Stalled Out

I’m stalling. Again.  Or still, depending on the definition of stalling.

Either way, I am not writing.

Sure, I’m writing here and on Quarks and Quirks.  I’m responding to emails, engaging in online chats, and checking in on Facebook far too often.  But several months after mapping out a larger project, I remain mired in the getting started process.  Call it writer’s block if you like, but I think that’s dressing it up.  I’m fighting the discipline of writing with a single focus for more than the thousand words I regularly pound out on my blogs.  I’m resisting sinking into a topic and letting it get messy. At the same time, my younger son slogs away at NaNoWriMo, attempting to produce at least 10,000 words in the month of November and create his first novel.  The irony of raising such a dedicated child while floundering myself is not lost on me.

In order to stall just a bit longer, I’ve decided to outline my recent tactics here. Perhaps I’ll exorcise a few demons along the way.

  • Wonder where to start.  I’ve pondered this in the shower, while driving, and before going to sleep.  A certain amount of thinking seems prudent, but I crossed the line from prudent to inertia some months back.
  • Create a timeline.  Initially, this was a useful step.  Sticky notes of themes placed on a timeline proved a valuable start — six months ago.  I place the timeline with notes on the wall next to the computer, and watched them start to fall off.  In a fit of desire to preserve these plans, I spent way too much time trying to convert them to digital sticky notes on Corkulous.  Between notes disappearing and other technical foibles, I ended up with nothing usable and a good deal of time wasted.
  • Meet with my creative endeavor inspiration.  This is never a waste of time and isn’t a true stall tactic.  While we write in different genres and with entirely different end goals, I find my greatest encouragement from our periodic meetings.  The chemistry works.  It is time, however, for me to bring a bit more product to our table during our coffees together.
  • Search for the perfect writing platform.  This is my most recent stall tactic, and it has eaten hours out of my potential writing time lately.  I want what doesn’t exist, at least yet:  a seamless way to write on either my Mac or my iPad on the latest version of my work that, while writing, does not require an internet connection.  I’m bounced from Mac to iPad during the day, depending on the needs of my kids’ online homeschool classes and other homework, but I prefer to write at the Mac.  Pages disappoints (not compatible with Dropbox when going from iPad back to iMac), and the iCloud doesn’t offer a fix for that yet.  A few independent platforms offer apps for both iPad and iMac, but most don’t allow for automatic updates on one device to show on the other device.  For now, I’m using Google Docs, although I’d rather find something that allows me to work even when I’m without internet.
  • Check Facebook. Another downside of Google Docs is the distractions that come when writing online.  It’s way too easy to click the Facebook tab that seems to remain open when I least need distractions.  Am I playing tons of scrabble or commenting on too many posts?  I’m stalling.
  • Look for more books about writing.  This one feels virtuous.  After all, reading about the writing process should aid me in my writing endeavor.  To a point, yes.  But the writing about writing shelf is full.  Research has its place, but I’ve likely overindulged in this form of it.
  • Tweak my Pandora stations.  No, I don’t write better when doing that.  I don’t write very well listening to any music with words.  That doesn’t stop me from trying.  Often.
  • Answer email.  Hey, the chime tells me a new one is there, and it may be important, after all.  Another reason to switch to a full screen dedicated writing platform.
  • Blog.  Yeah, it’s writing.  Lately, it’s been writing to play with ideas for my larger project.  It can become a stall technique, however.  Like today.
  • Refill my coffee, find a snack, clean the toilets, move the laundry, plan curriculum for the boys, run an errand, plan to run an errand, phone a friend, text a buddy, consider exercise, pay the bills, read the paper…You get the idea.
Does that help me out?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  But it’s a start.  Now back to work.
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Not a New Year’s Resolution

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions.  I could go on about how the day we celebrate as a new year is arbitrary, and, given the true length of time it takes to go around the sun (365.25 days), the whole “year changing at the stroke of midnight” business is laughable.  I could ponder a better starting point (if we really need one), like a solstice or equinox, which at least shifts with the rhythm of the earth.  I could blabber on about the human creation that time is, from seconds to minutes to hours to months (don’t get me started on that disaster) to years. 

Or, I could argue my unwillingness to make a bunch of promises to change on each January 1st reflects my desire to continually adjust to life’s whims, making one day a year of changes a bit underwhelming.  I could even admit (honestly) that the prospect of making a list of changes to make within a trip around the sun is daunting.  What to pick?  Where to place priorities?  What if I (gasp!) fail?

Somewhere in all that blather and bother is quite a bit of truth.  I’ve never really understood the excitement of New Year’s Eve and Day (or Valentine’s Day, the Superbowl, movie stars, really low-waisted jeans, or People magazine, but I digress.  Again.) .  I’ve never felt drawn to making the list, either mentally or physically.  And I’m frustratingly failure-phobic.

But yet, for the past two years, somewhere in the first month of the year, I’ve set some writing goals for myself.  I’ve not thought of them as resolutions but rather as intentions.  Splitting hairs?  Perhaps, but I like to think the timing is more accidental than that.

Last year, I committed to blogging here on Finding My Ground and on Quarks and Quirks (my homeschooling blog) four times a month.  For the most part, I’ve met that committment, at least when averaged over the year.  I’ve been a bit slow from the start of December 2011 to the present, but I’d like to continue that pace this year.  It’s helped establish at least some semblance of a writing habit and coaxed me to the computer even when my mind was blank, if for nothing else than to produce a post.  I like to think that habit improved my writing at least a bit.  I know I cringe a bit when I look back at posts from two years ago and take comfort in the progress I see.

I also committed to submitting a piece for paid compensation.  Midway through that year, that goal was hanging over my head.  Writer’s block reached epic proportions as I tried to settle on what to write for whom.  And I wonder where my kids get their tendency to stall when they’re concerned about failure.  Those apples sure didn’t fall far. 

And then an offer fell into my lap.  After responding to a blog about one father’s struggles finding an appropriate education for his gifted child, I received an invite to write a piece about my experiences about the same for a newly forming online publication for a large philanthropic organization.  The editor needed the piece in five days.  Could I deliver?  Sure. 

So I wrote the piece on spec, meaning that I wasn’t guaranteed they’d take it.  While many writers will advise writers not to this, I figured I had nothing to lose.  It’s not like I was published anywhere aside from my own blog, and I certainly wasn’t making headway with my committment to submit an essay for publication.  So I wrote and rewrote, submitting the essay after the Fourth of July weekend and settling in to wait.

And wait.  And wait.  After a few back-and-forths with the editor, I received the news.  He really liked my piece and wanted to use it, but the online magazine was taking a very different direction, and the piece no longer fit.  He’d tried many ways to make a case for it and find a place, but to no avail.  He apologized profusely and encouraged me to look for another home for the piece.

I was ecstatic.  Okay, I was also disappointed, but I’d done it.  I met my goal of submitting an essay for publication.  And, according to the editor, I’d produced something quite good.  Not usable for its original purpose, but well-written. 

Six months later, I’ve just submitted one other piece for publication (and I’m still waiting to here back).   At this pace, I’m hardly likely to be able to make my living writing anytime soon, but I’m satisfied with the forward motion, despite the glacial pace.  After all, I’m a world away from where I was one year ago.  I’ve maintained a second blog, joined (briefly) a writer’s group, submitted a two pieces for publication, started a memoir, and been picked up several times by Interdependent Web, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) weekly round-up of blog posts by UUs and about UU matters. 

But the greatest yield from my not-resolutions last January is a change of my sense of self.  Somewhere over the last year, I began to consider myself a writer.  And that’s not something I could have successfully resolved to do.  It had to happen through effort and habit.   So here’s to another trip around the sun, a year filled with writing.  Because that’s what I do.

Thanks to all of you who make it to the end of my rather lengthy and often self-involved posts.  Your feedback over the years encourages me and feeds me.   Thanks especially to Keith Yancy, who maintains an often hilarious and always thought-provoking blog, Counterpoint.  His dedication to his blog, fine writing, and enjoyment of his craft inspire and encourage me.  Thanks, Keith. 

Response: Best Practices for UU Bloggers

The following are my answers to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) Survey Questions on Best Practices for Unitarian Universalist Blogging, August 2008.  Yeah, I’m two years late.  Why bother now?  Admittedly, I’m trying to expand my readership, and being listed on the UUA site is a step in that direction. 

Why do you blog? What goals do you have for your blog?    I blog because it clears my head and clarifies issues.  Blogging allows me to explore a topic more fully, and, on this blog, pull the spiritual strings together.  I also write to share my spiritual journey with others, and growing readership is a goal.  

Who is your intended audience?    Other Unitarian Universalists and liberal religious seekers, parents, people going through and coming out the other side of divorce, and any other folks interested in following a spiritual journey. 

Who owns your blog? Does it belong to you as individual or to your congregation or other organization?   It’s mine, mine, all mine.
 

How frequently do you post?    I keep two blogs (quarksandquirks.wordpress.com is my homeschooling blog), and I try to post at least once a week on each. 
 

What is the tone of your blog?    Personal and reflective, although I’ll sometimes close with a question.  
 

What steps do you take to make sure that your blog is a safe space, both for you and for other participants? Do you have a code of conduct?    Although many of my regular readers know me and my kids, I keep my children’s names out of my blogs.  I don’t bad-mouth them, my ex, or anyone else.  I write with compassion towards myself and others in the front of my mind.
 

What kinds of boundaries do you observe around confidentiality?   I don’t post confidential information here. 
 

How do you respond to comments and email from readers?    I often respond to comments on my posts.  My email isn’t available on my blog in an effort to avoid spam.
 

What are the most challenging aspects of blogging in your experience?     Making time to blog regularly.  As a single, homeschooling mom, I tend to only have small pockets of time for writing.  While I’m working on longer writings, my available time to write is about one blog post long right now.
 

What are the most rewarding aspects of blogging in your experience?    Two rewarding aspects come to mind.  First, blogging often clarifies an issue for me, and this is personally satisfying.  Second, comments from folks who find resonance with their own journey from my posts reward me with connection. 
 

What advice would you give to Unitarian Universalists who are new to blogging and want to get started?    Dive in and write.  Write first for yourself, try to write regularly, and boldly hit the publish button.   Read blogs of other UUs, comment on their posts, and experience the conversation blogging can be.  Finally, if you’re labeling your blog as UU, remember the 7 principles in your writing, especially honoring the dignity and worth of others.  Be kind.

How do you evaluate the success of your blog? What have been your most successful blog posts or series?   Okay, I’m addicted to the stats on wordpress.com.  I love to see that graph shoot up.  Personally, I feel successful if I explored a topic and came to a new understanding of a situation, but I do like to see those numbers go up.  My most successful post was picked up.  My most successful post was Finding Friendship, Finding Religion, which was quoted and linked to the UU World blog round-up, Interdependent Web

What do you wish you had done differently in your blogging?   I wish I’d started sooner!
 

What other online tools do you use to promote your blog? (i.e. social networking sites, Twitter, social bookmarking tools, etc.)   Networked Blogs via Facebook is all for now.  I’m looking for more routes to promotion.
 

Do you use an Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed? How many subscribers do you have?    I’m on UUpdates.net and have no idea how many subscribers I have.  Now if I could only install the RSS button on my blog for that feed.  I do have the RSS feed from wordpress.com.
 

Do you track site traffic?   How many unique visitors do you have per day (on average)?  I watch my stats through wordpress.com, but I have no idea how many unique readers come by a day or per post.
 

Do you find Unitarian Universalist Association resources helpful to you as a blogger? What additional resources could we provide to Unitarian Universalist bloggers?    I’d like to find active UU blogs more simply.  Many of the lists online contain numerous inactive blogs, which is discouraging to the reader just looking for a place to start reading UU writings. 
 

 

Alone

I’m alone more now than I’ve been in years.  Two evenings a week, my boys head off to their father’s home, and I receive silence not known to me prior to my separation and solidified by my divorce.  Generally, I like it.  Some of the evenings fill with a meeting a church, dinner with a friend, book club, or the like, but I’m somewhat stingy with these peaceful spots in my otherwise child-filled life.

Initially, the time overwhelmed me with its openness.  I carefully planned how to spend the time and often critiqued my use of these hours during and after the fact.  I had certain expectations, varying from week to week.  Read particular books, clean or sort part of the house, organize paperwork, meditate, complete CME credits, run errands, and so on.  I was constantly disappointed in my time use, chiding myself for wasting this precious time alone.

For more than half of the last two years, I’ve felt quite ambiguous about that time, hoping (wishing, praying) for a time when that quiet didn’t exist.  Not because I didn’t appreciate the solitude, but because I wanted my marriage to succeed. Married with children, the time alone may be rare, but at least I’d, well, be married.  And, oh, I wanted to remain married.

But I’m not.  And that’s for the best, given the circumstances.  I’ve grown to accept my single status and, in the process, luxuriate in every minute of those evenings (and part of a day) that I set the agenda for me.  As much as I love homeschooling and parenting my boys, 24/7 with no other parent in the house wears me out.  Those breaks give me a chance to regroup and center.

And the longer I’ve had these times to myself, the more I’ve loosened the reigns on my time.  I still walk into each free time with expectations of myself, but the critical voice judging my use of time is quieting, albeit slowly.  Blogging’s helped. I still set goals for these times, and I still fall short of those.  But blogging is always one of those goals of my alone time, and it’s one of my favorite parts of those quiet hours.  Sometimes writing helps me sort my thoughts or see progress I’ve made as an individual and as a mom.  It’s a creative process demanding truth and thought.  It’s pleasure, and it works better without an interruption every two minutes.

So I’m alone, writing away, and content.  The file cabinet remains a disaster, dust piles up on the lamp to my right, and I’m fairly certain something in the dryer needs folding.   Ah well.  I’m alone, writing, and loving it.