"Grind, grit, and goals can only take you as far as the personal walls you hit." (LJ Cohen)
In January, I wrote a post about 'falling to the level of my systems', essentially acknowledging the ways in which I was struggling with my focus and concentration and how that impacted my ability to create.
Since then, I have been building up some new and conscious systems (aka better habits) with a little help from my friends.
While I still crave in-person writing meet ups and retreats, the logistics of that given covid risk are still non-trivial, and I've been grateful for the weekly writing zooms with Elaine Isaak as well as sessions with Marianna Martin. I've also done informal sprints on Twitter with various writers and Lancelot Shaubert invited me to join his discord channel where, among other things, he hosts writing sprints.
All of this is to say, we all do get by with a little help from our friends. I have been making steady progress on the multiverse novel. It has hit the halfway mark in a solid first draft and have the next 10 or so scenes breadcrumbed out.
"Reclaiming my time"
Ever since I heard the incredible Congresswoman Maxine Waters use this phrase to sharp and strong effect, it has been reverberating somewhere in the back of my mind. Last week, as I was reaching for my phone, her voice whispered in my ear. I paused. Took a breath. Broke the chain of actions that would have sent me scrolling on FB and Twitter - sometimes for hours.
Her words gave me another way to think about social media and my use of it.
I'm going to just say it outright: more abuse than use. I am well aware of all the tricks FB and the rest use to keep us (me) glued to the outrage machine. And because I knew about it, I thought I was clever enough not to get caught.
Spoiler alert: I wasn't. The seductive and addictive forces of social media just played into my insecurities and massive fear of missing out that I still carry from childhood. Which meant, even as I was telling myself I was using social media, in fact, it was using me.
The cycle went something like this:
Wake up. Check my phone for messages and notifications. Start scrolling. Realize several hours have passed. Castigate myself and wallow in self-loathing because of my weak will. Swear to do better the next day. Repeat.
And it wasn't simply a matter of wasted time, though that was bad enough. What was worse was the background static filling my mind to the point where I had lost the skill of stillness.
Coaxing creativity is like trying to hand feed a hummingbird. It requires calmness and inner quiet and a meditative letting-go. When I am working on a novel, I need to create space in my mind for its world. It's as if the world of the novel and all its characters inhabit the nooks and crannies in my brain and I walk around containing this holographic sense of the story. But with so much background noise, there's no room for anything else.
I used to believe that social media was not merely useful, but necessary for creative folk. It helped me connect with other writers and artists (which is amazing!), helped me talk about my work (also good), and reach an audience (more promise than actual outcome). But over time, I've come to see how social media has become at best, a crowded place of anger, outrage, and shouting and at worse, a vehicle for propaganda and hatred.
I had come to a place of fear that I would never finish this novel. That I had somehow lost the drive and the ability to write. But what I had lost was stillness.
This past week or so, with Maxine Waters' words both a beacon and a mantra, I am finding my way to stillness again. I find I now crave it more than I need the quick and dirty dopamine hits of social media.
And the more I dwell in stillness, the easier it is to set down the phone and the more that shy and wild bird will light on my soul to feed me.