In Big Magic, Liz Gilbert writes, “You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures. You can battle your demons (through therapy, recovery, prayer or humility) instead of battling your gifts — in part by realizing that your demons were never the ones doing the work, anyhow.”
I was having trouble falling asleep last night, and the book was on my nightstand, gifted to me by a good friend and wild poet. After chiding myself for not having read more of the book (for some reason, I’m only capable of taking in a couple pages of this title at once), I opened to where I’d left off. And as has been happening with Big Magic, the place I was (in the book, but not *just* in the book) was exactly where I needed to be.
Of course, those two sentences would likely be on-point just about anytime for me, for lots of us. But in terms of what’s happening right now, I did not complete the work for all of my goals in January, but I did boost my dedication considerably. I made greater progress in January than I have since finishing my MFA.
And that thing about demons… until very recently, I was convinced they were doing the work. The poems (the writing) seemed more vital and honest and rich when I was struggling. When I felt good, I tended to be in my actual life more and surrounding myself with people more instead of writing. It’s far harder for me tear myself away from my significant other, from my kids, from family and friends when I’m in love with myself and all of them. But when I’m in a funk, I retreat and write. The pattern was easy to interpret like this: I can only write out of darkness; demons do the work.
Getting my MFA had forced me into a new pattern for a while, one dictated by deadlines instead of mood, but once I finished, I settled back into old habits. Without deadlines, I stopped stealing time away for writing; I failed to insist upon its importance.
That’s what I wanted to change beginning in January, and even though I didn’t get everything done, I did reclaim a sense of urgency and dedication. I also reclaimed the idea of “the gift.” When we’re frustrated, the creative impulse can seem like a burden, something that’s driving us without giving us the needed resources. I’d been battling with it on those terms for months. I’m reconnecting now with the energy it gives me, not what it asks of me.
Part of the work was to become more aware of where I was spending my time while claiming I didn’t have time to write and revise. Here is some of what I did instead:
- Finished binge-watching “The Walking Dead” series (so obsessed that we made Walking Dead gingerbread cookies for Christmas; they’re pictured above)
- Started and finished binge-watching the “Making a Murderer” series
- Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. I scrolled. And scrolled.
- And scrolled.
- Went to bed early. Really early.
- Sat on the couch staring at what other people were watching on TV.
- Waited around doing nothing before my boys’ sports practices, during practices and after practices.
- Completed basic household chores: laundry, dishes, etc.
Some of those things are necessary, like sleep and housework. However, I began to notice that when I’d set aside time to write, I’d feel restless and do those things instead. I’m now trying to be more aware: Can I go with 30 – 60 minutes less sleep? Can the dishes wait? Yes and yes. Instead of scrolling through social media while I wait for the boys, I’m carrying my notebook. Instead of scrolling during my lunch break: notebook.
And no more binge-watching TV until my manuscript is done.
Michonne, Rick, Glenn, Morgan, Daryl, Carol and the rest of the gang show up to fight walkers even when they don’t feel like it. They kick ass. They get their asses kicked. And they keep at it. Tired? Scared? Ready to give up? There’s no place for that now. This is the world now: we keep at it.
So that was the pep-talk. Now here’s the run-down on progress toward the goals.
- Manuscript / On track with removing poems. On track with writing new poems (though nothing new clicks yet with the existing poems). Behind with revisions; must double the effort.
- New drafts / I wanted to write at least 3 poems and 3 blog posts: done.
- Submissions / None. Ugh.
- Community / I did not attend a reading or write a review, but I did launch the new poetry prompt site.
- One writing task each day / I started with 27 days left in January. I wrote 14 of those days. That’s about 50% success. It’s not great… but it’s also not nothing!
- Track progress / Yes.
- Flexibility & fun / Yes.