Exercising (and Straining) The Brain Muscle

I’m sure this happens to other people, but it definitely happens to me — sometimes, it takes an absolutely solid smack in the metaphorical face for me to see what has been right in front of me all along. It’s human to have blindspots especially about ourselves, and I have been hit with a big one.

My writing has been lacklustre at best the last few years. 2016 was the last really good writing year I had, which is to say, the last year I made my annual goal of 300,000 words of writing. I actually killed it in 2016 with nearly 489,000. So, what happened between October in 2016 and October in 2017 that dropped my production down to 189,000? Well, two major things. First, of course, is the US election and all the changes in the world. And that has added stress, because how could it do otherwise? It’s very hard to be productive and creative when existential dread is creeping in every time you check the news.

But it has taken me until now to recognize the OTHER thing that happened in that same timeframe which has infinitely more to do with my drop in productivity.

In September of 2016, I became a Co-Head in training for CVG, and a Co-Head in truth a few months later.

It was this year’s NYE party when a friend pointed it out to me. I was lamenting to him my lack of focus writing at the end of December. I had planned to take the last 2 weeks of the month and write a chapter a day and get that new novel moving forward. Then Maia died, and all productivity vanished in a cloud of nope. And he likened it to preparing to run a marathon and taking a knee injury right before the start. He also reminded me to forgive myself for it, which I did — mourning Maia and regaining my emotional equilibrium was absolutely necessary. But he also asked me about the other things that take the same kind of effort, as in not just running the marathon, but walking to the grocery store.

And he asked me the armor-piercing question — does CVG work take the same well of energy that writing does?

I didn’t realize it, but yes. Yes it does.

The skillsets are very different. Writing largely exists in my head, plotting characters, arcs, sequences of events and emotional highs and lows, rather than communicating with others. But the kind of focus, attention to detail, and, most damningly, organization and dedication is the same. To keep with the muscle analogy, it takes the same muscle to write a story well as it takes to organize my CVG team or craft a response to a delicate matter or plan a meeting agenda. The output is different, but what I do for CVG comes from the exact same place inside me as writing.

And that is why my writing output was literally halved in 2017 and 2018. Because I could only write half as much when the other half of my energy was going to the convention. And, in 2019, when then thousand things went wrong, in order for me to maintain my responsibilities to the convention, writing dropped by the wayside completely.

It’s the kind of thing that is so painfully obvious to look at, but I simply didn’t see in myself.

Now aware, though, I can make adjustments. So this year, I’m going to do some experimenting.

In the end, I still want to have enough fic chapters in the year to update every week, because that’s who I’ve been since 2012/2013 and that’s who I want to continue to be **unless and until traditional publishing says differently. I also want to continue to hone my craft and write the many original stories populating my current to-write list which numbers 48 as of this morning. I have a lot of stories to tell, and I’m not about to quit telling them. I just need to find new ways to do it.

For now, I’m going to forgive myself my standard goal and just try to write as much as I can. If I come up short for 2021 posting, I’ll handle that problem a year from now. I’m not going to try to count chapters or pick fic projects that will line up to complete my 47 weeks in a year of posting. I’m also not going to try to force myself to make 300,000 in a year and look at my tracking sheet in despair at the gulf between what is and what “should” be. I’m just going to write.

And I’m going to try other things, too. Instead of working strictly on one work at a time, which has been my usual method, I may try rotating, writing a chapter in novel A on Monday, B on Tuesday, and C on Wednesday, breaking up the process and helping myself stay flexible rather than bogged down. It also would allow for me to move multiple things forward at a time, instead of moving nothing when I get stuck on one.

Honestly, reframing all that writing failure as not failure, but a reallocation of resources with 50% being spent on CVG instead, has done wonders for my internal stress. I am pretty good at forgiving myself for not living up to my own expectations when I remember to do so, but I don’t always keep remembering, and the guilt creeps back in. Understanding it this way, though, that I willingly give half my well of energy to CVG, which is a positive for me, means that only having half for writing is actually reasonable and fair, and I can be content with that.

Perhaps that’s all I needed, because last night I dreamed an entire novel, including character names, details, plot, critical scenes, etc. I haven’t done that in more than a year. So SOMETHING’s been shaken loose in my head, anyway.

I don’t know if shaking up my writing process, or rotating projects, or just seeing my productivity differently is ultimately going to get me to my revamped writing goals (not numerical goals, just writing something). I don’t think there’s one right way for me to achieve productivity, just a right way for right now. (For write now? Okay, I’m sorry.) I don’t know how it is for anybody else, but for me it seems that my answers come in their own time, and as long as I am willing to put the work in when I can, a path reveals itself.

Sometimes that means digging the path out by hand, with no shovel, but that’s work I’m willing to do.

Writing is always worth the effort. The stories are worth the effort. And no matter how inelegantly I got here, I can’t be sorry regardless.

So. Time to get to work. The well isn’t as full these days as it was in the past, but it still has water, and I still have a bucket in my hands. The rest is up to me.

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One thought on “Exercising (and Straining) The Brain Muscle

  1. Regarding that last metaphor, don\’t forget that wells can be replenished! Droughts happen, but eventually there will be more rain!

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