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A Most Lethargic Urgency

Posted by Oliver on January 3, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Contradictions litter the writing life like lethal animals seem to litter all of Australia: they seem funny till you get close and realize that, if you don't understand them, they could kill you, but once you do understand them you can synthesize their venom into a powerful superpower inducing agent. We write for the masses, but we must do our writing alone. We have to understand our heritage while appeasing the gods of the now and hereafter. We must understand how our craft is art, and at the same time we have to apply technique and finesse to it. When we're doing the writing right, we're thinking and doing at least four or five contradictory things all at the same time.


One contradictory behavior I've been lately pondering has to do with maintaining energy levels while waiting. I've always thought about this non-verbally, but then the following happened, so now I'm writing about it. The following:


Me (on facebook/twitter): Dear people: I just submitted that werewolf story some of you have read to the contest I mentioned. Thanks for your feedback, pretties.


Jamie (the next day in person): Hey, I saw that thing you posted about sending that story to a contest. How'd it go? Did you win?


Me (after a thoughtful pause): Oh...I don't know yet. Thanks for asking. I should hear back from them in, like, four months. I'll tell you what they say.


Jamie: Cool. Well good luck.


The thought I had during that thoughtful pause was this: I take it for granted that I'll be waiting on this contest for several months, but Jamie--not a writer--took it for granted that I'd probably hear back reasonably quickly. It is, therefore, not the usual thing, except for writers, to wait a third of a year to hear back on one contest.


For writers, it really is common to wait that long for EVERYTHING. Writers make a regular practice of beginning something wonderful with all the childish glee due to it, but then resign themselves to (hopefully) cheerful naval-gazing and thumb twiddling for disproportionately long periods of time.


Would it not be charming if, for those periods of time, waiting could be our main engagement? We live in an era of hedonism. Filling idle hours runs the economy of the USA. I am, even now, halfway attentive to Pandora (a band called Enter the Haggis) and to a free online roleplaying game. If I didn't feel like concentrating then I'd probably be watching an episode of the X-Files at the same time. We all know, however, that doing nothing constructive while we wait is near to sacrilege.


I used to work in a cafe, and one of my uncool managers there had a saying: Maintain a simulated sense of urgency at all times. I always thought it was a dumb saying. In spite of disliking the saying and its source in the way most people dislike lukewarm steamed cabbage, I find myself repeating it to myself a remarkable amount of times. It turns out to be precisely the kind of advice the lazy creator in me needs so he can continue working. Years ago I started attempting to simulate a feeling of hurry; whenever I had downtime I got in the habit of reminding myself that my novel needed some attention, or I needed to look up that one grammar rule to make sure I was doing it right, or I needed to organize that stack of feedback so I could look over it soon. I started to do this without thinking about it too much, and now it's gotten to the point that I do it as a subconscious act.


As it would happen, one more thing has recently happened that's given this cycle of thought a fitting geometry. A more experienced and wise friend of mine commented on a different but still contest related facebook/twitter above:


Jan: The rule is... submit it, forget it. If you hear back and it's positive (accepted)... Great. If not, you won't have fretted about it, prior.


In saying that, Jan reminded me that I'd been doing it subconsciously too (partly by practice, partly by being a culivated airhead). It has proved of advantage.


As we all know, if only sometimes say, the process of writing has a significant emotional component. It requires as much exertion as any other discipline, more exertion than many other things. It is possible to become physically exhausted from writing, in general we have observed that writing primarily requires emotional energy. We all build and regain our emotional strength from a variety of places, of course. It would seem that all people receive energy from a sense of success.


To submit a finished work for judgment is a kind of success; we get a rush from that. To receive news of its solution is a kind of success, and we also receive a rush from that. In the interim the necessary challenge is to maintain emotional energy. In between, though, is a long spell of anticipation. If you find anticipation itself energizing all the better. I do, I know, but only when moderated by real life. My observation of real-life people makes it look as if anticipation tends to be too exciting to be a constant state. People lose focus while anticipating.


Our goal as writers is: share the stories. That implies the two step process of a) writing them and b) getting them out there. In turn, that implies a cycle of long droughts of self motivation punctuated by bursts of momentous excitement which hopefully aids in keeping energy over the next set of long droughts. It would seem that the successful author has mastered balancing this contradictory cycle.

Categories: Patterns, Advice, Writing Process

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1 Comment

Reply Anitra Van Prooyen
10:56 PM on February 26, 2014 
"Contradictions litter the writing life like lethal animals seem to litter all of Australia"

That was such a great string of words. I quite appreciated and enjoyed the rest of this post as well.

Thank you.