Yesssssssssss!

congrats yellowI sent a ranting email to my Goucher mentor about my feelings on categories of writing and how my brain is going to explode over the issue.

God bless her – she told me to write stories.  Basically write stories however.

And I replied that that is exactly what I want to do.  Phew.  Now I can dig into my brain and look around me and somehow synthesize it all into a written version – true but beautifully told.  That’s what I meant to do when I said I wanted to be a writer.

She did ask me what the next step is, and I haven’t quite entirely figured out the answer, but Lord knows there are stories in my head.  And I do have tons of reporting and research on Mormons, so there’s always that.

I can hardly wait now.  I do have a lot of catching up to do, both on required writing, the 20-page craft paper and of course the writing.  Time to dig in.

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Format, part 2: The overthinking

8615145_mIn last night’s post I promised to continue my train of thought.  Yesterday was kind of a thoughtful day, as in I wrote for like an hour in my journal, vented some anger, bitterness, resentment, confusion and a little bit about goal-setting.  This is why I keep a journal – a password-protected, naming-names corner of my personal galaxy.  Often after a vent in which I show myself how ugly I can truly be I end up with some clarity of thought and recognition of goals and directions I’m inclined toward.

I have been haunted lately by this issue of format/category/genre/whatever.  I came across this essay this morning by Janet Steen which examines the essay form and kinda reflects my personal confusion about what it means to write an essay.  This will be a topic of frustration for me as long as I’m trying to force myself to write a ____ or write in a ____ format.

This morning I resolved to just start writing.  I opened my “Goucher MFA Semester 2” document, went to the Mormon section and started writing about stuff. I’m not trying to find a way to insert my interviews with missionaries.  I’m just writing stuff about the LDS church, Mormon doctrine, Mitt Romney, blah blah blah.

I have stuff to say about religion in America, personal experiences of religion, how they relate to American society, and I’m just gonna write about those topics, dammit.  When I try to tell myself I’m writing a “reported” piece (again, someone please define how that is both not traditional journalism but also somehow a use of reporting and research that’s different from essay or memoir or those other things creative nonfiction people talk about) I either revert into magazine writing or just sit there paralyzed thinking I need to go do some immersion journalism in order to do the kind of literary journalism that’s demanded of the MFA thesis.  When I tell myself I’m writing an “essay” I feel a lot more settled about where “I” fit into the narrative and how much reporting the piece really needs.

If I could spend all day for weeks or months with Mormon missionaries I could tell a “reported” story about them. If I find stuff out about missionaries and do some research and then thinking about it, voila! Informative and enjoyable writing about an interesting topic.  Write it well.  Boom, you have an MFA thesis.  If not, I don’t know what.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s an…essay!

Canario_canary_pájaro_birdYeah, I’m tired of categories: birds, planes, essays, reportage, memoirs, literary journalism, blah blah blah.  I did some journaling today and some thinking about what I wanna write.  A few posts ago I quoted Joyce Carol Oates in The Best American Essays of the Century:

…the genre [essay] has evolved into a form closely akin to prose fiction and prose poetry, employing dialogue, dramatic scenes, withheld information, suspense.

Boom!  There ya go.

Okay, it’s late and I’m feeling goofy.  But the point is that I feel like I should have gotten in the “essay” line at school.  More tomorrow – or Sunday.

Only two hands, only one brain

4929281_mIn my continuing quest to find the root of my procrastination and thus rid myself of it, I’ve identified an attitude that is probably a big contributor.

It goes like this: Multitasking is good, right?  You’re not a productive worker or serious student unless you’re doing multiple things at the same time, right?

I actually don’t think that’s true for me, and I have to stop feeling guilty about that.  If procrastination is fueled in part by negative self-talk, berating myself for not being like the dame in this cartoon surely must be a factor. I have to tell myself it’s okay that I work best when I sit down, do only one job until it’s the best it can be, and then move on to the next.

When I started working from home I read a lot about time management techniques; most productivity gurus say that a key to good time management is to identify priorities and then block out time to work on just one task.  Many pages of my day planner attest to my attempt to do that.  Sometimes they are successful. It’s self-discipline that makes the difference, but knowing how much time to allot to a particular task is as much a part of good work scheduling as the prioritization is.

I think it’s become part of American culture that people are always “busy.”  I hear that so much when I try to interest people in activities such as Toastmasters.

Oh, I’m just too busy!

Oh, I’m so busy!

I’d like to but I’m just so busy!

I call bullcrap on all that.  I realize that in some cases that’s just a polite way for people to express their lack of interest, but I also think that people really do overload themselves – or perhaps like me, they’re just not prioritizing.  Time Management Ninja agrees.

My fault may be simply not allotting enough time to do just one – and only one – thing. For the past six days I have been putting off writing a piece I committed to for Realcity.com.  Why have I put it off?  Generally because of my horrible procrastination, but if I try to examine it more closely, I think that I just haven’t been willing to acknowledge that it might take me a couple hours to write and polish even a 1000-word piece that requires barely any reporting.  I should cut myself a break. Hopefully if I start acknowledging that (1) I can only do one thing at a time, and (2) it may take me longer than seems reasonable to complete it, I will start getting better at working faster.  Maybe I will also identify what activities I need to simply stop doing because they are using time that I need to devote to the important things in my life – writing and studying.

It’s 9:52 a.m.  I am going to allow myself to take until noon to finish the Realcity piece.  Yes, it’s 1000 words, almost no reporting, and I’ve already written well over 1000 words, but I am not going to give in to the idea that I “should” be able to finish it in half an hour, or even an hour.  I’m setting a goal of finishing in two hours.  And it if it’s not up to my standards at noon I will just keep working on it till I’m happy with it (although I did say I would finally hand it in this morning and the editors are on the east coast).  When I am done I will get the “I’m finally finished” rush and I will be refreshed and ready to move on.

I refuse to ever be “too busy.”

I have to believe in myself

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Oh Allah, it is Your mercy that I hope for, so do not leave me in charge of my affairs even for a blink of an eye, and rectify for me all of my affairs.  None has the right to be worshiped except You.

I spent much of my adult life coasting, without concrete goals and without a vision.  In the late 1990s I discovered the distance learning program at Rochester Institute of Technology, and through it I began the process of finally completing a bachelors degree.  I was motivated to finish my degree in part because over the course of 14 years I had moved steadily up the ladder at the business I worked for but had hit a point where I needed a degree to go farther.

But I was also motivated by stone cold competitiveness.  I wanted to get the best grades, to work better and harder than any of my classmates, to garner the professor’s favor. With that fire under me, I completed my associate degree in 2001, bachelor’s in 2002 and master’s in 2003.  Throughout, competitiveness was a big part of my motivation.

I entered 2004 with no concrete vision, just a hope that I would find journalism work in Houston, which I did not.  I was 42 and aimless.

Instead, I got involved in community activities, my blog, my bookstore, etc. and was often praised for my work.  That always bugged me, because I don’t think it’s morally right to do charitable work for praise.  Yet my heart is so hard I can’t humble myself enough to realize that God’s approval should be the measure by which I judge my worth. I had gauged my value by comparing my skills to others’ for so long that I was hard pressed to find another way.

I don’t do anything now except work, school and Toastmasters.

All this, I believe, has led to my most debilitating weakness: the inability to get started on time and finish on time.  Procrastination.  It’s a burden I bring on myself and can’t seem to free myself of.  I have researched the reasons for procrastination, and there are several, but one of them is low self-esteem and low expectations – as this article describes it, “self-downing,” and I believe that is the root of my procrastination.

Fine to know why; I need to figure out how to change.

I should be grateful to God that He has given me the opportunity to be a professional writer.  My ugly secret is that I look at writing assignments and don’t envision a steady process of work leading to a great product.  I put the work off and put it off and put it off, and in the end I meet the low bar I set: rushing to finish and producing something beneath my standards.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t read my writing when it’s published. I’m so afraid I’ll hate it.

Over the last few years I have overcome and improved many of my negative characteristics and habits.  I know I can beat procrastination, God willing. I have to overcome this habit of lateness which is beginning to cripple me, both professional and academically.  I have to believe in my own worth.  The first step is to acknowledge that God is in charge and the next is to pray and ask Him to make me grateful and thank Him for rewarding me even when I don’t acknowledge Him as the only real power in the universe.

Following one’s instincts

Motion sicknessThe more I read the more confused I get.  I just wanna write about stuff I’m interested in and stuff that I think will benefit readers.  Here’s what I wrote in the manuscript synopsis I had to turn in during my first semester:

American society is increasingly secular and is undergoing increased polarization between the secular and religious as well as among faiths and denominations. In the 2012 presidential election we saw representation from two historically marginalized groups – Mormons and African-Americans. Clearly the influence of European-derived Protestantism is diminishing. And with change comes the potential for conflict. We see this in so-called “anti-sharia” bills and in massacres in Jain temples.

Stories have the power to change perception and feelings – that’s what narrative is about, whether fiction or nonfiction. Understanding has the power to prevent or mitigate conflict. That is my over-arching goal with this manuscript: to tell stories that have the power to open minds. As I report and write more, I will have a more detailed view of how the stories will go together.

So I just want to write about that stuff.  I don’t want to write a magazine article and then try to turn it into a nonfiction novel.  I don’t want to crack my knuckles and start an essay as though I’m composing a sonata.  I just wanna write about what’s going on and what I think about it.  I am driving myself absolutely crazy and in the meantime I haven’t written anything – and in the meantime I’m late as usual with an article I’m writing.  Somehow I just sit at the keyboard frozen.

I loved blogging for the Chronicle.  I loved it because I just sat down and wrote what I thought.  I never did much reporting in that blog, but I could do that.  I could write long blog posts that include reporting and research.  And that is what I want to do.  I don’t know what you call it or what category of nonfiction it is, but that’s what I wanna do.  Can’t I?

I thought my first semester at Goucher would involve writing in different styles with a mentor’s feedback.  That was based in large part on their catalog:

Workshop I: Creative Writing (4 credits)
Personal essay, memoir, autobiography, narrative nonfiction, immersion journalism, literary journalism, etc. 50 pages required.

Instead I was forced to do journalism – I don’t care if you call it literary, I was boxed into reporting and never understood how to use the reporting to tell stories.  I wasn’t able to write an essay.  Okay, I’ve probably complained about this enough.  It’s not the program’s fault.  I just wish I could have a do-over.  I have even thought about taking a semester off so I can get caught up with the writing I should be doing now.  Or I could just stop being a baby and just do it now.

Starbucks vs. Panera vs. home

W2P FinI’m at Starbucks because I met a friend here and thought I’d go ahead and continuing writing while I’m here.  It’s just not the same as Panera and I’m not getting much done.  I’m not sure why.  Panera is bigger, so maybe that’s it.  Maybe Starbucks has a different vibe.

Of course the option does exist for me to work at home.  I’ve just been having so much difficulty lately writing at home that I figured I’d try to sally forth into the community.

I have been thinking about reviving my writing and editing service, Written to Perfection.  I created it a year and a half or so ago and didn’t go too far with it.  Writing is what I do, and it’s what I get paid for, right?

I have to get out of here.  It’s noisy in a bad way.  To be continued.