Friday, June 10, 2011

Digging Out From Writer's Block...and happy Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers!

You'll find today's Poetry Friday at 
Anastasia Suen's Picture Book of the Day
and my poems below. Thanks for hosting, Anastasia!

If you've been following us lately, you know that we TeachingAuthors have been discussing what motivates us when the chips are down and all the dip is gone.

Carmela found it was helpful to Velcro herself to a writing buddy, Jeanne Marie mused about the power of gold stars and other outside rewards (and followers chimed in with ideas about what makes a child want to read, about summer reading programs, and about what authors need to keep going); JoAnn, in watching her son leave for a new job, realized that showing up is half the battle (and wrote a triolet about it).

Here's a quiz for you.  What's the following list about?

  • This chair doesn't feel right. 
  • I'd better schedule a blood test.  Hello, can you fit me in today? 
  • Yikes!  I forgot about tomorrow--I need a hair appointment NOW!
  • I had to skip exercise class yesterday because of my critique group and we'll be leaving on our trip before class starts tomorrow, so I HAVE to go to exercise today.  In fact, if I hurry, I can make the class starting in 15 minutes.
  • Eli needs exercise or he'll poke me with that Doberman nose all morning--better take him to the dog park.
  • That was fun.  I better have some protein before I settle down.
  • Oops--forgot to make the bed...and put out the recycling.
  • What was it the plumber said I needed for our toilet?   Better hop in the car and get it now or I'll never do it.
  • I need coffee.
  • Eli threw up in the car.  I have GOT to clean out that awful smell.
  • I'll send off my book to the winner of the charity'll be nice to get it off my desk.
  • This email asks if June 22nd is a good day for our meeting ...where's my calendar?
  • Gad zooks--UCLA Extension just emailed my contract.  Better look over last summer's syllabus.

If you guessed that it's all the reasons I didn't/couldn't write today, then you know me too well.  And you know what every item on this list is covering up, don't you?  Yep--fear.

A former student recently emailed, telling me that she signed up for my UCLA Extension summer class, adding, "but I'm really scared because I have writer's block.  Nothing new written for a long time."  I replied, "I've had a bad case of Writer's Scare this week, too."

Writer's Block sounds like a cement plug that won't let the words out. For me it's more like...well, I can probably say it in a haiku:

a snowstorm of fear 
falls on my shoulders, chills my 
chest, numbs my pencil.
(c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

So what cuts through the fear, what motivates me to dig out and write anyway?  At different times, different things work.

Remember your first day of kindergarten?
Some kids skip right through that door, some cringe. If you were one of those kids who wanted to roll up in a blanket, what made you finally go to school?  Probably two things: a parent...and the fact that it was time to go to school.

That's right--a deadline. Looking up "deadline" in my favorite online thesaurus, we've got: target date, time frame, time limit, zero hour.

But not just a target date I whisper to my pillow.  Or even the time limit to get something ready for tomorrow's critique group.

Deadlines that work best for me come from a class assignment, from someone I've paid to critique my work, or...from a dynamite blog team that depends on my post.

In other words?  A deadline that counts.

by April Halprin Wayland

I was spellbound, moonstruck,
looking straight up 
but my feet were stuck 
in messy marsh muck
A poet lame duck
with a moon but no luck
until there, in the shade 
of the nearby glade
with my visual aid
I spied a steel spade
though first delayed 
and quite frankly, afraid
I stretched and I swayed
'til I picked up that spade
then dug out of the muck
with a cluck and a chuck
now completely unstuck
I'm looking straight up 
once again I'm moonstruck...
but now I can write about it.
(c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

Ha ha.  I hope that came across as funny.  It was funny to my dog, Eli.  Here he is telling Elsie how funny it was.

Writing Workout: setting a target date, a time frame, a time limit, your zero hour...A Deadline That Counts

Set a deadline that counts.  One that isn't easy to wiggle out of.

I don't have to tell you about making it reasonable, not expecting the impossible -- you know all that.  But do stretch yourself.  See if you can reach that shovel of a deadline and dig yourself out of that quicksand.  I'll bet you can.

For more TeachingAuthor posts about deadlines, scroll down the right side of this blog until you come to the search box and type in "deadline."


Trisha said...

My deadlines this year have been very... "by the end of the year I will..." Maybe I should try restricting myself a bit more. ;)

jama said...

That list sounds way too familiar! Love your poem, April, great post! *off to make some deadlines* . . .

Carmela Martino said...

Ah yes, the "messy marsh muck." I've been stuck there myself many times. Glad you found your shovel, April. :-) (And love the photos!)

Ruth said...

Deadlines are good. I find that telling someone that I'm writing a certain piece (and creating an expectation of being able to read it once it's done) is a great motivation for me.

Mary Lee said...

Yes, deadlines are good. I have one in 5 days that's motivating me like all get out.

Tabatha said...

Yes, yes, yes! Deadlines are the best. I don't like the term "writer's block" either -- it sounds too heavy to lift.

I am not sure it is Writer's Scare for me -- it feels more like Writer's Laziness. I think writing takes a lot of effort, and I don't always feel like making that much effort.

Love your poem. I'm going to save it!

Katy said...


Any chance you'll offer that UCLA extension course online?


Julie said...

That last line made me laugh out loud. Love the no-rhyme of it!!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Trisha, yes...deadlines are most effective for me if I set very specific, reachable goals on a not-so-far-away date. And as Ruth says, telling someone that it's coming is a huge part of it.

Glad you stopped by, Jama...always lovely to see you :^)

Carmela, I love the photo of Eli and Elsie...I have a whole series...he really, really, REALLY wants to be her friend...

Hey, Mary Lee--good luck with your deadline!

Tabatha--thanks for liking my poem. I can never tell, late at night, if it's awful or not. I know you understand this.

I'm cautious about calling Writer's Block laziness...I think for many of us, underneath that "laziness" is the fear. But, of course, not for everyone.

Katy, you asked about whether I'd offer my summer class online. That class is very dependent on hands-on stuff we do in class--games we play, drawings we create--and the interaction between students. So it wouldn't work as an online class. But thanks for asking.

And Julie...SO GLAD the last line made you laugh--YIPPPEEE!