Maybe If I Had Those Boots: A List, Linda Carter, and Letting Go

I am a listmaker, a planner, and a victim of my own high expectations. I began the summer by designing a hefty writing goal: finish the current draft of my novel by the end of June. Even now, as I type those words, the task seems like it should have plausible. Easy. But, after only two weeks into my summer vacation, I realized I wouldn’t reach that goal.

Couldn’t reach it.

Headaches ensued, followed by a case of the “poor me’s,” and soon those clouds in the sky that lingered well past their welcome meant more than just rain.

“It’s summer, for crying out loud,” I complained to a friend. “Life is good. Why do I feel so bad?”

My friend suggested I write another list, a different one, a list of every expectation I set for myself. Later, when I read it back to her, she pointed out an interesting theme, so that I understood the skewed vision I had, of me:

Linda Carter could kick a novel into submission in no time, and have dinner on the table by six o’clock. She could swim the deep ocean to rescue a sinking sub and then surface, lipstick and mascara (and sanity) in tact. But I’m not Linda Carter. My hair gives way two minutes into a workout, and those bullet-deflecting bracelets are useless against the snide remarks of that committee in my head.

Making that list of expectations was quite a revelation, from a personal point of view and a writer’s perspective. I can’t do everything I set out to do, and that’s okay. So now, I have two new goals: relax and just be —

Present.

Amanda Hoving talks about similar revelations in a recent post on her blog. Yes, time is ticking away, but that I don’t need to drive myself crazy or beat myself up.

Wise words came from a few other folks, too, words that help keep me grounded, lately:

1) Comments on a recent post of my own, which reiterate I am not alone in my struggle to complete a novel, and that perhaps I could consider that story as a shorter work (there’s that perspective bit again).

2) Passages from Roz Morris’ Nail Your Novel, a great book for writers with just an idea or with an unfinished draft in hand. Early on in her book, she says something that speaks directly to me, in how I work my draft and (apparently) in how I plan my days:

Don’t make lists…lists tie you down to having events happen in a certain order, and this is not the time for you to be deciding that.

Lists do help me get organized. But, like every asset, making lists quickly swings to a defect when that particular action takes me down into a feeling of failure. Morris knows this, and she offers several tasks for writers that help move a novel forward, without obsessing over the mantra, “I should be doing this, or that, by now.”

3) Jan O’Hara’s recent post on Writer Unboxed, a poignant essay on letting go, relaxing, and embracing the kind of writing that feeds your spirit. She says:

I’ve noticed a tendency for writers to devalue their natural talents, perhaps because the writing can feel easier. (Not “easy”, because writing is seldom that.)  Sometimes I think we are so used to telling stories about struggle, we believe that’s the only way to exist. If it isn’t hard, it doesn’t count. If we aren’t wrung out by the process, it can’t contain much worth.

Go read Jan’s essay. Then, set out – or head back – to do what you love.

Speaking of, just for today, this is what I’m doing:

  • Using Morris’ book to push my story draft towards the finish (whether that be 80,000 words or 40,000), but not panicking if that happens at a much slower rate.
  • Writing and revising flash fiction (maybe even putting them into a collection), because that’s a genre I enjoy, and one in which I feel I can succeed.

Linda Carter can keep her boots.

What high expectations can you let go of today?

Advertisements

29 responses to “Maybe If I Had Those Boots: A List, Linda Carter, and Letting Go

  1. Thanks, Christi. I needed this. My goal was to finish my WIP by July 1 as well. This was so that I could get to my editor’s notes on my first book and make revisions by Sept. 1. Monday I hit a wall, knowing I wouldn’t make it. It all gets pushed back. I took on a carpentry project as a favor to neighbors (needs to be done by Independence Day weekend). The despair I felt was crushing.
    I just need to step back and breathe. There’s no stopwatch running, no publisher’s deadline (I’ll probably indy-pub). It’s nothing but self-imposed angst. It’ll get done when it’s done. And it is summer, after all. (I do love Linda Carter, though.)
    Thanks again, and good luck on your revised timeline, and enjoyment of summer.

  2. Timely post, Christi, with all the fun summer priorities crowding my daily schedule. But I can’t (quite yet) let go of my goal, mostly because it’s so open-ended. The plan is to get as far as possible with my new draft before my writing retreat in August. I think I’ll have to give up some of my lofty goals for that week, because there’s no way I’ll accomplish everything I want to even with seven days of peace and solitude.

    • Laura, Oh, a writing retreat! What a fun event to look forward to, and I love how you state your goal — simple enough.

      • I can’t wait for this retreat–seven days in the woods, about 20 miles outside of town, in a bunkhouse where we each have our own rooms. It’s all women writers who are serious about the craft, and we work on our own until the evening, when we gather to read pages, discuss our progress and share snacks. Ahh.

  3. I have no timing expectations to let go of, but my death-hold grip on something has loosened — my expectation of the kind of writer I should be. I’m serious about writing, but I’m not a “serious” writer, not one who will likely ever write something life changing. Today, I will stop condemning myself for not writing Literature.

    • Linda, I think that’s the key, to stop condemning ourselves and just enjoy the process. I saw Anne Lamott not long ago, and she said almost exactly that: it isn’t about how much gets written (or published), it’s about the journey.

  4. Checking out every single e-mail from She Writes! I feel if I don’t check out every single one I have failed dismally. Stupid I know but I seem a lot like someone close by… A list maker by profession, if the list is not completed in a day it’s major catastrophe (and I’m officially on a disability!) Why are we so hard on ourselves and strive like there’s no tomorrow? There are probably many reasons, but you and I are sisters!

    • Elizabeth, Yes, I’d say we have a few things in common 🙂 For me, my obsessions about checking every email, writing and re-writing lists, and worrying about (self-imposed) deadlines is because I think I might miss something. I read somewhere a quote that said, “if it feel urgent, it probably isn’t important, and if it feels important, it probably isn’t urgent.” I keep that thought close at hand on those “obsessive” days.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Ooh, tell me about those self-imposed expectations and crushing disappointment, a la Vaughn. This is a lesson I have to learn and relearn.

    I took a course last year which was similarly illuminating. In one exercise, you set a list of winner and superstar goals for the day. (The musts and the wants). You were to predict how long each task would take and do a post-mortem at day’s end. The instructor, Margie Lawson, said most North Americans underestimate the time requirements by 40% or so. I’m worse. Add in kids, family, etc., and it’s not surprising that we set ourself up for feeling like failures even though we’ve done our best.

    Anyway, Wonder Woman didn’t have kids so best to let go of that model.

    And thanks for the shout-out.

  6. Yes! Because I’m so, so guilty of not, let’s let go. A little.

  7. TaylorGooderham

    I know how you feel. Last year I wrote a seventy five thousand word novel (which I need to rewrite), and got to work on another one. And then life gets in the way, so I never finished that one. But, I’ve got a reasonable plan (rewrite the first one over the summer, and finish the second), and hopefully life doesn’t get too much in the way.
    Good luck on your writing, and don’t take it too hard. Sometimes you need to relax your goals, and in the end end up doing better than you would have.

    • Taylor, I think you’re right, in retrospect, we always end up faring better than we assume when we’re in the thick of it (“it” being those darn expectations). Good luck on your novel rewrites, and thanks for stopping by!

  8. Our society mega-conditions us to have a brain full of ‘to do’s’. Your friend is very wise! It is only really when you realise for yourself that you’ve been living the life of an octopus on speed (8 tentacles trying to handle too many things) that any change can occur… Then you’ll start to see what lies behind the need to be an achiever and accomplish so many things. Don’t worry, it’s pretty common – but completely insane, of course.

    ON A LIGHTER NOTE!… You might actually enjoy the book called “f**k it” by John C. Parkin. Check out his website at: http://www.thefuckitway.com

    And remember, Linda Carter had a frickin’ great special effects, wardrobe, make-up & hair department behind her! And I don’t think she ever cooked meals – if you eat, you have to go to the bathroom… And super heroes have too much trouble trying to get out of their suits to do that (a rather serious costume design flaw).

    • Alannah, You might not be surprised, but often I mutter to myself, if I only had eight arms. And two brains. Oh, the things I could accomplish! 🙂

      I’ll have to check out the book you mention. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Thanks for including me here, Christi, and for pointing me in the direction of some helpful reads. I’m certain you will come to THE END eventually. And it will be in just the right amount of time. Enjoy~

    • Amanda, I’m feeling rejuvenated today. By the way, I had another reminder today from a different person about being present. That seems to be the summer’s theme 🙂

  10. Great post, thanks for this! I tend to have a completely skewed perspective on what I’m actually capable of accomplishing. I’m shifting to look for progress, not perfection, and that is making the process more enjoyable.

  11. This is such a wonderful post, Christi. When I wrote my 1st novel I was totally on my own schedule and didn’t feel any pressure. Now granted, I wrote every day, but I never had a word count or a goal in mind. It was a joyful experience.

    My 2nd novel is different as I have a contractural delivery date, which, in essence, is like having a list. I often have to remind myself that I need to LIVE … that a balanced life is more important than panicking about deadlines and lists.

    Happy summer!

    • Beth, I was just thinking about the positives of self-imposed deadlines: they’re mine. No pressure. Your comment is a great reminder to view the first novel writing experience in a completely positive light!

  12. Christi, we have a lot in common being short story writers and hopeful novelists. I know I end up working on the stories because I don’t seem to have the focus for a novel right now. But I WANT to write the novel I’ve been thinking about and outlining. I WANT TO and yet I haven’t done it. Haven’t written a word of it.

  13. Pingback: How to Find Time to Write During the Summer | Laura Stanfill

  14. I used to create these long (and unrealistic I might add) lists of things that I wanted to accomplish in a given month and at the end of the deadline I would sob at the sight of tasks yet to be crossed out. What works for me now is at the beginning of every week I create a daily to do list with no more than 3 tasks per day. If I can complete the 3 tasks on the list for that specific day, then I can feel free to start on one of the tasks I’ve listed for the next day. That way I have more days of accomplishment rather than dissapointment. Thanks for sharing your relatable story.

    • Oh, I like that idea: no more than three tasks a day. Though, I admit, I’m currently working off of a list with more than that….Like the AccidentalStepMom said: progress not perfection! 🙂

  15. Pingback: To Follow or Not To Follow the List | simplynareida

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s