Friday, June 7, 2013

Staying on Target: Writing Without Deadlines or Distractions

73º ~ they say the heat & humidity will arrive by Monday with temps in the upper 90s and humidity bringing the heat index up into the 100s; for the next 3 days, though, oh, the glorious late spring delirium remains, window thrown wide open in celebration

A scene from Star Wars.

Gold Two: [the Y-wings are running the gauntlet toward the Death Star reactor-port] The guns - they've stopped!
Gold Five: [realizes why] Stabilize your rear deflectors... Watch for enemy fighters.
Gold Leader: They're coming in! Three marks at 2-10!
[Gold Two is slain by Darth Vader and his wingmen; Gold Leader starts to panic]
Gold Leader: It's no good, I can't maneuver!
Gold Five: Stay on target.
Gold Leader: *We're too close!*
Gold Five: Stay on target!
Gold Leader: [shouts] Loosen up!
[he too is picked off by Vader and Company; Gold Five tries to escape but is fatally winged]
Gold Five: Gold Five to Red leader, lost Tiree, lost Dutch.
Red Leader: I copy, Gold Leader.
Gold Five: It came from... behind!

The above is from the original Star Wars (1977), now known as Episode IV: A New Hope.  I confess, I love science fiction, and although I don't read it nearly as much as I did when I was younger, I will forever be a Star Wars/Star Trek geek.  

Why am I talking about this?  Because as I was pondering what to write in this blog post and how to address the fragmented nature of my week, this scene popped into my head, along with the urgent, repeated "Stay on target."  So, here's the scoop.  This week, I've managed to revise and polish a handful of the angry sisters poems, and I've read a bit from Cheryl Strayed's incredible memoir, Wild, but I haven't written a new draft, and I haven't felt really good about my writing self.  I've been getting the first set of rejections for the fever manuscript and I suppose that isn't helping.

Yes, I did get the A/C repaired, tackled an out of control backyard littered with sweetgum balls and in need of mowing, replaced the fried refrigerator, talked to the alarm company and got our system reset after the power surge knocked it offline for a bit, and now, I'm battling fleas!  Our cats were up to date on their treatment and still the biting buggers got in (I suspect I brought them in from the out of control back yard, which is populated by an opossum, perhaps a raccoon from time to time, and an outdoor neighborhood cat...yes, we live in the CITY).  Still, I'm not teaching, so tackling those tasks on top of laundry / dishes / vacuuming / etc., really doesn't mean I have NO time to write.

Yet, I am failing to stay on target in terms of my writing goals and I don't know how I feel about that.  I do know I am my own worst critic, my own worst task master, etc.  See, last year, I decided I would write a poem a day in June.  I did this b/c the sickly speaker had gathered such momentum that I wanted to finish her story.  This year, I don't feel that compulsion.  The angry sisters poems are still floundering in the darkness.

Also, truth be told, I'm confused about pacing.  I wrote all those poems for book #2, which has failed to be accepted in either contests or open reading periods (with 3 verdicts still out there but not looking good).  I published a great majority of those poems in lit mags, and now many of those poems are five years old or more.  I've read them at readings and heard back from folks who've read them online or in print.  I'm beginning to feel disconnected from them. If and when they actually do appear in book form, will my connection to them return?  Now, the sickly speaker is out there and many of those poems have appeared or are forthcoming.  I've read them at readings here and there; I've gotten feedback from readers.  And now, she's being rejected in book form as well.  

What do you think about this?  Just giving up on the idea of the book and publishing the individual poems in journals and letting that be that.   So be it.  Is that enough?

But back to today's post title (see I'm all over the place), what is my target for these long, undistracted days of summer when there are no clear deadlines, no papers needing graded, no students needing responses to their frantic emails, etc.?  Am I a "bad" writer if I don't produce copious numbers of drafts this summer?  Who is judging me?  What would happen if I took a break from poetry?  If I simply ignored my desk and made my way about my daily household chores and then watched hour after hour of mindless TV reruns while playing solitaire on my iPad?  Would that make me a "bad" person?  

For someone with perfectionism issues, the idea of staying on target is a double-edged sword.  Yes, it drives me to "succeed" at the goals I set for myself, but it also makes it really hard to cut myself some slack when I "fail."  (I may not be using those quotation marks correctly, but I'm trying to indicate those measurement words that mean something different to us all.)  And the question at the center of it all: Just exactly who is it I'm trying to please?

If you are still with me here, thanks for staying on target (ahem...reading); I'm sure "this too shall pass."  The goal of this blog is to be honest about the writing life, and this is the state of my writing brain at the moment.


Kathleen said...

Ack! I relate to all this (except, so far, the 100 degrees). I've been scattered lately, then suddenly back on target, then swinging wild again! To do lists are helping. Today's includes: walk to library to get book from interlibrary loan, clean toilets. I think I will probably also buy an apple corer. See what I mean?

But maybe I'll also get a poem out of it all!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Kathleen, maybe there is something in the star alignments these days leading us all on a merry chase! Enjoy your list!

Molly said...

Those scattered times can be tough -- but I try to remind myself that they are one of the seasons of the writing life, and have faith that even this state of mind does its work for one's poems. (Not always easy, I know).

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for the shoulder, Molly!

Amorak said...

I can relate, Sandy. I wrote 60+ pages of blues-themed poems with every intention of publishing the project as my first book -- I started it after I realized the ms that came out of my thesis was not anywhere near good enough.

I published 80 percent of the blues poems in journals, and they were well-received, etc. But I sent the ms out 55 times, with all the reading fees and contest fees that implies, and no cigar. A finalist here, a semifinalist there, etc., but never breaking through.

So I'm done with that one, for now. It's on indefinite, possibly permanent hiatus. The individual poems that landed will have to be enough. I guess.

It's hard, still hard, even though that 55th and final rejection was months ago. I hate to think of it as "giving up," but that's what it feels like. I still like the poems, but at some point I have to listen to the feedback, right?

So now I have two new ms bringing in rejections. And the beat goes on.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Amorak! I hear you. So glad to know I'm not alone. The beat goes on and on and on...we all must be a little bit crazed, but we keep dancing. :)

Tawnysha Greene said...

I understand the frustration! So hard to stay on Target when doubt and uncertainty creep in, but that's when you have to push on. I believe in your sickly speaker and know that she will find a home someday in book form--she is so compelling and a wonderful character.

On another note, I just read WILD, too, not too long ago and loved it. Amazing book!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Tawnysha, thanks for checking in and offering support! I know this is the reality of writing, but it's hard every single time!!

drew said...

Sandy -
I'd be concerned if you didn't have doubts, worry, frustration. To every thing a season, and to every writer a time to retract and a time to act.

Keep on.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Drew. I appreciate the support!