After I’d told yet another story of my struggle to decide just what I should be working on, Carrie (friend; colleague; fellow writer) put it simply:
“Everything’s back on the table.”
The truth of her words struck me hard enough to probe further.
For months now, I have been taking projects on and off the table pretty much every time I sit down to write.
Last August I graduated with my MFA in fiction. During the three years I spent working on that degree, I remained entirely dedicated to one project: an autobiographical novel titled Hallelujah.
Taking work on and off the table has long impeded the realization of my writing goals because I don’t stick with one project long enough to “finish” it. Shaken by the truth of Carrie’s words, I see now what I haven’t seen since I left the program last August. Those three years constitute an exception to my writing life since I began penning my first poems as a freshman in high school.
I often proclaim proudly: “I’ve never had writer’s block.”
It’s true! And I see now why. When the writing gets truly hard, on the third, fourth or fifth read-through–even when I’m stuck mid-story– I switch projects.
Carrie and I spoke in the afternoon. Both high school English teachers, we encourage each other on a near daily basis to make time for writing after the work day is done. It’s hard to do. We have families. School days are long. Dinner needs to be made. Dogs need to be walked. We have other hobbies too. She said, “Everything’s back on the table” in the same way she typically makes such comments, commiserating. So much of our friendship is based on reminding each other that the struggles we face daily as writers, as mothers, as women, as teachers, as lovers are entirely shared. We are not alone. As is often the case, she made the comment as much to herself as she did to me.
The comment sent me reeling and hours later when I sat down with my weekly fiction critique group, a writer I respect offered a simple
solution to the my dilemma. He told me to take all the files I wasn’t currently working on off my computer. He said put them on a disc or flash drive. He advised that if necessary I should even give the files to someone I could trust not to give them back until I finished what I had committed to work on.
All these years I have been buying flash drives and uploading my entire library of documents to my cloud (as that inter-space is now called). A few months ago I bought an iphone and as I searched for apps to download, I thought how cool would it be to be able to access all my Google Docs from my phone.
The fact that I had hundreds of poems, dozens of short stories, and several novel drafts at my fingertips at any given moment, comforted me.
Like some other comforts, I see now how having all that work right in front of me every time I sat down to write moored me in indecision, kept me from staying long enough in any one work. This makes sense when I think about it. Staying too long means experiencing pain (such as doubt and fear of failure) and probably writer’s block.
This morning, I deleted all but the start of one story from my Gmail Drive. I took all the other folders and files and saved them in two locations. Until I finish the first draft of novel I started about Travis (a 24 year old stuck-in-neutral romantic who pumps gas at his parents gas station in Southeastern Oregon for a living when he should be moving on to his own life journey), when I sit down to write, I have exactly one choice of files to open, the work I have committed to finish.