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Bethany: Bad Habits Are Hard to Break

I’d always wanted to be a writer. In my youth it was songs and poetry. Mostly because they were short, sweet, and easy to produce in the short allotment of time that my brain could focus. Being a nervous child, I was always full of anxiety, never sat still, and always had plans. Mornings would be planning time. I’d set small goals like: write three songs today, make a mix tape from the radio, worry about the boy in class that passed a note about me in biology, write a poem, watch television, avoid and then call my girlfriends, twice, to talk about all of this and more. Only, I didn’t talk about my writing much. For some reason I kept that secret, as if it might hide the “real” me from the rest of the world. Because then, and even now, I can’t write much without the truth seeping in. And God knows, when you are 13 and you are worried about joining chorus, or the hair growing under your arms, you don’t want the entire school making a judgement about you based on that. So notebooks were written in, hidden under the bed, in the drawer and tossed aside in backpacks throughout my childhood. Some were neatly kept hidden in the most safest of spots as it had the best handwritten pieces I could muster. Others were thrown aside in a massive upheaval (or cleaning) attempt made in my room. But the love of writing and being inside myself for extended periods of time was never lost. Even, when I hit college and “real life” when writing wasn’t a priority, I’d find myself jotting down phrases, paragraphs, a few pages of a story in the back of a notebook, only to be tucked (or thrown) away at the end of the semester.

Today, I wish I could say I finally found a way to pull all those stories together and collect myself enough to write endlessly without interruption. But the truth is, my life demands that I am scattered. I have a day job that demands constant attention, children who do the same, and a husband — that although he tries — loves a bit of my attention as well. And when you throw all of that together in 24 hour chunks, there still isn’t a lot of time for writing. Not like there was when I was a teen and my only responsibilities were eating, sleeping, dressing, behaving, and school (that I might add was somewhat easy for me). Though, thinking back, I felt just as scattered then as I do now. Just differently.

I’ve spent the better part of this month trying to regain the diligence I had only three months ago for writing. I’d write if I have 5 minutes or an hour — and time didn’t really matter. I’d take every word and add it to the count. I’d blog, write an essay, outline my next novel idea, and even hammer out a few marketing plans. All while juggling the rest of my life. But then suddenly I let one 15 minute chunk of time pass me by. And then another. Pretty soon I was just letting days and weeks slide where I writing dropped to the lowest priority. Thus, so did my stories/essays/blog posts and my general happiness about working toward my small goal of making my writing into a business after so many years.

One might think it easy to get back on the bandwagon of writing. I mean, I did it once right? How hard can it be to just keep the notebooks lying around, computers open and let the words flow… every 5, 15, or 30 minutes at a time? But have you ever gone on and then OFF a diet? How hard is it to get back on THAT bandwagon? Because really, when you take time that you once used to do one thing (in my case writing) and suddenly have it returned to you to do something else (laundry, diapers, nap, read, television, rest, thinking) giving that time up again to do something else… well isn’t as easy as it sounds. Just like the soda you’ve gotten SO used to having in the afternoon as a pick-me-up suddenly being banned on the new diet. So, alas I’m struggling. With writing. With eating. Thinking outside my normal routine. Becoming creative again. And becoming active again. All at once.

And I’m admitting (again) to being a sporadic type writer. Still writing phrases in notebooks, napkins, and in fragmented computer files on almost every computer I use regularly. Catching moments of brilliance into text messages on my cell phone. Waking before sunrise to sneak a few 100 words into the laptop. And stealing what I can from my creative side of the brain to weave a story, a message, a project together into “something.” I can’t and don’t write for hours at a time. Even when I crave that amount of time for long writing stretches, my mind might implode after 30 minutes or so. Who gets that kind of uninterrupted time? Unless of course you’re writing full time. Or maybe don’t have children or the Internet. But then again, I don’t get caught up in routines. And if writing in 15 minute chunks works for me, I’ll take it. As long as I can start writing again. Each and every 15 minutes I get.

[Cross-posted from Mommy Writer Blog]

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you for letting us reprint this, Bethany. I think it’s an excellent follow-on to my own last blog post.

    If there is some way that you can savor those 15 minutes of writing and fully enjoy them — and it sounds like you do — I think that you can get a lot of mileage out of that mini stint. That micro-writing session is enough to keep your story alive; enough to keep you plugged in an percolating about the project even when you’re not working on it. It’s not four hours alone at a coffee shop — which, as you point out, might not work for you anyway — but it’s writing, and it sounds like you are able (at least in theory) to fit that time into your life without losing family time.

    Routine does help a lot, as it helps remove the “should” factor. But even with routine — just as with diet! — there are times when you’re in the groove and times when it feels like a struggle.

    You’ll make it happen when the timing is right — just don’t let your writing fall into the “should” category 🙂

    Thanks for reminding me of the value of micro-writing sessions. No need to create pressure by trying to secure a two-hour window when that doesn’t doesn’t fit into your life right now.

    February 12, 2010
  2. Liz #

    Absolutely – and writing isn’t just 400 page novels. Poetry, Ginsberg sentences, little stream of consciousness pieces touch people too. (Maybe even more so in our ADD society.)

    February 12, 2010
  3. thanks, bethany. i can totally relate to the restlessness. it’s as if in expecting an interruption to writing, i create it for myself. sometimes i’m so good at the interrupting, i never get to the writing for days.

    February 12, 2010
  4. alexsondra #

    I loved reading this. I didn’t think it possible for someone else to describe pretty damn well, the inner workings of my mind. Oh, those mind implosions, they are a personal favorite, navigating them can lead to serious exhaustion, if not out right apoplexy.
    I love writing on all sorts of things, not always paper. It’s the organizing of this “profound” dat that requires skill. Anyone for a collage? Now I’ll go out on a limb here, and assume you’re a lot younger than I. In a couple of weeks I’ll be 60. Let me say, that you sound like you’re having a whole lot more fun than I remember. So, maybe it’s not bad habits, maybe your life is leading you to a new rhythm of creativity.
    In any case I applaud your perseverance and wit.
    Thanks

    February 12, 2010
  5. Thanks to all of you for the kind, caring and encouraging words. Really. I am grinning and crying (in happiness) at the same time. We’re all knidred spirits, I can tell. And I know this is the icky part of the “new routine” process. Just need to get past it…. and look forward to the next 15!

    February 12, 2010

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