April 2012 archive

Transcending Procrastination


Internally committing to something is one thing. Publicly committing to something is entirely different for now there’s a heightened sense of accountability. Your actions are measured, tallied. Your inaction noticed for the void of activity it occupies. Your ideas, your dreams, your goals are now in the public forum – no longer locked away in the confines of your mind. They take on their own life, own identity and are now tangible. What noone could see is now in the limelight. It is now hanging over your head like a visible thought bubble…

…mine is written in 12pt Calibri font and says “I want to be a writer“.

In an effort to get my creativity kick-started I dove into a workshop with the amazingly talented, brilliantly authentic, witty and charming Donna Morrissey this past weekend. It filled me with so much enthusiasm for the craft and allowed me to stretch my proverbial writing muscles. We were challenged to write a number of short passages on the fly, without much preconceived thought about what we were writing. The results of our efforts were surprisingly good and some were downright outstanding. Some true talent in the group. It uplifted my spirits in that it showed me I can put thoughts to paper and come up with something quite worthy of being shared and it also put me humbly in my place and at times made me feel extremely inferior in my skills when pitted against other writers. Perhaps the best compliments came when other writers in the room approached me about a theme I had written about – procrastination.

It turns out that a common characteristic amongst the group of writers was procrastination. In fact, many of us admittedly have been procrastinators our entire lives – right back to elementary school. Imagine my surprise when I learned that my course mate, my grade 8 science teacher, admitted to also being a procrastinator! It was quite enlightening to hear that the majority of the people in the room had had an idea for a book floating around in their head for up to 20 years. Why do we put off these creative pursuits? Why don’t we listen to these yearnings to express ourselves? Is it because we don’t believe in our abilities? Is it because we fear that our voice isn’t unique enough? Are we afraid of rejection?

Just like running a race, the most important step to finishing a race is actually starting the race. This also translates to writing. If you don’t start writing then you’ll never finish what you aspire to write. If you can’t finish a novel then how can you possibly submit it to a publisher? It sounds so logical yet is such a stumbling block for me personally. I’ve been so focused on the “what ifs” of the final product that it has been holding me back from actually getting anything on paper. I need to stop looking so far ahead and instead focus on what I can control and actively make steps forward in achieving – the end result, of a novel.

Since the course on Saturday I’ve opened up my notebook and begun jotting down ideas for settings for the actions of the novel I want to write and have begun working on character development. It has been very fun to get down on paper the ideas for the protagonist and the supporting characters and the antagonist as well – to document their personality traits, their flaws, their hopes, their history and even their physical appearance. Some of them have come very easily as I’ve had them in my mind for a very long time. Others will come in time and will be developed as I go and the story unfolds. I’ve also begun Pinterest boards dedicated to setting and details. Having something visual to draw upon for inspiration is extremely helpful. My next step will be an outline of the different sections of the book, the major conflicts and events that will affect the character development and all of that is truly exciting.

I know that it won’t all happen overnight because I have a lot of other competing demands but it is fun to have this little alternate “life” going on in my head – ideas spinning for dialogue or scenes I want to incorporate. I find I sometimes am woken up through the night with a really great metaphor or a scene and I know this is a great sign as to how excited I am about this process.

So, I’m going to forget about the future details of publishing and just focus on the here and now – getting words down and moving the story forward. I’m excited to see what this brain of mine comes up with and what I’ll learn about myself in the process of writing. I’ve got a voice – I just need to start singing :-)

Dream Paralysis

Image by Valentia (click on the image to go to her Etsy shop)

If you could do anything in the world instead of the job you are doing right now, and had the funds to do it, what would you do? What would you be? Is it the same thing you wanted to be when asked the same question in your childhood? If it is, why haven’t you made that a reality? What is holding you back? What steps would you need to take to make that happen for you?

I was asked this question this morning by my carpool friend and while growing up I wanted to be a fashion designer, a teacher and a marine biologist – I am none of these. My life has taken many twists and turns and to be honest I’m not sure that at nearly forty years old I’d really still want to have any of those careers. Sure, parts of them still appeal to me like spending time near or on the ocean as a marine biologist.

So, what would I do now if I had the money in my bank account to throw caution to the wind and just “go for it”?

I contemplated my answer for a minute or so. After all, I had been in these shoes before. I had taken that leap of faith and opened a photography business. That was a passion I wanted to turn into something more. It did, but as I also rationalized with my friend – the question is a loaded one because there’s a fine line between turning a passion into a means of earning an income, and doing something for pleasure. While having a profession that allows you to do something you love everyday is ideal, there’s also that point where it no longer feels like fun and you’re working with deadlines, etc and it loses all appeal for you as well as the pleasure component.

I thought a bit more and contemplated honoring what has been nagging me from the back of my mind and the depths of my heart for a very, very long time. Finally, I said it. I put it “out there” into the universe and admitted it.

I want to be a writer.

*deep breath*

That felt equal parts freeing and absolutely terrifying.

My hesitancy in revealing that inner dream or desire comes with the fear of the eye rolls and the “who doesn’t?” remarks and in a world where everyone has something to say and a million mediums to convey their ideas it kind of feels like even if I do take the plunge, my composition will be like a very tiny pin in a giant haystack. What could I possibly have to say that is so different or unique that I’d think anyone would care to read it? Which is why so many people never realize their dreams – they’re so afraid of other people not believing in them that they forget to believe in themselves.

Just think for a minute what could we accomplish if we stopped worrying whether other people believe in us or not. Just because we set out to write doesn’t mean it has to be with ambitions of having our work published. Writing is a very therapeutic form of creative output and often times it is in the process of pulling a scene or a thought together that true beauty exists. If others appreciate your words, great. If not, the end result is still rewarding.

A part of me however, can’t stop thinking that when I walk into a library or a book store that every one of those titles is on a shelf because their authors were in the exact same spot I am right now. Thinking about writing. Daring to think about the possibilities. All writers start from the same place – that limbo of having a pen or pencil in hand and a blank page before them – trying to garner the courage to write that first word. It is only because they overcame the paralysis and put their thoughts down that it eventually translated into being published – that they went from being a writer to an author.

In my teens I wrote poetry. My favorite part of any English class was always creative writing. I took part in some creative writing classes in my twenties as well. The bug has always been there. In fact, in my Grade 12 high school yearbook, one of the English teachers (who by the way I did not have the pleasure of being a student of) took it upon himself to sign my yearbook with “I look forward to seeing your book on my shelf“.

I’ve never forgotten that. He didn’t even teach me in my 3 years of high school level English classes but his belief in my future abilities has always stayed with me.

I’ll admit, I’ve had an idea for a novel floating around inside my head for years. Little bits of plot ideas, characters, a setting. I had a picture in my mind’s eye of where the story would take place and last summer that imaginary location literally came to life. As if I had already seen it in a crystal ball, I stood right where I had imagined my story would take place. It was a surreal and extremely emotional experience for me. It was like I had been transported in time and placed inside my mind’s landscape. The experience only solidified my desire to do something about these notions of writing and begin the process.

Still, no matter how much I endeavour to write, I keep waiting for the perfect time, the perfect spot to put pen to paper. As an aside, I have always had an obsession with pens and blank journals. I own many journals that have never been marred by ink. A hundred times I’ve opened them with pen in hand and been caught in that never ending limbo of having a thought and there being a disconnect before it can escape my finger tips. I rationalize that whatever goes into those journals has to be worthy of being expressed.

The other day, author, Ami McKay, wrote a blog post about the importance of doodling (read it here) and it was like a moment of sheer epiphany for me. The beauty of her thoughts for her next novel displayed in such a tangible format. Words and drawings and visual references. All of it looked so beautiful yet so ethereal. These pieces of plot and characters and scenes all finding temporary homes before they all get intertwined into the larger tapestry. It dawned on me that this was the exact process I’ve been avoiding because I thought I had to rush right into the sentence structure and the opening line.

What I realized is that that will all come in due time. My first step needs to be documenting all these swirling ideas in a place where I can let them go so that they are able to be recalled and revisited but in doing so it will free my mind to explore other thoughts and ideas to add to what I’ve already woven in my mind. In order to get from one place to another you have to be willing to shove off from the safety of the shore and just start sailing.

I’m hauling anchor.