#SomethingonSunday: Grateful for Gratitude

Today, I am grateful to Jenny for starting this little gratitude exercise because the Sunday before going back to work is often hard. The Sunday before going back to work after a long weekend is often a little harder. I always have to figure out where to start with all I have to do and it gets overwhelming.

Along with that, I am also grateful for:

1. Spending time with my friend Jasmine over the weekend and getting to meet her family. Not only did we eat good food and have good conversations, we also managed to watch most of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I haven’t seen in a while. Also, and most importantly, her family is pretty great. A+, would hang out with again.

2. Roseanne, A Different World, and Golden Girls reruns. I got to watch a little of all three over the weekend (including the one with Dwayne and Whitley’s wedding–YES, CHILD), and they were all glorious.

And, of course, because I mentioned it, I have to post the clip again:

Diahann Carroll is a national treasure.

3. Being able to fly out of Burbank instead of LAX. #blessed

4. Figuring out some key stuff that I was blocked about re: this script I’m working on. That also led to me doing some actual (re)writing tonight.

5. Two weeks left of the semester. Although this is also a major stressor for me, the countdown to vacation is real.

I hope everyone else was able to find some joy this past week.

Catching up on one thing, at least: Monday reading

I didn’t post last week because, although I finished a book, I didn’t know what I was going to read next. Like, I honestly had no clue. My work schedule is so hectic (I’m teaching an overload, so six classes instead of my usual five) that my brain is mostly mush–not to mention I’m behind on everything. And by everything, I mean EVERY SINGLE THING. It is maddening. And unlike with my usual beginning of semester behind on everythingness, I’m not really seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

As the kids say, it me. source)
As the kids say: it me. (source)

Continue reading “Catching up on one thing, at least: Monday reading”

I am neurotic, or a Zero Draft Thirty update

I was telling my friend how neurotic working on my screenplay draft was making me revealing me to be, and she said I should blog about it. So. Here we go.

To recap: I did The Artist’s Way. I discovered that maybe I was blocked because I don’t want to write books but want to write TV. I decided to use NaNoWriMo to work on a pilot script even though that’s for novel writing. I discovered Zero Draft Thirty and pledged to do that instead.

Now that that’s out of the way: my neuroses. I have been working on my script almost every single day. It is terrible–as it bloody well should be. It’s a zero draft (or, as I teach my students, a shitty first draft). I have silenced the inner critic! I have let go of resistance!

Well, kind of.

See, the thing is I get really distracted by What Happens When I Finished.

For example, I’m listening to Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? (which is fantastic) and as she describes her life in L.A. and being a writer, I think, “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to move to L.A. and start over and uproot my life.” I mean, it sounds great for her but also really and truly horrifying. Because I have stability! I like my job! But if I do what I set out to do with this writing then MY WHOLE LIFE MIGHT CHANGE.

It might change for the better, granted. But it could change.

The problem with this is that I haven’t actually finished anything yet. Please note that nowhere in this scenario does the idea of failing present itself. Only because I have worked through that. I used to be too scared to start anything because WHAT IF I DON’T FINISH? Now I have moved onto WHAT IF I FINISH AND IT IS AS BELOVED AS I EXPECT IT TO BE? So I also have a huge ego problem along with my fear of change/success. But at least I have gotten over my fear of failure.

Also, I started thinking that maybe I made the wrong choice and I should be thinking about writing books. I mean, I do love books more than TV, don’t I? I never imagined myself as a TV writer, really, but almost always as a book writer. Why am I wasting my time doing this script if really I want to write books? WHY CAN’T I MAKE A DECISION? Also, don’t forget about your love of short stories, Akilah!

But, really, the issue there is that I suffer from all or nothing/black and white thinking.

Today, while doing my morning pages, I realized that deciding to work on a script right now doesn’t mean I can’t work on a book or other writing project later. But it takes a lot of work for me to have these realizations. Because I always go straight for the “I can have x or y, and those are the only options.” Everything is either/or and never both/and with me.

So where does that leave me? Today, it left me finishing my pilot draft and giving myself permission to work on some other types of writing. It also reminded me that I need to stop thinking so much of everything I do as a product that must be sold. At this point in my life, I need to be writing because if I don’t write, I am miserable. If I do write, as shown above, I am also miserable, but not as miserable as when I’m not. Because it’s a very different kind of misery to constantly wonder why I’m not doing something I think I want to do versus wondering if I’m doing it right. (Did I also mention I’m a perfectionist? Yeah, so that’s a thing.) At least if I’m doing it wrong, I can tell myself to relax and just enjoy the process whereas if I’m not doing it at all, I hate myself every day.

So, in conclusion: I am neurotic. The end. Wait, I should end on an up note. The plus is that today I recognize how neurotic I am and know how to work through it. There. The real end.

Recommendation Wednesday: The Artist’s Way

This book changed my life.

I mentioned in my musings on what I might do for my artist date that I was working through the book because I assigned it to my creative writing class and thought it might be a good idea to know what, exactly, I was asking them to do. I really wasn’t prepared for the impact this book would have on me.

The two biggest tools of the book are completing the morning pages and going on the artist date. That’s where I found the impact and the transformation. Well, those two tools and the reading deprivation during Week 4.

Basically, how the book works is that each week you read a chapter, write the morning pages, take yourself on an artist date, and complete some (or all) of the tasks at the end of the chapter. Repeat until the book is complete. Twelve chapters = twelve weeks.

How did it change my life?

The biggest deficit in my life is in the area of self-care. I suck at it. It is legit the hardest thing I do. What the morning pages and the artist date do is privilege self-care. Since I committed to completing the book, I committed to doing the work. (I am nothing if not a good student.) Doing the work meant writing the pages and going on the date. Every week.

I should note, though, that I rarely, if ever, wrote the morning pages in the actual morning. Even though Cameron says several times that it should be done before starting your day, that is not realistic for me. In fact, that’s what kept me from completing the book last time. Once I gave myself permission to just treat the morning pages as daily pages, finishing the work became manageable. I have done a lot of work on my perfectionism in the past few years, so understanding that I could do the pages imperfectly was key. Also, let’s be real: getting up a half-hour early is antithetical to my self-care.

Harder than the pages for me was the artist date. I had to start really small. Watching an hour of TV without doing anything else (like folding or separating clothes). Coloring at my dining room table. Going to the movies. However, as I kept with it, I started doing other things, bigger things. I went to plays. I took a West African dance class. I took a jazz dance class. I started planning other creative and fun things I could do with my time. Now it feels almost second nature to say yes to activities I would have previously told myself I didn’t have time for. I have made it a habit to sit down and watch TV shows I like because I like to watch them. I’m not too busy for the things I actually enjoy doing. It makes it a lot easier to do work or be creative when I know I’m not depriving myself of fun stuff.

Life is meant to be an artist date.

I will also note that I started The Artist’s Way in the summer when I wasn’t working. Completing the pages and the date became more difficult once school started back. But I kept at them.

The reading deprivation also marked a key point in my recovery (as the book calls it). I got a LOT of clarity. For one, I realized that part of the reason I was blocked (I haven’t written anything in years) was that I wasn’t interested in the type of writing I had told myself I needed to be doing or was interested in. I was, as they say, should-ing on myself, which kept me from doing what I wanted to do. The other major thing that happened during my deprivation is that I cleaned my room, set up an office, and opened up space for what I want my life to be.

So, yeah. Big changes.

I absolutely recommend this book for blocked creatives with the understanding that it is definitely not for everyone. The subtitle is “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” after all. For anyone resistant to ideas of spirituality or discussions/mentions of God (though Cameron does point out that you don’t have to believe in any god to use the book and gives suggestions for what word to replace God with as you read, e.g., “creative force” or “good orderly direction” among others), probably you might not be as open to some of the suggestions or language Cameron uses. However, if you are willing or able to look past that language, I think there’s a lot of value here.

And, of course, if you are willing to do the work.

Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine (2006)

I really enjoyed this book. It’s for young writers, but as an adult writer–or one who aspires to be a writer anyway–I found it really helpful. First, the book benefits by being aimed at children. There’s no pretentiousness here; everything is very straightforward. She explains the importance of plot and character and really breaks down every element. Most importantly, there are exercises at the end of each chapter to jump start writing. I also love that she ends every chapter with “Save what you wrote,” a callback to her rules for writers, #7 of which is:

Save everything you write, even if you don’t like it, even if you hate it. Save it for a minimum of fifteen years. I’m serious. At that time, if you want to, you can throw it out, but even then don’t discard your writing lightly.

My favorite passage from the book and the one that affected me most in that it completely encapsulated the problem I’ve been having with writing for the past couple of years is this:

Writing is deceptive. You know how to read. You know what you like in a book and in a story. You know how to write, how to make sentences and paragraphs. So why can’t you tell your story in the beautiful way it appears in your mind?

Yes, exactly. Why can’t I? That’s really what it boils down to, isn’t it? That wanting to write beautifully, that wanting the words to come out exactly the way you want to is not as easy as just sitting down and writing. No! It takes practice. I’ve been in school since forever and I’ve studied creative writing even, and I know that I have to write more if I want to write well, but that the block comes when I want, need, and expect the words to just magically appear on the paper before me. And in a few sentences, Levine manages to completely explain what I’m feeling.

There’s also a passage in the book where she says that part of the problem is that a lot of people don’t treat writing as a craft. If we wanted to play an instrument, our parents would tell us to practice. If we wanted to be dancers, our parents would tell us to practice. But when we write something, we get praised for it and it gets admired and that’s it. Our parents will say we’re wonderful writers, but it’s rare to have a parent say, “Great, now keep writing a lot for practice.” No! They’d just admire the next thing we write.

That spoke to me. I have written a lot of things that have been good and praised, but I never felt that writing was something I needed to do every day. And, now, even though it makes perfect sense that it takes more writing to write well, I still haven’t been able to make that transition. This book not only explains elements of crafts, but encourages writing and made me want to pick up a pen (or sit at a keyboard) and get to it.

I think this is an excellent book for young writers and older writers as well.