#weekendcoffeeshare: Circles of control

If we were having coffee, I might tell you how I’m in my second year of my MFA program, have just started NaNoWriMo, and I’ve been generally thinking about burnout.

The past few weeks I started doing something that I first learned about in a book called Embarrassment and the Emotional Underlife of Learning by Thomas Newkirk. It’s an exercise where you think about a goal that you want to achieve and you draw a circle on a blank page. Within that circle, you write all the things that you can control. Everything outside the circle—even, to some extent, whether or not you achieve that goal—is outside of your control, so focus on the things that are in the circle. It’s one of my favorite things to do right now. The tension between my expectations and my reality have often caused me the most emotional strife. By drawing the circle, I at least manage my expectations.

It’s NaNoWriMo and I am participating as I have been since 2015. And I’ve been thinking about this blog post I wrote on the first day of December of 2016, the last year I “won” and wrote 50,000 words in a month. At the time I wrote that post, I felt submerged in all the despair that swept through my personal and professional spheres in the weeks after the 2016 election. I wrote about a quotation that I carried with me that entire year:

Art can’t save you from pain, but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.

Molly Crabapple, Drawing Blood

I haven’t thought about that blog post or that quotation in a while, and in a way, I’m lucky to be able to set that strife aside. But this past week I have been reminded of the ways in which I have internalized the idea that the discipline of art has helped me through pain.

So far in my second year I have been trying to prevent burnout. It’s a fine line to walk between working hard and taking care, between being ambitious and being too ambitious. I’ve been trying to keep sight of the things that matter, and maintain balance between work and play. When I feel out of control—from pain, frustration, worry, doubt, anything—I draw my circles. I recommit myself to my vision. And it’s NaNoWriMo—I intend to write in a fury.

If we were having coffee, I’d invite you to write with me.


Header image from Pixabay.

This post was created as part of #weekendcoffeeshare. Check out more posts in the hashtag.

The view from December

I entered this November with a very particular set of expectations, and came out of it with those expectations shredded, taped back together, then ripped apart again as I tried to squeeze out 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo.

And I did it. I reached 50,000 words, bragged about it (with charts!), and now, on the first day of December, I’m sitting at my desk, thinking about writing, being a writer, and the election.

To start, a quotation that has been with me all year:

Art can’t save you from pain, but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.

—Molly Crabapple, Drawing Blood

Before November 8, I focused on the part after the comma: “but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.” This was the phrase that got me to pick up my pen every day and write. I was intent on gaining the discipline I had so sorely lacked as a student. I was intent on getting better at this craft. Whatever “it” was, I dragged myself through by digging my pen into the page and scratching deeply.

After November 8th, I focused on the part before the comma: “Art can’t save you from pain.”

I wrote some in the time immediately after, but I engaged more in all the feverish activity of calling representatives, supporting organizations fighting Trump, and having those conversations of “What now, what now, what now?”

NaNoWriMo slipped away. I had built an early lead of a few thousand words, and as the days after the election passed by that lead got narrower and narrower. When I decided to try and write for NaNoWriMo again, I felt hollowed out and drained from the tears, the anguish, and the uncertainty. It was so hard to bring myself to write the story I set out to write.

I made peace with the possibility that I wouldn’t reach 50,000 words.

And at first, it was fairly easy to give it up. Everything else seemed more important: supporting vulnerable communities, engaging with people, and gearing up for the fight ahead. It was easy to tell myself that winning this year’s NaNo would be minuscule compared to everything else. (If I’m being honest, I still feel this way to a certain degree.)

But then I picked my novel back up. After a few days away from it, I saw its worth again. I saw that though it isn’t the most topically relevant story, it’s still an important story. I reaffirmed my belief that I must finish a draft, even if it’s a terrible, sloppy, incoherent mess of a draft. (Because turning it into something great is what editing is for.)

I got so close to 50,000 that suddenly the idea I wouldn’t make it seemed unconscionable. I needed to make it, more than I had needed it in the past.

Now, I feel like I can see the quotation as a whole.

I reached 50,000 words, but I’m nowhere near done with the draft. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to keep adding words to it in December, or if I’m going to shift gears and edit some short stories from the summer before coming back. But I’ve decided that I can keep fighting the good fight while still caring about the little fictions I eke out in the in-between times.

Art may not save us from the incoming administration, but the intrepid act of making it can drag us through it.