Monday, February 2, 2009

Change You Can Believe In

In honour of Barack Obama’s recent inauguration, I feel inspired to talk about change. President Obama campaigned on the necessity of change in his country. He believes that if a country’s policies, programs, and attitudes do not produce the desired result, or are causing distress, then it’s time to change.

The same is true of writers. If what we’re doing now isn’t working, we need to change.

Easier said than done. Change is difficult. Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight or quit smoking can tell you that. People are creatures of habit and we like orderliness and predictability, at least most of the time. Change frightens us because we feel out of control. Sometimes even though we recognize a change is needed, we feel paralyzed into inaction out of fear. Better the Devil I know, we tell ourselves.

Albert Einstein said “Our thinking creates problems that the same type of thinking will not solve.” In other words, sometimes we need a different way of thinking to come up with new and creative answers to our problems.

In the motivation class I’m taking my instructor says we must create a different space to identify a solution to a particularly tough problem – a solution space, she calls it. Some might call it thinking outside of the box. But whatever you call it, it means looking at your problem, and the solutions to your problem, in new and different ways.

She gives the example of Joe, who is trying to write a novel. Like many of us, he doesn’t have much time to write, and when he does make time, he often finds it impossible to put anything down, and often faces a blank page at the end of the day.

Joe needs a new solution. Maybe he shouldn’t be in front of a computer, trying to write the next Great American (or Canadian) Novel. Maybe he should try writing longhand. How about starting his writing with stream of conscious rather than immediately jumping into his story? Maybe instead of writing, he should be speaking his thoughts into a tape recorder. How about only writing on napkins? It sounds crazy, but perhaps these methods will take away the pressure of producing a perfect first draft and allow Joe to just write. Maybe they are just the change that Joe needs.

How about an example closer to home? In her comment to a recent posting, my fellow Chick Janet mentioned that her writing office is in the basement of her house. It’s cold down there and her writing is occasionally interrupted by her husband when he comes downstairs to play Wii golf. What if Janet found that she simply could not write in her cold, dark basement, especially in the winter? She feels the basement is her only option, so she toughs it out, valiantly bundling in blankets to keep warm. But it soon becomes clear she’s not meeting any of her writing goals. She keeps doing the same thing but it’s not working anymore. And you know what Mr. Einstein said about that strategy: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

Janet needs a change.

So let’s think outside the box. Maybe she can take her laptop to a nice, warm coffee shop a couple of times a week. How about purchasing a pretty armoire and setting up shop in the living room? Maybe she can write in a friend’s spare bedroom. Or maybe she gets her husband to insulate the basement and install a Seasonal Affective Disorder light so her writing area is always warm and bright.

This is a silly example, but I hope you get my point. If something is not working for you and your writing, be it the place you write, the number of words you’ve set as a daily writing goal, or the agent you’ve signed with, find a way of changing by thinking in different ways for a solution. Give yourself lots of options, even if they seem silly. Just having the option of several choices reduces the feeling of being trapped in one unworkable situation.

What needs to change in your writing life? What’s the biggest change you’ve made to your writing? Is there a change you’d like to make but are avoiding?


Karen said...

What needs to change in my writing? I need to let someone (besides family) read it! That's probably the biggest thing and I figure blogging is working towards a change. I've recently added a learning about my craft goal to my weekly writing routine and I feel that is a very positive and necessary change.

Change is necessary to keep things fresh. One thing I'd add to your great ideas about change is allowing yourself time to adjust to any change. I'm bad for trying something once and then saying forget it when I haven't allowed for an adjustment period.

Great post, Jana, and I love the quotes.


Janet said...

Hey Jana!

First, let me say to Karen - good on you for adding a goal of craft to your weekly writing routine. I like that (may steal it). And, yes, change needs adjustment time. We are often to demanding, expecting change to fix everything right away.

Now, great post Jana. Did you have this done when we talked on Saturday about writing longhand or perhaps a stream of conscious exercise? I hope if you tried it, it's working for you. Might I also suggest, as a way to kick start a writing problem or think outside the box, have your character write a journal entry, or a letter to you or interview them. It's amazing the things they will tell you.

Now, about my writing office. There are no coffee shops here that allow pajama clad, laptop wielding crazies. And Muse and EE won't buy a coffee, so they might get me kicked out for just taking up space! I've found writing in my recliner works when the golf course is open - but my back gets sore. One day, I will have an office.

Einstein's quote - kind of like the fly trying to get out that window. Bang, bang, bang, bang - all that work and he still ends up dead on the windowsill.

My writing change - hmmm? Not sure. But you've given me something to think about. Well done.


Suse said...

Hey Jana,

Great food for thought. I know I need to make some changes to allow writing to happen. One of them probably is to get my son out of the house, or at least move my desk from his bedroom into the spare room. I find if I don't have space to spread all my papers, books, etc., I just end up going around in circles.

I also need to do the writing first, then read the emails and blogs after. Both of those can be very time consuming, and again, no writing happens.

Karen and Janet, you've both given some good suggestions too. More thinking. Ouch! My head hurts.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Great post Jana, I actually employed some of these methods during BIAW to just keep getting words on the page rather than fretting and editing. I gave up on the ol word processor after day one, and did everything else long-hand. It worked really well for that week, because it let me scratch out a sentence or two between classes, and my writing is messy enough I didn't bother to reread until I was done.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
Don't be scared to let trusted others read your work. It's like ripping off a bandaid -- it only hurts for a minute. But seriously, the feedback you will get will be invaluable to you.

You are very right about getting used to change. It's easy to go back to old ways so any adjustment period is necessary.


Jana Richards said...

Hey Janet!
Sorry to pick on you in my post. Having lived where you currently live I was aware of the lack of coffee shops that accept pj wearing writers. However, I used that example to make a point about having many options to choose from. I hope you get your very own office some day.

Yes, I had already written this post before we spoke the other day. I used your suggestion and it was a change for me (writing stream of consciousness). I came up with a different opening for my story that I hope works better. Thanks for the suggestion. I'll send it to you soon. For once I actually took my own advice and made a change!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Suse,
It's funny how many writers are particular about where they write. I think you have to be comfortable and surrounded by things you love or that remind you about your writing in order to have the words flow.

I agree with you about putting writing before emails, Internet surfing etc. as well as lots of other 'stuff'. I think it was Steven Covey in "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" who said you have to do first things first. If writing is first for you, make it the first thing you do.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Hayley,
Good job on BIAW. I saw that you were able to make your goal for the week so that was sensational. Congratulations on not letting yourself get stuck when Option #1 didn't work for you.


Chiron said...

This is great advice!

Often we find ourselves stuck in a situation and unable to move forward. Unless we change our perspective, we tend to just do the same thing over and over.

Like looking for your keys. We might search in the same places repeatedly. *laughs* Yet it's only when we shift perspective do we finally stretch and find those lost keys.

Love the post. And here's to Janet getting a space heater!!

Chiron O'Keefe

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey, great post Jana.

It's funny you ask what needs to change because my biggest distraction to writing is the internet. I always have my 2 email programs running in the background and I get a notice in the bottom corner of my screen whenever a new one comes in. And once an email comes in, I have to go and check it out.

Some people swear by the Alphasmart. It's a word processor for about $200. It only weighs 2 lbs and runs for 700 hrs on 3 AA batteries. Did you get that - 700 hrs!!! You can take it anywhere and write. Some people are saying that with the mini-laptops out now for $300, the Alphasmart isn't worth it.

But do you know what the other big plus is for the Alphie - no internet capability. Without interuptions, all you do is type. It's something to think about, eh?