Friday, March 5, 2010

Being Me Is A Perishable Skill

Work hasn’t left me with a lot of time with the blog lately. Basically, I’ve been working from 630am to 7pm or so, when we adjourn back to the hotel, eat dinner, and go back to work from 8 until 10. Or 11.  I’m delinquent on the blog. I’m also fearfully delinquent on the writing.

I always worry about missing out on my running and gym routine, which has taken an awful hit in recent months, again thanks to the job.  I have to work Saturday, in which case Sunday will be my one-and-only workout, and I know how much harder it is to get back in shape than it is to maintain.

The same worry plagues me with my writing.  It takes time to develop good habits, like going to the gym over lunch or getting up an hour early to write.  Skill sets are generally either atrophying or improving – you’re becoming a faster runner, or slower, developing a stronger sense for dialogue or losing some of your skill with it.

Of course, the loss never has to be permanent. You can always get back into shape, or re-develop your skill sets. The problems are twofold, though. First, it’s painful to work to regain old skills.  I feel that way when I’m running and don’t understand why my body doesn’t do a six-minute mile anymore (although the fact I no longer run 50-mile weeks… in fact, I often don’t do five miles in a week, is an obvious factor).  I feel it, too, when I’m writing.  When I come back from a long time away, I second guess myself. Is this writing as good as what I wrote a month ago? I can’t do justice to this story anymore… I don’t know where I was.  I thought my dialogue was cleaner.

Right now, I’m losing my schedule. I’m hoping that April is a better month, a month where I write for an hour every morning and start training for another marathon.  I know I’m not improving as a writer now – since I’m not writing – and I may be slipping.

But I’ll be back.  I’ll lace up my running shoes, crank my iPod, run too far, cramp up and walk home, at first.  Then one day, I'll run six miles and won't want to stop again.  I'll power up my laptop, toss licorice-flavored jelly beans and orange M&Ms at the muse (she’s very picky) and write. Every day I tap away at the keyboard, I’ll get a little better, just like I’ve improved during every early hour I’ve spent writing.  And before I know it? I’ll be back in the game.  It'd be easier to never lose what we've gained, of course, but this little thing called life can get in the way.

What do you think? Do writing skills atrophy like so many other developed abilities, and if so, how do you keep them strong/rebuild/retrain?


sarahjayne smythe said...

I so totally hear you on the lack of time and scheduling issues, and I really feel your pain. We're entering the final twelve weeks of the school year and it is brutal.

And yes, my writing skills, like anything else, atrophy without constant use and the stuggle to maintain if not improve. My biggest fear is that what is lost will never come back, or will come back in some form unrecognizable to me.

In order to stay sane I have to believe we can always recover what's been lost, and even if it's changed, it can be changed for the better.

So I write when I can, where I can, and hope for the best. Because while I might loathe Nike, they do have that right. Just do it.

Piedmont Writer said...

Think of this as a vacation. Take all this non-writing time and let your mind wander. You know you can't do anything about it, you can't gain an extra 6 hours in a day, so don't go crazy being frustrated. It won't do you any good. Let it go. When you're ready and have the time, you'll come back stronger and more determined. Honest.

Shelley Sly said...

I agree that writing is an activity just like any other that requires constant "practice" in order to get better. For me, I don't necessarily need to be working on a manuscript, but writing blog entries and even reading helps me stay in the writing mindset. It's when I wander off and watch too much TV or play video games for too long instead of reading/writing that I start to feel rusty.

I really admire your ability to recognize your changing schedule and to make time and do something about it. Go you!

Lynn Colt said...

I am really out of writing shape right now, and it's so hard to get back into the habit. I'm doing that second-guessing thing you mention, too. It's comforting to hear that I'm not the only one who struggles with this. Thanks for the inspiration to buckle down and power through the first few sessions, no matter how terrible they may be :)

Donna Hole said...

I don't think its the skills you lose, its specifically the habit. The discipline of routine.

But if you're under that much pressure at work, I doubt you'd be using your best writing skills if you were making the time.

I agree with Piedmont; take a writing break and when you can come back to it, you'll be all the more excited with your WIP. It'll be fresh and new again.

Try to stay sane untill the frenzy of the new job slackens. I wish you luck.


E. Elle said...

I definitely think it's possible to lose your writer's edge as time goes by. As with anything, if you don't use it, you lose it. When I returned to writing after taking a break following the completion of my first novel, I found it really hard to get back into the natural flow of writing. It was like paddling against the current. I knew I'd done it before so it made it a little easier to get back in literary shape but it's an uphill battle.

Try to get to the "gym" every day and don't forget: motivation is key. :o)

Haddock said...

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