obstacle course

Standing in one’s own way is a skill I have developed to a high degree. Elevated to an art form, in fact. It’s the art of finding countless reasons why something I’d like to do won’t work. I’ve gotten so good at it, actually, that I can find a reason for almost anything. The result being – obviously – absolutely nothing. To wit:

Let’s start with something big. My writing. More to the point, writing my next book. While my first novel took about a year and a half (with most of it having been written in those last six months), my next one (politely called a work in progress) is just not coming to fruition. I’ve got three versions of it started – a sequel to the first book; a completely different story; and, third, a sequel that weaves the new story in. The needle on my creative compass seems to be circling aimlessly without finding due north. As a result, nothing is moving anywhere – as I tried to explain to B. the other day:

Me: “What’s the point in continuing to try when it will never become a New York Times bestseller?”

He: “Don’t think about it that way – you’re being way too hard on yourself. Just write to write. You love to write.”

Me: “Maybe I don’t. Have you thought of that?”

He: “No, because that doesn’t make sense. You know that.”

Me: (stubbornly) “But I can’t think of what to write.”

He: (reasonably) “But what you’ve read to me so far is great. And funny. Take the pressure off and let yourself enjoy the process.”

Me: (moaning dramatically) “But it won’t sell.” (clutching my head even more dramatically) “It’s useless!” (hands raised up in surrender) “I’m not really a writer – I’m an imposter!”

He: “Do you think you might be overreacting? I think you’re getting in your own way here.”

And scene.

Living with anxiety (and now with an overactive thyroid that feeds it) has only added to the fun. Being anxious makes focusing tough; not focusing makes novel-writing tough – so trying to find alternatives with which to divert myself until the novel-writing muse is ready to return (I don’t blame her for running away – I would too) has been an adventure.

There’s the electronic keyboard that B. gave me as a birthday present last year so that I could rediscover what I loved about playing the piano as a kid. That worked, until I suddenly became a perfectionist about it and now can’t play for more than a few minutes without becoming my own worst critic. My unease with hitting the wrong notes has kept me from hitting any.

Or the drawing markers I purchased in a myriad of shades to allow me to doodle away to my heart’s content. All it took was for B. to look at one doodle and ask, just out of curiosity, what it was, for me to shut the drawing pad, cap all the markers, and sulk off to mull over the fact that a) I was just no good at doodling (who’s no good at doodling?), and b) if I continued to doodle I’d use up all the ink in the markers and that would be that. As a result, that’s all she drew, folks.

Or baking. I love to bake. The problem that I’ve crafted to get in the way of anything making its way into the oven? If I bake it, we’ll eat it. We’ll eat too much of it. We’ll eat all of it. And then we’ll gain weight. And then where will we be? Not a problem, apparently, because the baking has left the building.

But I take a deep breath and I try.

So far this week, I’ve read the first four novels in the Nancy Drew series (the first ten were part of this year’s early birthday present from B.) and they have distracted and centered me enough to actually focus on how fun writing can be. Nancy is just as engaging now as when I was a kid, and the young-adult-targeted writing still holds up. Pure joy.

Number two. Yesterday I spent about 20 minutes just playing random songs from my piano songbook – ranging from Hallelujah to Let It Be to Moon River to Over the Rainbow – but with a new perspective. Yes, I made a ton of mistakes, but this time I tried something new – I sang along so loudly that I barely heard the wrong notes. Imagine that.

Next. Right after I post this, I plan to order a coloring book for adults (not an adult coloring book – that’s a whole other thing, as I embarrassingly discovered) to go with my gazillion markers. And who cares if I run out of, let’s say, the aqua shade? There’s teal, peacock blue, and azure to come to the rescue. And who cares if I color outside of the lines? In some realms, that’s considered even more creative.

The baking? If I freeze half immediately and forget about it, there will be much less collateral damage to our waistlines. Plus fun stuff waiting in the freezer if and when I remember it. Bon appétit.

Which leaves the novel. The book. The albatross in this scenario. The advice I’ve always given to people who want to write but don’t know where to start is this: write the joy. Write about what makes you happy, even if it’s just a few lines every day. And now it appears that I have to listen to myself (God knows I’ve talked B.’s ear off – both of them, in fact) and do that very thing.

But. Maybe that very thing has changed. Interestingly enough (to me at least) is that I don’t seem to get in my own way when it comes to writing this blog. I’m relaxed, the ideas flow, and I write. No obstacles. Maybe I should turn these posts into a book? Something to think about. And maybe a new course to follow until (or if ever) the novel falls into place. Because this makes me happy. Because this feels so natural. Because these are my real-life stories.

And because the joy here is in the storytelling – my storytelling. In creating the “once upon a time.” In being the one with the pixie dust.

There’s magic to be done. Out of my way.

©2023 Claudia Grossman

4 comments on “obstacle course

  1. Amazing what a day can do!! every second is a new start!! Can’t believe, or maybe I can, that you too love MOON RIVER!! Love Ya!!

  2. I think it can be incredibly hard to “get out of our own way.” But it sounds to me as if you’ve developed some very effective strategies for doing just that. Keep on writing…you’re very good at it!

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