Getting Traction

Anyone can lose traction on a writing project. Anyone. Maybe a few ancient veterans of the writing world have developed immunity, but the other 99% of us, yes, that includes me, can lose our way (a version of that dreaded malady writer's block).

I’m surprised to find myself in this state right now. In mid-April I attended the Story Circle writing conference held here in Austin every two years and came home wired to write. Unavoidable distractions kept me away from my keyboard for several days and that flame began to wane.

My main, get-it-done-ASAP project was and is a rewrite of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, which sold out three print runs and has been left to rest in peace (you can still order used copies via Amazon). I did make a strong start on the new version for a couple of weeks.

Then a fantastic series of webinars on hosting online courses intervened. More than a dozen compelling videos were posted, but only for several days, so that soared to the top of my list. Each session or replay lasted nearly two hours not counting time for making notes and checking things out. More distraction. New ideas on courses (I hope you’ll be able to benefit from one of those late this year or early next) and additional ideas for the rewrite gushed forth as I watched. I felt highly creative. But ...

I was not writing!

So here I am today ...
  • Weeding my garden. 
  • Talking to neighbors.
  • Folding piles of laundry. 
  • Making salad for a family celebration. 
  • Answering email. 
  • Cleaning the shower.
  • Writing this long-overdue blog post.
  • Looking longingly at a tall stack of books to be read.
  • Stopping to wrap and freeze yesterday’s chicken parts.
  • Making fresh coffee.
  • Contemplating my mending pile. 
  • Rethinking shelf design for my office. 
  • Feeling lost and overwhelmed!

I can fix this. I can get out of this sand trap and regain traction. Here’s my thumbnail plan for getting my wheels moving down a solid road:
  • Spend ten minutes free writing about why I’m avoiding my project. Yes, I know the reasons, but writing makes thinking visible and seeing it on the page makes it real. Those obstacles become more manageable when I actually see them. (I just checked that off. You see the resulting list).
  • Keep my Work In Progress (WIP) document open when I leave my computer and make sure it’s the only window visible  to minimize distractions.
  • Create a prioritized ToDo list, including at least half an hour of writing every day! I can get a lot done in half an hour — if I know that’s enough.
  • Apply the Swiss Cheese technique to write manageable chunks in those 30 minute windows. I slid into that sand trap when I allowed a much larger project concept to overwhelm me.
  • Make and hang a small poster behind my computer to remind myself to write now, edit later. (Uhm, is this another distraction? More avoidance behavior? Perhaps ...)
  • Make a separate list of random thoughts about all phases of my WIP.
  • Keep a notepad handy for capturing thoughts while I fold laundry, weed, etc.
  • Keep selected people posted about my progress. They'll keep my feet to the fire and help me stay on track. 
None of these are new ideas. All are included in the original book, and I've blogged about each many times. You may know and use several yourself, but sometimes we all need a whack on the side of the head to get back to basics, use what we know, and

I must also mention that other things surfaced in that freewrite involving my Inner Critic and other dark things. But that's another story for another post. Points I included here are enough to hold the others at bay.

Now, I feel so much better for (a) having written this post and (b) having a plan. I’m inching ahead. This book revision has turned into a total rewrite, not just an edit, so it’s different only in content from a lifestory or memoir project. The process is the same. My tips will work for you. Give them a try and let me know how it goes. Send me an email or leave a comment. That will help you stay on track once you get those wheels moving.

Thoughts to ponder: What is keeping you from steaming strongly ahead on your WIP? Or from starting one? Which if the tips above might help you? 


ishhu said...

nice post

Karen Walker said...

Sharon, we haven't really been in touch since you've moved to Austin. Sounds like you already have a very full, wonderful life there. So happy this move went so well. And glad you've figured out a way to get back to your writing. Now I must go and do the same.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thank you Kiltan.

Karen, I'm happy as a clam at high tide down here, and right now, with the 6" of rain we've had the past week, the tide is definitely high. My bucket overfloweth. Now, let's both WRITE!

Olga said...

Such an excellent blog post. When I finish:
1. Preparing a class for fall.
2. Finally have the carpets replaced (everything has been packed up).
3. Finish labeling family photos - but then maybe I'll never finish.
I will start revising the 100 page family history I wrote seven or ten years ago.
I promis I will try to get going by December 1, 2016!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Love your list Olga. It's so real and typical and having been through similar things in the last few months, I totally understand how consuming house projects are. You sound like a one-project person, and that's good to know about yourself. Bravo for committing to Dec. 1 instead of "after the holidays."