Sunday, October 24, 2010

Self-Sabotage

Procrastination. We all do it, though we may pretend we don't.

Here's an article by James Surowiecki from The New Yorker. The whole thing is well worth reading for its examination of the phenomenon: sometimes procrastination is useful and/or enjoyable, sometimes we do it even when we don't enjoy what we're doing instead, and none of is alone in practicing it. Et cetera.

However, of course I'm interested in avoiding procrastination, as I suspect most creative people are.

Surowiecki names two concepts behind "fixes" for procrastination that have led me to some interesting insights about my own process.

One concept is "willpower." Just do it. Brute force. I am a thinking, rational creature who simply does the right thing to do. One problem with willpower is, of course, that some of us don't have much. Also, it's limited: if I'm busy not eating all the chocolate oatmeal macaroons, I have less willpower to exert in other areas.

The other concept is "the extended will"; that is, tools that extend your natural, animal willpower. AKA strategies to prevent you from slacking off. These tools can be things like deadlines halfway through the semester, or computer programs that don't allow you to check your email or that give you simply a black screen and a blinking cursor instead of letting you diddle with fonts. Simply breaking down a large project into smaller steps is another example.

The insights I came to about my own process aren't particularly interesting (although I am hearing "limit choices" in lots and lots of contexts these days), but this one may be useful to others: Willpower is NOT more virtuous, or more worthy, or otherwise inherently BETTER than the extended will. So use whatever works.

After all, the goal is to create good stuff. Not to be the Willpower Queen. Right?

So go forth and darken your screen, tie yourself to the chair, or write naked. It worked for Victor Hugo (just the naked part).

But read the rest of that article first. No, it doesn't "count" as procrastination. It's research into your process.
Saturday, October 16, 2010

When Stories Matter

"It Gets Better" videos are all over Facebook these days, and they're collected at YouTube here. They feature a person--a young adult, a middle-aged adult--speaking to the camera, hoping to reach a young person who's hurting.

The audience, that young person, is any teen or tween who feels "different," and because what teen doesn't feel different, they speak specifically and directly to kids who are being bullied, at home or school, for being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered. They speak to keep these young people from despair, from harming themselves, from suicide.

Many of the videos feature extremely good-looking, successful adults--cast members from various Broadway productions, former Playboy bunny celebrities, award-winning mainstream actors. Many speak from personal experience, and many speak on behalf of friends and family.

Because, yes, we all have friends and family who are LGBT. Even if you don't know they are. Even if they're afraid to tell you.

It's great that celebrities use their power for something other than getting free stuff at awards ceremonies. But the stories I find the most compelling are those that express the pain of a person who might have grown up to be "just anybody."

Like Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns. Yes, Fort Worth, Texas. I hope his colleagues there appreciate his courage in telling his story. It is obviously a difficult story to tell. When he says, "It gets better," I know how bad his "worse" is, and I know he deeply understands "better."

This week, I've been struggling to tell a difficult story of my own. It's also from a personal experience. I finally wrote a draft Thursday and revised it Friday. It's ready to "set" for awhile.

I haven't written something like this in some time. My recent creative writing has embodied my experiences--my pain, my fear, my hopes, my secret wishes--in characters. These characters have names other than mine, different personal characteristics from mine, sometimes even a different gender. Sometimes I feel I speak on their behalf, as if for a friend, because I feel I tell their stories, though logically I know that the stories come from inside me.

The story I recently finished was mine. It was difficult to write. I debated whether I needed even to write it (I didn't want to at times), much less share it. I wondered whether writing it was worth revisiting the pain of the experience in the first place. I wondered what the cost of sharing it might be.

And then I watched Joel Burns and recognized that sometimes, the cost of telling the truth is far less than the cost of keeping silent.

I have no illusions that my story, unlike his, will radically change a reader's life. But it might, just might, get someone to think, to be a little less smug, to alter (even slightly) an opinion.

And that's well worth the risk.

So yes, I have a plan for sharing this story, and I'll post that information here. Meanwhile, here's a website for The Trevor Project, the organization that is spearheading the effort to create all the "It Gets Better" videos.
Sunday, October 10, 2010

Now Available

The Ten Stories High anthology is now out and available for purchase! (www.canauthorsniagara.org/Resources/ShortStoryContest.html) At $5 Canadian, that's 50 cents a story (a little more if you factor in shipping and handling).

A movie costs $9 and lasts two hours. For a little more than half that price, you get ten stories--at least nine more stories than you get in the movie, with lots more variety--and you get them permanently. You can read them again in a year. You can share them with a neighbour. Et cetera.

Anthologies published in previous years have sold out. Just sayin'.