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A Lesson Learned

Regular readers will know that I have written quite a bit over the last few years about my struggle with writing fiction. What started around fifteen years ago and turned into an explosion of writing over an 8-10 year period has turned into a whimper. There has been barely a spark for the last few years as I have struggled with generating new ideas or making any progress on my various works in progress.

Some months I’m able to write about what I could write in a day or two back then. Some months I write even less. There are many causes of this deterioration in my writing ability.

Lack of energy — most work days I find myself drained at the end of the day and writing takes energy. Mental energy and emotional energy and creative energy. When I get home I want nothing more than to be able to do … not much. Which means with the hour or two I have each evening I end up surfing the internet. It’s easy, it doesn’t take much energy — at least not the kind writing takes. Which leads to …

Distractions — when I started writing, I wasn’t on FB, didn’t have a blog, Twitter didn’t exist. Nor did Instagram, Words with Friends, or so many other things. As I’ve developed my own social media habit, it is far easier to just cycle through those websites, social media outposts, blogs, and other places over and over again than to crack open a document and see what I can write. Why?

Internal Editor — as I have written more I have cared about the quality of my writing more. As I have written more I have found my writing function slowing down and being more careful. When I wrote that first novel, One Night in Bridgeport, I just wrote. My only requirement was to see whether I could actually write a novel. I just wrote. But once I did that and started having all sorts of other ideas about stories, both short and long, I started to care more about how I told the story and the crafting of the thing. The more I cared, the more the voice inside of me told me what I was writing was complete crap. That doesn’t really lead to an enjoyable experience. So, I shut down.

Motivation — having started writing fiction around when I turned 40 years old, I’m not a lifelong writer who considers it a fundamental part of who I have always been. I have struggled in recent years with the question of why I write and whether it is worth the time I have committed to it once I started writing. If I can’t figure out why I’m doing it, the impetus becomes harder to find.

Which has lead to my dearth of creativity, the lack of writing, the feeling that maybe my writing life has reached its end. I learned something yesterday. It may be that the distractions are the biggest cause of all this.

A couple of months ago, a fellow writer/blogger I first met around six years ago when I launched my self-publishing efforts asked me to consider contributing a story to a collection she wanted to publish. Fallacious Rose‘s idea was to collect short stories built around the idea of Utopia — as an antidote to all of the dystopian fiction that is written these days.

I said I would try but could make no guarantees.

After a couple of weeks, I came up with an idea and started working through it. I could write a couple of hundred words and then I’d get stuck and bored. And there are always those distractions to pull me away. Fallacious Rose wanted complete stories by this time with publication by mid-December.

By Friday, I had written 2,900 words, which breaks down to a few hundred words per week. That’s not really writing and no way to really get somewhere with a story. I knew I had at least a few more thousand words to go. I also wasn’t entirely sure how I would wind the thing down.

You see, the idea I had was really more dystopic than utopic. What I wanted to do was turn a dystopian situation into a utopian conclusion. Those first 2,900 words were all about the dystopia and I liked what I had done, but I was at the point where I was going to have to turn it around into the utopian ending.

People who read my fiction regularly comment that somebody always dies or why is it always so sad. I don’t do “happy” very well. “And everybody lived happily ever after” would likely be the worst line I could ever come up with. Or as I have told people numerous times, “there ain’t much drama in happy.”

I really wanted to see if I could do this and be a part of Fallacious Rose’s project, however, so I went into this weekend knowing that I either was going to get it done or I wasn’t. For the first time in my writing life I faced a deadline. An impending deadline for a story I still had no idea how I was going to wrap up.

I told the missus that this would be my focus this weekend. No making dinner Saturday, not doing much around the house. I was going to write and write and write some more.

Around the same time Fallacious Rose invited me to contribute, I also learned from Shannon Thompson, another writer blogger, about the Forest App. It’s a way to shut down the distractions. An app that blocks whatever websites you want for a specified period of time. The app isn’t fail safe. You can block it. On my laptop, it only works for Chrome, so I could still access anything I want using Internet Explorer. As a result, using the app requires a bit of commitment on my part.

I tried the app a couple of times. Each time for 45 minutes. Each time I was able to write a few hundred words during that time period. Each time I moved forward with the story.

Yesterday would be a real test. I’ve said before that I would be writing a lot and haven’t done it. But there was that deadline hanging out there for me now.

What did I learn yesterday? It’s really about the distractions — that’s the single biggest reason I haven’t been able to write. Yesterday, I had three different writing sessions between the time I woke up and we went out to dinner. Each session was 45-60 minutes long. I put the app on my laptop and my phone for all three sessions.

And … drum roll, please … by the time we stepped out of the house for dinner, I had written another 2,400 words and finished the story.

I have no idea if it’s any good. I also have no idea if it will fit Fallacious Rose’s theme. In my mind, it is more about every-day utopia and what can happen when a few people turn the tide. It’s not about a utopian society or a utopian vision of perfect humans acting perfectly.

But I did learn that I could focus and get something done. Which really hasn’t happened in far too long. It felt good. My internal editor has remained relatively quiet — although I feel like taking a little more time might have produced something better in those final 2,400 words.

We shall see. Whether or not Fallacious Rose accepts my story, at some point in the future, I’ll post it over on my writing blog. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s about the last two turtles in all the world.

By the way, thank you to Fallacious Rose for the invitation and providing the motivation for me to crack the door open again.

 

 

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