Monthly Archives: September 2014

Kill Your Darlings

Since my last post (11 days ago?), I have composed another lengthy piece about my favorite recent distraction.

(As an aside, it’s a game called Two Dots, which I downloaded onto my smartphone. Although if my phone were really smart, it would have told me not to add another form of procrastination to my growing list.)

I have also let the post sit for about nine days in an open window on my laptop, saved but not published. I have stressed about its quality, lack of completion, relevance, reception, and the number of Photobucket images I commandeered to accompany the text.

Like far more writing pieces than I feel comfortable admitting, this one sat, neglected and unfinished, and virtually rot like the bag of peaches left on my kitchen shelf awaiting a bite. Except those peaches have literally begun to rot, emanate a sweet and pungent scent to remind me of their existence, and will soon end up in the compost or a batch of cobbler.

The Two Dots piece faced a similar fate––not cobbler, but a transformation into something different, more palatable––namely, this post about killing your darlings.

That term “kill your darlings” emerged in many a journalism class during my academic career, and for good reason. It is essential. And it proffers Zen-like wisdom about ego and attachment. Yet I still grapple with that one. I also carry around a 34-year-old security blanket, which I use as a sleep aid. Obviously I struggle with some form of attachment disorder. Go figure.

As serendipity would have it, I read the very chapter in Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro (my new favorite book, writing guide, life lessons, new-age bible) about that topic over the weekend.

Pressfield writes a vignette about Pablo Picasso entitled “The Professional is Ruthless With Himself.” He describes the interaction between the artist and a gallery owner:

“Suddenly Picasso seized a palette knife and strode to the first painting. To the gallery owner’s horror, Picasso slashed the painting from end to end.

‘Pablo! Arret, Pablito!’

But Picasso didn’t stop. Blade in hand, he marched down the line of paintings, reducing each one to ribbons.

The professional knows when he has fallen short of his own standards. He will murder his darlings without hesitation, if that’s what it takes to stay true to the goddess and to his own expectations of excellence.”

There have many casualties in my writing process. The Two Dots post added to the body count, and many more will follow. If even one reader can relate to this process, though, the death has not been in vain.

Next week, perhaps Two Dots will enjoy a resurrection. In the meantime, it will remain merely a favorite distraction from writing.

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Thursday’s Child

According to “Monday’s Child,” that 19th-century nursery rhyme, those unfortunate enough to have been born on Thursday “have far to go” (if they had waited just one day, they could boast the virtues of “loving and giving”).

That aptly sums up today’s progress, which is still Thursday in the Eastern Standard Time zone.

Don’t misunderstand me, I have accomplished plenty, even though I woke up battling early stages of a September cold. Adding insult to injury, it’s 72 degrees and sunny outside. ‘Tis crueler than April

For instance, I have plowed through five more chapters of Tina Fey’s quasi-autobiography Bossypants. My reaction vacillates between inspired optimism (that inner voice says, “Astrid, YOU could write this book! You share some of Tina’s wit and humorous pop culture references!”) and devastated cynicism (that same voice turns on me with this dagger: “Astrid, Tina Fey started working for Saturday Night Live while still in her 20s; she wrote Mean Girls when she was your age; and she eked out this book while co-producing and starring in 30 Rock and raising kids. What makes this book interesting is her success and Sarah Palin fame. What would possibly make YOUR book a New York Times bestseller?”)

I’m a Gemini, such duplicity is common in my world––and one of those twins can be such a bitch. For what it’s worth, my book cover would be far less creepy.

Besides the reading, I have replayed level 68 of Two Dots, my new favorite distraction cerebral smartphone game with a free app, at least 14 times. Those pesky fireball dots foil my success every time. But I will prevail and move on to level 69, as soon as my five lives are restored (20 minutes or $.99 per life; I’ll take the wait).

I’m sure there’s a separate blog post hidden in there someplace. I’ll use it for inspiration during next Thursday’s “far-to-go” slump.

This morning I also completed Rosetta Stone‘s French level 1, lesson 4. This involves sophisticated phrases such as “les fleurs sont grosses” (“the flowers are big”) and “le chat est noir” (“the cat is black”), both of which will come in handy while trying to order a Nutella crêpe and a glass of Chablis during my next visit to Paris.

I even went outdoors. Twice. Ok, both times I marched 20 paces from the patio to the compost pile by the garage, but I did it with conviction.

(*not my actual compost container, but this one is way cooler than the one in my back yard)

So, there’s that, but in terms of writing…well, it’s after 3pm 4pm 5pm and I have tried nearly a dozen times to sit down and give WordPress an honest shot today. In the last half hour alone, I have exchanged 17 texts with my sister while attempting to write a publishable post about writing and Resistance.

I broke Rule #2 for slaying dragons: Leave your phone at home (or in the goodie drawer, the dishwasher, anywhere it cannot be mistaken for a distraction).

What better starting point than that which still has a vast distance to cover?

This is where parables, adages, factoids from fifth grade emerge and occasionally prove useful:

  • Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching wisdom––”A journey of one thousand miles begins with one step.”
  • Most car accidents occur within a mile of home.
  • Those last few pounds, not the first 150, are always the most stubborn to lose.

Wait, does that mean, with this much further to go, it’s only going to get harder, and with an increased chance of a fatal collision??

I’ll take my chances. This Thursday’s Child may have far to go––with the sniffles, text messages, and beckoning sunshine working against her––but she has slayed another dragon. Let’s see what Friday brings…

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The 3 Rs

I love that informative and catchy jingle, perfected by Jack Johnson, but I’m not referring to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (and does that apostrophe make the statement look grammatically incorrect?).

And forget anything that involves aRithmetic––this wRRRiter has two English degrees. Yet I can rarely sit down and eke out a coherent sentence without falling prey to myriad temptations.

My favorites include:

  • The latest Instagram shot of my cousin’s zucchini harvest
  • The first season of The Blacklist now streaming on Netflix (in which my longtime celebrity crush James Spader bears a striking resemblance to my Gonzo journalism crush Hunter S. Thompson)
  • Sudden urges to organize my sock drawer or scrub the bathroom toilet

ANYTHING to avoid that still, quiet voice, whispering, “Sit your arse down and WRITE, goddammit!”

Mere distractions, but mighty powerful ones, they be.

Indeed, the three Rs in my life these days include Reading, wRiting, and Resistance.

3Rs_logo

That last one has enveloped the first two of late. So many books discuss this phenomenon and occasional curse. Ironically, some of it is the best writing I’ve encountered in years. Even my own work, or lack thereof, is infused with it.

The difference is that resistance fuels theirs while it debilitates mine.

Steven Pressfield dedicates at least two entire books to the topic: The War of Art and Turning Pro. I read both over the summer, while procrastinating (read: resisting) and delaying to return to writing on a regular basis.

This process prompted a rare chain of events. The procrastination actually inspired me to stop doing what I was doing while reading the books, and instead break through the resistance, and start writing!

Rule #1: Writers write, they don’t talk about writing. Duh.

It is kind of like when my mother buys books about clutter to help her clean up the clutter, but then uses them to add to the existing pile of clutter…

(Funny that about 20 minutes after I wrote that last sentence, during yet another bout of unwarranted Resistance, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of Joe Rogan interviewing Steven Pressfield discussing this very topic. It looks like Resistance can also double as serendipity.)

Both processes can devolve into vicious cycles.

But when the pupil is ready, gurus appear. They can manifest in various forms:

  • Dreams (or nightmares, when your subconscious is particularly desperate)
  • Muses, appearing as an idea, a mentor, inspiration, clarity. Call it what you will.
  • Steven Pressfield and other inspiring artists (some of the most notable ones in my life include Tom Robbins, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris, Elizabeth Gilbert, Stephen King, and Ruth Reichl, to name a few)

The number of ways Resistance––this adversary deserves a capital ‘R’––tried to foil my plans to write even this brief piece on the very topic is at once devastating, pathetic, and all too familiar.

It is also hilarious because I, Astrid the Dragon Slayer, can recognize its trickery just a wee bit faster now.

This call to action––to write––must be pretty fucking important. I had to slay some seriously persistent dragons this week:

  • Disable Words With Friends
  • Bury my phone
  • Mute James Spader
  • Cork an open bottle of Malbec (which had a screw cap)
  • Enforce Draconian Facebook parameters on myself: 20 minutes and three comments max.
  • Get out of bed
  • Put the pint of Half Baked froyo back in the freezer…with at least two servings left

But here I am, still alive, slightly less restless, slightly less likely to gauge out my eye with an icepick to rival the pain of not writing.

And ready to face more dragons and Resistance’s henchmen tomorrow.

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