Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Huffington Post Books Section

I'll be blogging periodically for the new Books Section at the Huffington Post. Here's my first post-- if you read this blog, you've read it before, but I'd love it if you'd go ahead and leave me a comment or two on the HuffPost! Next one will be brand spanking new, just for you. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Speed is the Key

This article, Speed as an Antidote to Writer's Block, caught my eye today as I looked over the new Huffington Post Book Section. Not because I'm suffering from writer's block-- my absence from this blog the past few weeks is actually proof that my writing is getting done. It caught my eye because the title made me think that its writer, Hillary Rettig, a "productivity coach and workshop leader," was advocating the use of Speed for writers. As in, "swallow/snort/inject this Ritalin/Adderal/Cocaine and paint the world with words!"

Many years ago, when I lived in New York, I quit a well-paying job to write full-time. Within a few weeks of kissing my health insurance goodbye, I developed an inability to breathe. I entertained the idea that it could be asthma, or maybe pneumonia. But I knew what it was: lung cancer. Death. 

A friend of a friend referred me to a Russian doctor who gave breaks to artists. I showed up at her office terrified of the inevitable diagnosis, but within a few minutes I was told by the kind doctor that I was having panic attacks because "Nobody loves you in New York, you know this, yes? They smile at you with their faces but their hearts, they are not open." She then told me to leave the house every once in a while and go for a walk. This was revolutionary advice in my early writing days, when I believed I needed to be at my desk eight hours a day or I wasn't serious enough. She said to write for shorter periods of time, then get out and walk around, and all would be well.

And then she said that she could give me a prescription for Ritalin if I wanted one. "My writers, they love it," she said. "They say, 'I test it out! Ritalin: I write for hours. No Ritalin: less hours!'"

I was so indignant I forgot I couldn't breathe. "That's cheating!" I said. And I was cured of my psychic lung cancer.

Anyway, when I saw this article on the HuffPost, I thought, Damn. That doctor was right-- apparently lots of writers are doing speed to get their work done.

My response was the same response I had years ago, in New York: That's cheating! I mean, I have had to train myself like a puppy to get up every morning, make coffee, turn off my phone and email and sit down to write. If I so much as glance at my phone I can be thrown off and lose my will to work. I've told my family and friends that I will be in a virtual cave until my book is done, and that they might not hear from me until then. And when I'm not able to focus? When I can't find the start of the next chapter? Then, I will do damn near anything-- meditate, pray, light candles, bribe myself with chocolate or wine if I get a thousand words written-- but I am terrified of drugs. Always have been. I blame it on Nancy Reagan and the book Go Ask Alice.

So, I read Rettig's article. By "speed" she means "promptness." As in, Get your writing done quickly and you'll be more productive and less likely to give yourself time to get blocked:

Greed may not be good, but speed sure is. It was only when I got into this line of work that I understood the meaning of the axiom "He who hesitates is lost." Procrastination -- the fear-based inner force that wants you not to complete your projects -- will latch onto any feelings of uncertainty or hesitation and amplify them until you can no longer do your work.

One method for beating procrastination, therefore, is to practice a Zen-like detachment from your work. You want to, at the appointed time, glide emotionlessly over to your desk and sit down and commence work. Just commence, without drama or hesitation.

What a relief to find that Rettig advocates a working style that I am trying to cultivate. Because secretly? I'm afraid my Russian doctor was right, and writers are taking all kinds of focusing drugs to get their work done, and we non-drug-taking prudes will be left in the dust as the Speedy writers churn out novels and stories like they're Joyce Carol Oates  . . . on Adderal. (Good sweet Lord, can you imagine?)

Anyway, Rettig's article is worth the read. And the Huffington Post's new books section is a very exciting new offering for writers and readers-- I'll be blogging there periodically, myself, so I hope you'll stop by for a read.