Friday evening, while I was out of town and hanging out with writers, my youngest daughter began a torrent of texts requesting — no, demanding — money for a Halloween costume. Little Red Riding Hood. Everyone at dinner was amused at how this absorbed my attention. How the $$ kept adding up. A perfect costume (on sale!), then a cape, then shoes, then stockings. Etc.
The argument kept ramping up, too. “I didn’t ask for a dress for Homecoming.” “I didn’t go to prom my junior year.” “I didn’t buy a costume last Halloween.” “I’ll clean my bedroom.” “I’ll clean the whole house!”
At some point, apparently too lily-livered to say “no,” or simply to hide my phone, I decided to go for it. I transferred the money from my account to Emma’s (damn smart phones, anyway). I had to put up with some mostly kind teasing, but I was able to eat my dinner and enjoy the conversations swirling around me, and the reading that followed dinner. For whatever reason, I felt entirely satisfied with my decision. Perhaps it is only that I have been held hostage by darker forces than this kid.
Today, feeling considerable resistance to diving into my work, I started thinking about how parenting and writing both conjure up resistance, and how resistance this morning in fact is rearing its ugly head — more persistent than any 17 year old wanting moolah — how it cajoles and whines, how it makes excuses for you and pulls you away from what you in your heart-of-hearts really, really want to do. You deserve to have some time off. You need to rest your brain. What harm can a game of computer solitaire do? The book will still be there when you’re ready. There will be time later. No one wants to read it anyway. How about lunch out? How about dropping everything and going to Bellingham for the weekend? Maybe you should buy the new Tana French novel. Maybe you should go back to bed.
As Steven Pressfield says, “Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned.”
My daughter is small potatoes compared to that.
What I do when I’ve had a few days away and I face this awful not-wanting-to-work feeling, is list all the very very small moves I can make.
- Open my novel notebook and read a chapter.
- Write out a scene or just a few sentences and see what I might change or add.
- Describe a character that’s giving me trouble
- Write a scrap in that character’s voice.
- Walk out to my car and fetch my poetry notebook.
- Type up one poem. (5 minutes!)
- Write a blog post.
- Use any momentum I can build by doing this post to do one more thing.
Sometimes I do give in to resistance. Sometimes I go back to bed. Sometimes a nap (or a healthy breakfast) is just the break I need. I think the key, though, is to be conscious. What am I doing? What am I doing now?