Resistance as Writer’s Aide

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As part of my writerly reading, I began a book that I think will be important: Victoria Nelson’s On Writer’s Block: A New Approach to Creativity.

From the beginning, Ms. Nelson presents resistance as a positive thing, to be explored for what it wants to tells us: [The] inability to write means that the unconscious self is vetoing the program demanded by the conscious ego.” [italics hers]

I remember participating in NaNoWriMo in 2012 in order to finish a full draft of my historical middle grade novel. (The goal of National Novel Writing Month is to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November. This time (I’d participated in the challenge once before), I decided to advance my work-in-progress rather than write something new. Who says you can’t adjust rules to suit real needs?)

I’d written a chunk of my novel already, and knew a lot about the plot and what I still had to write. But I didn’t know the ending. I plunged in anyway, figuring that the end would grow clearer as I approached it. I’d lay track right before the train got there, as it were.

So I wrote my 50,000 November words. Things went so well—my story advanced, my train moved along—that I continued “laying track” well into December. Then story and train came to an absolute halt. It wasn’t that the holidays derailed me. I just still didn’t know my story’s resolution.

This is what Victoria Nelson says about the resistance I experienced then, the resistance that most writers, most creators, likely will experience at times:

“Trying to muscle our way past resistance doesn’t work either. Picture the unconscious as being a bit like Switzerland, a tough little country with well-defined frontiers and apparently unlimited fiscal reserves. Invasions, coups, don’t get past the border. Responding correctly to a writer’s block means not forcing an entry but opening civilized diplomatic relations with an autonomous state that has clearly demonstrated it can’t be coerced. This is a painstaking process of human negotiation that may take a long, long time.”

It did for me. My novel sat there for more than a year, though I poked it now and then. Things got moving again when I took up another challenge, participating in a novel-revision workshop for which I needed to have a finished novel. Oh, it was hard. At times the train inched up steep, narrow inclines. At times it wanted to fall off wide curves. But the train made it into the station. The difference? In the meantime, iron ore had been mined, smelted, molded. I now knew the story’s end. Getting the train there took work, but the long, previous resistance had prepared the way for it.

What about you? Where are you stuck, and what do you think the resistance wants to tell you? Or what valuable lessons have you learned, as you opened civilized diplomatic relations with yourself during past resistances?

train arriving in station
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The 100 Day Project: Jump Right In!

“You can still start,” I told my painter and writer friend Margaret.

Yes, I was talking again about The 100 Day Project.

Last year, when I first participated, I was telling EVERYONE about it, inviting them in: people I knew, like my younger sister, a talented but ambivalent painter; and random people I met, like the owner of Sellers Books & Fine Arts, a wonderful bookshop in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, when visiting friends there before my college reunion.

I’d pull up the cool invitation on my phone screen: “WHAT COULD YOU DO WITH 100 DAYS OF MAKING?” and proceed to read as many of the inspiring ideas around it as seemed appropriate:

Create 100 patterns
Learn about 100 new typefaces
Learn 100 new techniques
Write a 100 page book
Go on 100 dates
Make a song 100 lines long
Create 100 recipes
Volunteer 100 hours
Learn 100 new things
Take 100 photos
Sing in the shower for 100 days
Make a dance video with 100 moves
Meet 100 new people
Make 100 posters
Doodle on 100 Post-its
Draw your dreams for 100 days [Elle Luna, the popularizer of The 100 Day Project, painted hers last year]

Margaret had heard of the 100 Day Project I worked on last year. I shared with her some pointers that helped me.

1) Think small. Then maybe smaller still. Remember that battle fatigue will set in as the 100 Days continue. The grand(iose) task you can do enthusiastically for a few days may quickly become overwhelming, and then be dropped. Better to do a little, faithfully and successfully, over time, instead of a lot, but for too short a stretch to make an impact.

A year ago, for example, Chizarom wanted to draw multiple animation frames a day. I wondered if it wouldn’t be wiser for her to aim to complete one frame only, and add more only if this became comfortable.

2) Post publicly for accountability. I hadn’t been on Instagram before last year’s 100 Day Project (and haven’t been much on it since). Initially, I was going to do my writing project without posting anywhere. Good thing I changed my mind! I don’t know if I’d have lasted a week if I hadn’t publicly tracked what I was doing. I had maybe five followers (friends from the Creativity church group where I’d heard about The 100 Day Project), but the daily posting helped keep me faithful.

This year, I’m blogging rather than posting on Instagram for my 100 Days. You may choose to publicly post your progress on a website, Instagram, or even your bedroom door or cubicle wall for housemates or co-workers to see. But let someone know what you’re doing, to create for yourself the beneficial expectation of a daily fresh feed.

3) Commit to dailyness. Was it M. J. Ryan in This Year I Will… ? Or Gretchen Rubin (of The Happiness Project) in one of her books?, who wrote that it can be easier to perform an activity daily than, say, three times a week. In the latter scenario, you argue with yourself about WHICH days to work, are tempted to skip some days, and may fall behind. Whereas when something is daily, you don’t waste energy negotiating with yourself about whether you’ll do it or not. You just go at it.

For myself, as this year’s project is more ambitious (writing, reading, becoming), I’m giving myself Sundays off, to have a full day to recharge. Then I’ll likely keep going a while longer to reach my 100 Days.

4) Start anytime. Don’t worry if the official start date was a few days (or weeks, or months) ago. Just start. AND,

5) Keep going. If/when you drop the ball—just bend down, pick it up, forgive yourself, and keep going. If you were overly ambitious to start with, you can scale back and redefine the project. Also, decide how you’ll handle any “drops:”

Maybe, if you miss a day, you make it up the next day.
Or you keep going extra days until you make it to the end of YOUR 100 Days.
Or (while pushing hard to keep along) you decide to be thrilled by whatever you accomplish on your project, knowing it’s more than you’d have done if you hadn’t started at all.

Either way, I cheer you along. So what WILL you do with your 100 Days of Making?

**

Let the 100 Days Begin!

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“What could you do with 100 Days of Making?” designer, painter, and general all-around creative Elle Luna asked a year ago.

I heard the call and decided. I would write 100 poems from the point of view of Domnica, the heroine of my middle-grade historical novel. The poems didn’t have to rhyme, or even be any good. They just had to be written. If I managed four lines even, I’d be a success. But I had to do it 100 Days in a row.

Most 100 Day Project participants create visual projects, and Elle Luna encourages posting on Instagram. To keep myself honest, I joined Instagram and posted deliberately blurred bits of my writing. The idea for now was to create, not to publish.

Reader, I met my goal. Most days I followed through just before turning in at night. But I wrote my poems. Many were plebeian. But some surprised me with insights into the mind or world of my character, and a few wrung my heart. Because of the gems, and because I stuck with the project, I considered myself a huge success.

The 100 Day Project has rolled around again, and I want to dive into a bigger goal: Continue becoming a writer. So, for 100 Days, I eagerly commit 1) to working for at least half an hour on one or more of the following:

Reading poetry or classics of English or Romanian-language literature
Reading books on writing
Developing the business of writing
Connecting with other writers
Sharing thoughts and developments via this blog

…As well as 2) to WRITING for at least half an hour on one of my two main writing projects, my middle-grade historical novel and a non-fiction work for adults.

So here’s to 100 Days pushing through with my Writerly Becoming. Come along. What project of your own might you advance, with tiny, but faithful, steps, for 100 Days?

**