I’ve been thinking, for various reasons, about this phrase, “Best Practices,” which I was introduced to a long time ago, in graduate school and when I was teaching as an adjunct. The idea as I understood it then was that in a situation that is stubbornly imperfect — an intractable situation, or one in which you don’t have much control — listing the best practices possible will give you some traction just when you most need it.
This could be a journaling assignment. First try listing your intractable situations, the situations that you just don’t know what to do about; the people or relationships who can’t be easily “solved,” if at all (think of that person who you can’t change); a piece of writing that refuses to lie still on the page.
Then choose one and list the small, useful things that you might do, or that maybe you are doing.
For some reason I’m reminded of a bizarre to-do list that made the rounds of email several years ago. It included a bunch of ridiculous items, which I don’t remember, but it had two that I found rather useful. One was, “Write a list of what you’ve already done and then check all the items off.” That made me feel so much better! The other was one that my kids and I loved: “When someone is behaving badly at a meal, look at them through the tines of your fork and pretend they are in jail.” Totally worked! For a long time this was a “best practice” for our family. It reminded us to laugh and it clarified for the offender that they were misbehaving.
When you’re feeling really really stuck on a writing project, maybe your best practice could be to reread a paragraph or a page written earlier. Maybe a best practice is to type up something written in longhand, or to retype a poem into a new form with shorter or longer lines, or tercets instead of quatrains. Impossible to imagine even this amount of progress? What if you just opened your notebook and sat with it in your lap for a minute or two? What if you just imagined yourself writing?
This week I have done a lot of driving and I’ve had lots of appointments and errands and
meetings. My daughters have been a teensy bit demanding. My mother had a doctor’s visit that I needed to attend. My best practice was to carry a book and a notebook and pens and highlighters everywhere I went. When I had a little time in my writing cabin, feeling frazzled and apt to be interrupted at every moment, I set my timer for fifteen minutes and sorted a pile of papers until I found the three short stories that I knew I had already printed out. When I couldn’t find enough time in which to work (whatever “enough” would look like), yet felt desperate to work, I reread the opening of one story and made a few notes. And ran to my next thing.
I have to admit, it’s Saturday night, at the end of this busy week, and I’m feeling weirdly elated. I think it’s because I decided I was going to make the best of things, in fact, that I came up with my first short story idea in eons — this week.
What best practices might you come up with, for your intractable stuff?