3/13/2016 – The Magic Slippers
Location: My office
SRS – Coffee (black), salt bagel (toasted) with plain cream cheese
Typically I observe the formality of actually having breakfast with an artist before I write one of these posts, but today I had some process thoughts on my mind, and this is where I deal with process, and oh snap, I actually AM an artist, so built-in loophole.
Which is actually what this whole post is about–The Magic Slippers, as I remember it, is a story about a little girl dancer who lacks confidence, so her grandmother gives her a pair of “magic” ballet slippers, and suddenly she is the best dancer EVAR. Except then, right before the big recital, she somehow loses her slippers and is freaking out until (SPOILER ALERT) her grandmother reveals they were not magic slippers, after all. It was her all along.
But wait, I am not a dancer (I cannot emphasize that enough), so how is this relevant? Well, let me tell you that as a writer, there is always a certain amount of agonizing over how much writing is getting done or not getting done at any given time. That’s the tricky thing about writing…for me, at least, the sitting down and typing isn’t really the hard part. The hard part is knowing what I’m writing. Once that happens, it’s something akin to what Anne Lamott wrote, in “Bird by Bird” — which is my favorite writer-on-writing book of all time — of Murial Spark, who characterized writing as taking dictation from God. I mean, I’m not trying to get that self-aggrandizing; I just mean that once I know what I’m trying to say, the writing part comes very easily. I am not someone who figures out what I’m saying by grinding it out, word by painful word, onto the page. I have known people who write that way, and it looks goddamn awful.
I suppose the silver lining of being a word-grinder, however, is that you know if you just sit there and cheese-grate your brain for a certain amount of time every day, you will produce writing. You can set the clock by it. That’s great, because when, like me, you need to spark inspiration to write, there are just no guarantees. It could be anytime. It’s usually walking the dog or doing the dishes or 3:00 in the morning. If I sit down to write and writing doesn’t happen, I need to get back up and do something else, because otherwise I’m going to look at Facebook for two hours and still there will be no writing. Even less so.
Well, I am learning to trust that process. It’s hard, because I’m trying desperately to make my living at this whole writing game, and it’s scary to gamble your security on an ephemeral skill set that comes and goes as it pleases. But in having a little breathing room and a lot more time this year to devote to writing, I have come to the following conclusion about procrastination: it does not actually exist.
Oh sure, it exists in the sense that I might sit down to do something, and then end up instead doing laundry, and deciding to start the garden, and then feeling like I should reorganize the bookshelves chromatically, and naturally screwing around on social media — and then six hours later FINALLY sit down and write the thing, and then it takes me 20 minutes. And I used to think, “Dammit, why couldn’t I do that earlier? It only took 20 minutes! I could have enjoyed all the other things I did to distract myself and procrastinate much, much more, if I hadn’t had the specter of unfinished work hanging over my head!”
Incorrect assumption. In reality, that piece took 6 hours and 20 minutes to write. I just only needed to be sitting down for the very last part of it. There are no magic slippers. The writing was inside me the whole time. I was just figuring it out.
So, I’ll have a week like this one, where I feel vaguely guilty and shitty because I have a lot of things on my list and none of them seem to be getting done. I’ll sit down to work and it’s just like NOPE and then FACEBOOK and then SNACKS and then and then… But then I get over myself and have a nice Saturday riding my bike around in perfect weather to go here (Kasper Ray O’Brien!) and here (Ben Hall/Andrew Mehall/Jason Murphy/Elliott Stephens!) and here (Eli Gold!) and here (Ben Thompson!) and later here (Stupor!) and then I sleep for, like, 11 hours, and then wake up to a perfect indoor day and write four articles in about four hours.
Things will come when it they are ready. Try often, and don’t be so hard on yourself. Enjoy life in the meantime (might want to check out some of those shows I just mentioned; they are all out-of-hand fantastic).