Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Getting Out of My Own Way

I’ve noticed a pattern the past couple of weeks.

I have a lot to say. From following up on the issue of chronic illness and parenting to re-visiting that lofty January goal of balance to so many others things, I do not suffer from lack of ideas.

And yet, whenever it’s time to settle down and crank out a post, I end up reading. Sometimes it’s Penelope Trunk or Dawn Friedman, sometimes it’s Kairol Rostenthal or Duncan Cross or Sick Momma.

What can I say? I’m eclectic.

It’s not an issue of being too sick to write, like I am sometimes, nor is it an issue of competing priorities. (I think I’ve forsaken the idea of negotiating them right now, anyway.)

Instead, it’s idea overload.

And in a much more exaggerated way, the same thing is happening with what appears in my mind as full caps, the much longed-for and equally feared BOOK 2.

I’ve discovered something: I really love research. Getting lost in journals, tracking down archived information, furiously annotating books (and books, and books). Of course I love the writing part, but that was a given. The more research I do, the more I want to write, the more the ideas develop and complicate each other in ways I didn’t foresee.

But the past couple of weeks I’ve found that I’ve used research as a distraction, something tangible I can say I’m doing for the oh-so-demanding BOOK 2, something I know is important to the overall process.

But deep down I know I’m doing it because I have so many ideas in my head, so many images of what material I’ll add to which paragraph and which interviews will flow best, that I’m running in circles.

Now, I’ve tried to be proactive about this. I diligently schedule in daily chunks of writing time, even if it means pulling back-to-back 7-8 hour workdays on the weekend. I precisely list the topics I need to address on a particular day.

I even recently hired a research assistant, who is fabulous and competent and efficient. I make lists for her, and she skillfully completes the tasks and gets me the information I need.

(I know! It’s the best.thing.ever.)

And yet I remain trapped in my own head, word counts taunting me and stacks of research beckoning me.

One of my students wrote recently that the hardest part is the doing—after free-writing and just seeing what comes about is the best way she can eventually get around to her point.

I think that could be the solution. I’m so immersed in ideas that I’m hemming myself in. I need to let go and see what happens, with less analyzing what I need to write or should write and more barebones writing.

Letting go is never easy for me. (Seriously. Ask my husband when it’s midnight and I’m obsessing about something.)

So, deep breath. Write now, worry about structure and voice and perfection later.

At least I got this piece done. It’s a start.

Writers, researchers, and kindred control freaks everywhere, any other tips?


Lisa C said...

no advice or tips... just glad to have someone to relate too. so you get obsessed at midnight too, huh? I have about 4 books in the works and just overhauled my office to get me in the writing mood so I can think. wow - an assistant. I'll dream...

Leslie said...


I feel the same way lately, hence why I've been a bit absent from blogging the last few weeks. I have a ton of ideas, but getting them down on paper is difficult. I don't have any real tips because I feel like I'm in the same boat, but maybe the mantra should be "let go and let flow".


Kairol Rosenthal said...

I hear you. I am so addicted to research - sometimes as a distraction, sometimes as procrastination, sometimes because it is just the most satisfying thing in the world.

I am an all or nothing kinda gal when it comes to, well.... everything. I know this pattern and I deeply trust that it is the way I work best. So I let myself get lost in research or whatever else I'm doing. Because I know when it comes down to the real writing, when I get in the swing of things I can write for 17 hours days back to back until the job is done.

Another tip that works for me is that I don't research and write in the same environment. I research, gather ideas, make plans, and procrastinate in my office. When I wrote chapters of my book I unplugged the phone, went offline, and sat on my perfectly made bed with my laptop. I kept the bedroom door closed and often the blinds drawn. I'm kind of a scattered person, which doesn't really bother me. But when I need to focus on writing chapters, I need to be in a space that is neat and tidy.

I think it is hilarious that writers pay all this money to go on retreat or try to get residencies. I go to retreat in my own house for free whenever I want to.

Nice to know that my blog provides some good distraction for you!


Never That Easy said...

No tips, but figuring out that you're in your own way in the first place is definitely essential. For me, this is drafts. By the time I'm on draft #8, I know that I'm writing myself into a corner and need to stop, back up, and start fresh. Just cut out all the filler and paste the best parts into my new piece.

Research is addictive - I want to know MORE, ALL, EVERYTHING, before I start writing. I guess it's a fear that A) someone else will have already said what I am trying to say, but better or B) that I what I am trying to say is wrong, and has already been proven so, I just didn't read it yet.

elizabeth said...

I'd suggest a change of scenery as well. For me, a cafe with no free wireless access works well. That way, it's just you and your writing. Bring a laptop (or notebook) and only the research you need for the specific section of writing you intend to do.

Laurie said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I think a change of scenery might do me good...I spend hours and hours in my office doing other work so sometimes it's hard to remain focused on what I need.

And while the research assistant is very part time, I think (hope) it will be just enough to keep me on track...

Aviva said...

Awww! Thanks for the mention! I'm thrilled to be one of your distraction (although I grok that you're wishing you weren't distracted when you've got work to do).

I've been wondering how the heck anyone keeps up with their favorite blogs and gets anything else done. I sure haven't found the balance ...

Unknown said...

Tip: find a good librarian to help with your research, too. [blush] I'm a librarian, and I make my living by looking for and fnding arcane or germane bits of information and literature.

And the subject of the book is?

nursing assistant said...

Thanks for providing info about this book....

nursing assistant said...

this is a very nice book......

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