Thursday, October 3, 2013

Art, Envy, and Focus (In the category of Mean What You Say.) #52Weeks

Andrea Badgley’s regular hashtag #morningpages usually hits my Twitter feed around the time I am shutting the tablet and readying to prepare a face to face the day. I admit I feel a twinge of envy whenever I see it. I imagine she’s finally bustled the spouse and offspring to their daytime commitments, the breakfast cereal bowls have been washed, dried, and returned to their proper place. The house is still fragrant from the last cup of coffee in the pot and the whiff of toast, or toaster strudel. I don’t really know what she serves her family for breakfast.

She’s sitting at a computer, or so I assume. She’s Tweeting, so she’s probably put down the pad and pencil for a more modern implement. (I like that she still uses a pad and pencil from time to time – or pen? I do too. I feel it’s important to keep sharp the skill of penmanship. Plus, sometimes the words just flow better in long-hand.) And she’s writing, which is the admitted source of my envy. Here I am, preparing to take a shower, contemplating the wisdom (or folly) of ironing clothes that will wrinkle the moment I sit, mentally running through the day’s to-do list both at work and at home, and she’s writing her #morningpages. She could write all day if she chose to, or at least until the family returns home and distracts her with the happenings of their day.

Andrea, no doubt, identifies herself in many ways: woman, wife, mother, daughter, but to me she is, first and foremost, a writer. She has disciplined herself to find the time for #morningpages and the continuing study of her craft. I’m jealous sometimes. I admit it. Not in a hateful way, though. I enjoy reading Andrea’s accounts of the writer’s workshops she finds the time to attend and of the many books that she budgets into her allotted 1,440 minutes per day (the amount of time we are all given diurnally) to read. I love that she takes an “art day” once a week to explore a new, artistic place, person, or object and use it to inspire the creative muse. If I could find the time to play hooky, I’d want to tag along with her one day.

Her blog, Butterfly Mind, is one of my favorites. The blog’s name could imply unfocused transience – posts that flit disconnectedly from one topic to another, but in fact, the opposite is true. Andrea has found focus for her writing, as sharp and pinpointed as a spotlight. She writes about her life as she sees it through her unique filter. The ease with which the reader can follow her posts belies the difficulty I know she endures to craft each well-written sentence – a strict adherence to voice and tone, pace and structure. Andrea grounds her imagery in the five senses – I can smell the coffee shop, I can feel the worn smoothness of the rolling pins.

I can’t wait to read what she has to say on the topic of pie. Will my mouth water? Will my stomach rumble hungrily? Will I be struck by the fit to bake a pie of my own? Regardless, I know the post will be focused, artistic, tightly crafted, and I wish that I could say the same for my own posts.

Thirty-two weeks ago I took on the #52Weeks challenge to bully myself back into a writing habit. The self-imposed hebdomadal deadline provided an excuse to carve some time out of my day’s allotted 1,440 minutes to write. It’s what writer’s do, right? We sit down to a blank screen or notepad, summon the muse by whatever means necessary, and create spaces, populate them, circumscribe them to rules of law and nature that exist solely within the writer’s imagination. It’s good fun. Really.

So each week, I write – not necessarily every day (I’m working on that). Each week, I post – #52Weeks. Weekly, at the instant that I hit “publish,” the familiar insecurities revisit. Did I miss a typo? Does the piece have substance? Did I just waste everybody’s time? Does anyone even read it?

The genre of my posts varies by my mood and availability of topic. I have published biographical memoir-style remembrances, creative non-fiction, opinions both political and trite, poems, and short stories. My father’s obituary was all I could manage to write during that horrible week in March. I made it count. #52Weeks. But as a collection, the posts lack focus. The blog suffers from an identity crisis – it doesn’t know what it wants to be, primarily because I don’t know either.

On the one hand, I’m meeting my goal; the writer’s habit is forming. The time it takes away from other areas in my life has begun to generate conflict, but I’ll manage that somehow, sleep a bit less, turn away from the television a bit more. On the other hand penning just anything for the sake of a deadline doesn’t provide the focus I need to take my writing to the next level, and as I type the phrase, I confess, I have no idea what that means. I only know that at the end of #52Weeks, I need to have a plan for the next writing project(s).

This blog space needs to have a focus, a raison d’ĂȘtre. And I need goals – concrete, deadline-oriented milestones for my writing. If I am determined to allocate precious minutes to this supremely selfish act, I want to spend the time well, with focus and purpose, even if that purpose is simply to tell an amusing tale or spin webs of imagery – pluck the perfect word from the lexicon and arrange it bouquet-like on the page with other, equally ideal locutions – a garden of verses, though no longer a child’s.

I have a few ideas of where to go from here as a writer. The idea of #12Contests popped into my head not long ago, and that feels like a suitable goal for the upcoming year. I’ll post the pieces that don’t win and link to the ones that do. (Did you see what I did there? The power of positive thinking....) A one month cycle to produce well-written, thoroughly proofed, and studiously edited poetry, fiction, or vignettes seems doable – if I have learned nothing this past 32 weeks, I have at least learned that seven days is nowhere near enough time to write a tight short story.

As a blogger, my goals are not as clearly defined. I don’t want to lose my weekly habit, but by the end of the next 20 weeks, I am certain I will have tired of pushing myself simply to meet an arbitrary deadline. I’ve got to cogitate on next steps, search for clarity, and make some decisions about why I started writing this blog in the first place and why it matters to me to keep at it. It’s time to quiet the cacophony of different genres, settle on a voice (okay, maybe two) for the space and focus, focus, focus.

But in the meantime...


[Two notes: First, a big thank you to Andrea for that gem of a tweet yesterday. You didn’t know I was writing this or where it was going, but you threw me the hook anyway. Second, here’s what Andrea had to say about pie. And now I want a slice – cherry – with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.]

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Kim, I am humbled by your generosity. I wish I could spend all day writing, but it is not so. I write my morning pages before the household wakes up. Is that something you could do? I ask because I'm concerned a bit by this: "If I am determined to allocate precious minutes to this supremely selfish act..." Why is it supremely selfish? How is it any different from anyone else's hobby, or art, or TV time, or exercise? If it helps your mental health, how can it be so bad?

    I ask all these questions because I know how you feel, and I've asked them of myself when I beat myself up. I have been there - feeling selfish for wanting to do this very isolated, in-my-head thing that shuts everyone out when I'm doing it. So I do it when nobody is awake, when nobody is affected by my mental focus on something besides them. I rarely spend much time writing during the day, so don't let time be an obstacle to you. I've got too many household duties to be able to focus, so I jot down a few ideas in the evenings, then write for an hour in the morning. Sometimes I get an hour at my daughter's swim practice, and I'll edit or doodle charts at lunchtime. You can do it. You *are* doing it. As my critique group said when I hung my head and said I don't really have a focus for my blog - Why do you need a focus? I loved them for that. Over the past year I've noticed recurring themes and have slowly found an identity through the writing, and I think you'll find the same thing happen to you.

    Thank you again, Kim. This was beautifully written.