What do you hope to change?

color outside the lines“This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.” Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit (273)

Before you change your life, it helps to know what exactly it is that you want to change.

So, Bethany, what would you like to see more of in your writing life?

  • If I had a more organized send-out habit, that would be wonderful.
  • If I could be more organized, I think that would help me to finish more work, and so have it available to be sent out.
  • On those days when I’m not driving to see my mom or on some other errand, I’d like to actually write for several hours. Several? 3 or 4? 6?
  • If I could go to bed earlier, and fall sleep earlier, I could get up earlier in the morning, and write, even on days when I’m traveling. As mornings are my absolute, best time of day to do creative work, this would be ideal.

The other day, I suggested that you jot down what you want to accomplish. But now, what does one DO with that list? The key, I’m convinced, is to focus on one item, and break it into parts. Into the smallest parts possible. Or as some writers would emphasize that phrase: The. Smallest. Parts. Possible.

In order to send out my current mss., what small actions can I take?

Find the emails about PEARL’S ALCHEMY that I’ve sent most recently. Draft a new email. Find addresses for all the agents and editors I met with last summer. Get a copy of the PNWA 2014 program?

Decide what exactly I need to fix in the closing section of the book, in order to follow up an initial request, or a 50 page excerpt, with the whole book.

When I look at the small parts, just one each morning, it doesn’t sound that difficult.

In her book, Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper SARK includes a wheel of small, intentional actions. If I still had the book, I’d take a picture of her version — but here’s mine (messier, less colorful) for this project of 1) making a list; 2) choosing one item; 3) breaking it into small parts; 4) figuring out what small, action I can take next.

sark2If I’m remembering it right, SARK’s wheel says “5 seconds or 5 minutes.” When you’re trying to create a new habit, the smallest action can help. Alongside other small actions, repeated over time, it can start everything sliding downhill.

One action, I find, encourages another.

In my next blogpost, I want to add 2 cents more to this thread on habits — this time about finding or creating a supportive community.

The Work — an update

cabin4Classes are over. I have survived a year of teaching full-time. Other people seem able to do this. They teach extra classes! I don’t know how they do it, but it’s hard for me. (How do those other people have time for their students, let alone for themselves?!)

I realized after Christmas break, that I was not ever going to get my novel rewritten if I didn’t work on it. The time was not magically going to appear (it hadn’t over the holiday break, and that was my best chance). I worried that all the fabulous work I had done on my October retreat was going to be lost to me. My fantasy that I would suddenly get two or three days — or another week! — to write, that I would write 24 hours a day (two days, that’s 48 hours!), I realized, again (yes, I’ve had this fantasy before), was just a fantasy. The only way to get the novel rewritten was to work on it every day.

I know how to deal with time limitations and with procrastination. I got out the old tools. Foil stars. A 12-week calendar (one quarter worth of blank squares). If I worked on the novel in the morning, before I went to work, for at least 15 minutes I earned a foil star. At Writing Lab on Tuesdays I started working on the novel instead of poems. This felt like a sacrifice, at least at first. But then the pages began to accumulate, and that felt good. It felt wonderful.

Lists are another of my tools. During the break before spring quarter, I wrote a long list of what I needed in order to finish. The most important: to have a clean copy of the entire manuscript, or at least the 2/3 of the manuscript that was all marked up. I don’t know why I would resist typing, but I decided that I could only earn my star by working on the manuscript, on my laptop, for fifteen minutes — before journaling or anything else. For Mother’s Day, a friend of my daughters gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card and I used it to buy a 15-minute hourglass (if it’s 15 minutes, is it still an “hour glass”?) It gives me a wierd pleasure to turn it over again and go for 30 minutes (this morning — one hour!).

I am happy to announce that the process has worked. And it’s been working all along. In February, for instance, and against all odds, I managed to submit 30 pages to the PNWA historical fiction contest, and my manuscript is now a finalist. But even without that nod from the universe, it’s gratifying to look back at my journal and find April 30, Stuck on chapter five. Don’t know what to do next. Cleaning it up, after all, wasn’t a simple process. It meant dealing with all those cryptic notes, things like “This isn’t working.” “You need action here.” “What is Pearl thinking?” Cleaning it up, meant writing. But here I am, on chapter seventeen, which is the beginning of the end.

starsI know that I say this all the time, and you probably get tired of hearing it. But if your dream is to write, I am here to tell you that you can. Don’t make excuses. And you don’t have to believe me. Go buy a copy of Sark’s Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper. Whenever you hear yourself saying the word “can’t,” imagine it as a big, flashing neon arrow pointing you in the direction you have to go.