Or: the importance of the reset button/s
My writing process is not tidy or contained. Neither is it sturdy enough, most days, to entirely resist distractions small (I need another cracker with relish and cheese right away six was not enough) or large (my nine-year relationship is over and I need to find somewhere new to live). But one thing I have learned by surviving and thriving through years of bad depression and anxiety and some pretty big grief is how to honour and make use of the various Reset Button/s I have available to me.
Here is a rather attractive, pink-and-purple-haired reset button called Sian Torrington whose care and attention have saved my bacon at various moments in pretty much every possible way over the last ten years. Best friends, man. And best friends who are also artists. THIS IS A VERY PRECIOUS THING.
In more abstract terms, I have had to learn that planning a day or even an hour of creative work is only the beginning of the process. You have to be prepared to re-plan, to re-imagine the schedule, sometimes several times, once you've started. For example. If you plan to write your morning pages or a poem or a journal entry or a blog or something on the train into town, and then you find yourself paralysed with anxiety or neurosis in your velour seat, or sitting next to someone who keeps wanting to read over your shoulder, or simply exhausted and falling asleep with your face smeared on the window, this is not failure. This does not mean you are a bad writer/artist, and you need to give up on yourself and everything you've mistakenly believed you can achieve. 20 minutes of face-smearing and a bit of dribble doesn't mean your writing day is a write-off. Neither does it mean (and I say this for those of you who are expert anxious extrapolators like myself) that you are a fake, a phoney, that you are never going to write another word worth reading and you might as well go and lie under your duvet for a few years.
What it asks of you is to reset - to modify your expectations of yourself and your day, or even this one hour or 10 minutes that you've set aside to do this thing. Sometimes I have to do this many, many times a day. Yes, even though I am the blimmin writer in residence at Vic. Things come along. Stuff interrupts. And it's not always possible for me to resist or override those things. So instead, I've had to learn how to reset and start again.
And I've had to learn how to do this even though I also have a very strong subterranean feeling of doom in my guts that provides a constant 'this is the beginning of the end' type monologue, no matter how happy and productive I may or may not be at any time.
I am learning that all of these things are not only who I am, and how I work, but also they may very well be inextricable parts of my own 'process'. You know, that thing you go through to produce creative work. When I'm checking Facebook for the sixth time in five minutes, sometimes it's not because I am avoiding my feelings and therefore am a coward and don't have the gonads to be a writer anyway, who am I trying to kid. Sometimes it's because some other thing is percolating, and I need to switch brains for long enough to let it through. It often works out like that. I'm not just trying to make myself (and you) feel better. It happened just the other day when I was trying to write a blurb for my upcoming poetry book. It was torture. I avoided and procrastinated and turned myself inside out. I did everything else but write it. Then - a breakthrough. A solution - and one which I think is damn near perfect - presented itself, as I was opening yet another tab to get 8/15 for the Stuff Quiz.
I'm experimenting with the idea that everything I do this year, including spending inordinate amounts of time on Trade Me looking at flatmate ads that say things like 'pets negotiable' and then when you scroll down they say 'cats ok sorry no dogs' for the 300th time...all of this is writing. All of it. Because I am a writer. And the way that I know that is that I absolutely fit that desription that someone said I can't remember who: 'A writer is someone for whom writing is far more difficult than it is for anyone else.'
In other news: I am about to visit Nelson for a month, doing research for the new book I am writing this year. I will be head down bum up, and hopefully I will bring back lots of words, you know, language, text, stuff like that. At the very least, I will bring back a slightly enhanced pair of calf muscles from walking up to the Centre of New Zealand every day with the dog.
And no doubt, I will also bring back an even deeper appreciation of the reset process, because I will, most certainly, have to use it many times while I am down there.
To those of you who find reset more difficult than throwing your hands up in despair and self-hatred: I hear you. I fight it every day. Kia kaha. Keep going. You're awesome.