incubation, research, doodling, etc. Begin when the book is practically bursting from your body.

If sitting down is intimidating, go outside, do something else. Give yourself a time limit and word count. “I’ll give myself 50 minutes to write 15 words.” Let yourself waste most of it. Say to mind, “Take your time, I know this is tough, don’t hurry.” Then STOP. Don’t write again until tomorrow. Today’s work is done. You’ve removed anxiety. Just that little bit begins a dialogue between the two minds.

For tomorrow: intuitive mind finds a sentence, then another sentence. Manager says, “Thanks, but come back in the morning.” You’ll come up with a new sentence that’s better by tomorrow.

When you’re ready, spend time making an agenda, with a generous deadline for finishing it.

If you find yourself wanting to move beyond that time you’ve allotted, consider expanding the allotment, but don’t go far. Don’t go over it each day. Stop when it’s over. Trick is to find the amount of time that will not make you anxious or overwhelm you.

Atchity thinks beginnings are most difficult. I don’t find that’s true. I love beginnings. I get bogged down in middle. Don’t allow yourself to stop. But you might need to reduce the amount of time you spend with it. Consistency is the key. If you only write an hour a day, you will finish your novel. PLAN YOUR VACATIONS. Don’t take an UNPLANNED VACATION. It’s self-destructive.

Closing in on endings, I always want to write more than allotted time. I allow this only at this point.

Hemingway: stop in a place where you know you’re going to start the next day, where you know what the next few sentences are.

Finding time to write. Talent plus discipline plus time makes dreams come true. Time comes back to those who give it freely. It expends for those who court it. Giving time to do what you love and only you can do distinguishes the happy, productive people from unhappy, unproductive.

Inspiration and muse have nothing to do with your deal with time.

You do it, regardless of whether you feel inspired.

Stop doing things that no one needs to do. (texting, phone. If you want to do it, plan it as part of leisure)
Stop doing things someone else will do if you stop doing them.
Stop doing things that aren’t the things only you can do.
Start doing the things only you can do.
Act instead of reacting.
Even thinking takes time. Some people spend much time daydreaming without making dreams come true.
Thinking about negative things is a waste of prime-time thinking. Say no to yourself when you think dark thoughts. Change the channel. Thought control might be the ultimate time management. Exploit your positive emotions.

If you are an anxious person, use your anxiety in your stories. Have some severely anxious characters. Let them worry, go mad. Write about something you would pee your pants about if it really happened to. Write about embarrassment, etc.

Say to yourself: today I will deserve the label, “writer.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, this post made me anxious.

In a good way.

I think.

I'm thinking of blogs that I read and I do think that great writing (yeah, there are a few blogs with great writing) always tends to follow the rule of cut-open-a-vein-and-bleed-out-onto-the-page, but I think there's also lots of room out there for writing that's not soul-searching or life-changing, but is of topical interest (craft blogs, tech blogs) or that does one thing really well (clever wordplay, or some other hook or gimmick,) so if you extend these observations to books rather than blogs, it would seem there's lots of work for creative and competent writers even if they don't open their veins. Of course most writers (I think) do want to write the Great American Novel and I do think you have to be willing to be vulnerable or explore hard topics to do that, but I still think there are some decent and fun books out there that do neither. (No?)