Practice Breaks Plateau

At least I hope it will because I’m currently fighting my way through closing the gap between how I expect my writing to be and how it is in reality. You know how you get this amazing idea for a story and you can see how brilliant it will be written down but then you write it and it’s just crap. I have been for some time (we’re talking many years). Also, I feel like I’m not improving at the moment. I’ve reached this point of not being terrible: I know the basics – avoid adverbs, avoid cliches, show don’t tell, all that stuff – so I can write better than Dan Brown (let’s face it, it isn’t difficult) but I persist in this inability to be good. I’ll get occasional flashes of good – sometimes I’ll even write something really good (and we’re talking words, phrases, maybe sentences on a really good day) although, thinking about it, that hasn’t happened in a long time. Mostly it’s…not terrible. Bordering on OK but not even quite good enough for that.

So as always, when I get stuck, I have turned to google for the magic solution to my problem. And I may have found one. It’s called deliberate practice.

Now this is a new term to me and I’m not sure I’ve fully understood it but my interpretation is that deliberate practice is when you find an area that you need to improve in – something specific so, for example, I’m terrible at narrating events – just getting a character from A to B (I really struggle with this, I tend to over-do it so it gets all clunky) – and deliberately practice that area. I think the actual method is up to you but a suggestion I’ve come across is to read a passage you consider to excel at this area, compare that to what you’ve attempted and pick apart the differences – what makes theirs good and yours bad and how you can make yours better. Repetition is important, too, so keep practicing that particular aspect of writing. And another thing: it’s meant to be hard.

When I first thought about applying deliberate practice to writing I had a strange, dismissive reaction. It was like I almost-consciously thought ‘this doesn’t apply to me’ or maybe ‘this doesn’t apply to writers’. I think I’m embedded with this view that writers are ‘inspired’. They don’t practice – they channel the muse. It’s odd because I don’t really believe in muses and I’m very aware of how much hard work writing is. Yet something about the idea of ‘practicing writing’ rang false to me.

And yet if you think about a different skill – dancing, playing an instrument, sport – you would expect to practice. Why is writing different?

I’m pretty sure this isn’t just me because it’s not the sort of thing I think – this seems very much like a collective subconsciousness thing. A hangover, maybe, from the days when writers were seen as these magical creatures who lolled about waiting for inspiration, scribbled frantically for days on end then collapsed. Myths are hard to shake.

So…is it just me? Or does anyone else find the idea of ‘practicing writing’ a bit…inconsistent without a logical reason.

Also, anyone else having the plateau problem? (That can’t be just me: Ira Glass says everyone goes through it.*)

Well, anyway, I’m gonna give this deliberate practice thing a try. I’ve already identified my strengths and weaknesses and some books to learn from. Just need to get on with it, now.

Wish me luck (and inspiration!)

*I’ve shared this video before but it was hidden away in a ‘click here’ type scenario, and it’s something I keep returning to, so…here’s Ira:

5 Simple Steps to Write Every Day

Readers of my blog will know I struggle with self-discipline as a writer. A lot. And, while I understood the benefits of writing every day and do think it’s a good idea, I just couldn’t work out how people put it into practice. Just get your bum in the chair and do it, right? Yeah, ’cause it’s that easy.

Well, things have changed.

For just over a month, now, I have written every single day.

For me this is a huge achievement. I don’t think I’ve ever written every single day for this long before.

And I have James Clear to thank for it.

I ‘trialled’ the method he explains in: Transform Your Habits and it actually works. For realsies.

So in case you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s how it works in 5 steps:

Step 1: List stuff you do every single day without fail (e.g. wake up, brush teeth, wee) and stuff that happens to you every single day without fail (e.g. sun rises, sun sets, kettle takes FOREVER to boil).

Step 2: Pick one to latch your new habit onto (i.e. when you do this/when this happens to you, you will write.) Mine is dinner. After dinner, I make a cup of tea (it’s a sort of ritual, I guess) and then I write.

Step 3: Start small – it has to take less than two minutes. You don’t want it to require any willpower whatsoever. For example, on my first day, all I had to do was open the document I’m working on and read some of it. I couldn’t argue with that.

Step 4: When you’ve written (or read) for two minutes, congratulate yourself. Sure, you may have only written two words but it’s two words you probably would not have written, otherwise. Go you! (This is positive affirmation and will help in building the habit. Think of it as your reward. Sometimes I give myself a physical reward, too, such as chocolate. And there’s always tea on hand, so that helps.)

Step 5: Keep at it. If you come across a day when you don’t want to write, go back to that first day mentality – all you have to do is whatever it is that takes two minutes (for me, open and read).

Some days you’ll naturally want to keep going for longer (occasionally I can manage 45 mins – an hour). Others you won’t (sometimes 5 mins is my limit). Don’t force yourself. As long as you do it every day you’re building up the habit and that’s the most important thing. You never want to get to that point when you can talk yourself out of it (e.g. ‘You have to write for 30 mins.’ + ‘But I don’t wanna.’ = Not writing AT ALL.)

There are a couple of problems I’ve come across with this method.

  1. Eating out
  2. Limiting myself to only writing after dinner, which sometimes is quite late so may stop me writing for as long.

The first one I’ve overcome by writing as soon as I get home. Besides, I don’t eat out that often so it should be fine.

The second one worries me a little. I can easily say to myself, ‘don’t write now because then you might not want to write after dinner and you HAVE to write after dinner.’ Maybe this means I’m not writing as much as I could. As long as I am writing every day, though, does that matter? Also, in a way it’s encouraging that my mind is telling me to write after dinner and accepts that as non-negotiable. In fact, there have been a couple of days when I have felt an urge to write on finishing dinner. It’s pretty weird because I know I’ve done that to myself but that’s what I’m aiming for so…good.

Comments?

Happy Birthday, Simone de Beauvoir!

Of course, I’m talking about Simone de Beauvoir because of google. And I’m not the only one. Several of the main newspapers have published articles online about her/google today, including the Guardian, which I had a quick read of in my lunch break. While doing so, it’s ‘more on this story’ links caught my eye – especially Feminism is on a high – but it needs a strong intellectual voice.

It’s an interesting read, and something I’ve been vaguely pondering for a while. There does seem to be a new wave of feminism – I’ve noticed it over the last year or so – but it’s not that good at picking its battles. You could argue feminists shouldn’t pick their battles but fight them all – and maybe that’s true – but maybe the less important battles distract from the more significant ones. The ones we really need to win.

Then again, maybe they are all so interwoven and connected that to win one you have to fight them all.

Take abuse, for example. It seems to me that abuse stems from a negative view of women, as a whole – that women are worth less than men, somehow – something an individual may have picked up from their childhood or absorbed from the media or deduced from the sex trade. If objectification is OK, and it’s OK to see women as sexual objects, is it therefore OK to treat women as objects – to be used as the user wants – to be abused? In short, does objectification lead to abuse? If it does, to win the fight against abuse, we need to win the fight against objectification and of negative views of women as a whole. Any view that women are in some way less than man is potentially dangerous, then, even a view which causes ‘chivalry’ – giving up a seat on a bus, for example.

Then again, to say that ‘chivalry’ is as big a problem is abuse is absurd, right?

I don’t know. It’s very confusing being a feminist in this day and age. And I think the reason for that is we have no clear goal. All the other waves had one. First wave: the right to vote; second wave: the right to work; third wave: now, I’m not sure about that one – it seemed more a continuation of the second to me, but I’ve never studied feminism, I just identify as one. Hang on a minute, which wave are we even in? Why is feminism so confusing?! And why does it matter? What I’m I even talking about? Oh yeah – no clear goal.

Much like this blog post, the current ‘wave’ or whatever it is lacks focus. What do we want? EVERYTHING!!! Obviously, we want equality and because we’ve made progress in the most obvious areas of inequality – i.e. working and the vote, it’s difficult to know which one issue to fight for now. We could go for equality of pay but that’s just not as sexy as fighting the sex trade and objectification. We could fight for the rights of women in countries which haven’t progressed – countries where women are expected to throw themselves into the flames of their husband’s funeral pyre or aren’t allowed to drive because it’s ‘bad for them’ (a symptom of a much deeper problem) but then what would we do about Robin Thicke and the like?

I know I’m having a go but be assured I am also having a go at myself. I frequently catch myself nit-picking about stupid little things and the problem with it is it opens you up to ridicule. It confirms the false view that we don’t need feminism anymore because if we did we wouldn’t be bothering about these little issues but would be standing up to fight the one big problem.

But maybe all these little things are the problem. Because the problem is one big, all-engulfing monster, and really, it always was. Maybe our generation is just so fed up with putting up with the crap that we don’t want to put up with any crap from now on. So, yeah, we’re gonna fight about everything because everything adds to the problem. YEAH.

Or maybe, we need to pick something – anything – and focus on that.

It’s confusing being a feminist in this day and age.

But I do think that the central problem – the inequality – does still exist and does still need to be fought. Because, despite all the progress we’ve made, the following is still true:

Man is defined as a human being and woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male

But maybe that’s a topic for another post.

For now, I’ll leave you with this link to the Guardian’s 10 key Simone quotes.

And a confession.

I have never read The Second Sex.

I want to. It’s been on my Goodreads ‘to read’ ‘shelf’ for a while. I just…haven’t got round to it but I will soon. I’ve requested a copy from the library so it should be ready for collection in a couple of days.

Until then…

…I’ve got no follow up. Sorry but I’m kind of frazzled right now.

G’night!

Don’t Tell me What, Tell me How

Hello, Happy New Year, sorry for not posting in a while and all that.

Something’s bugging me, so I’m going to get right down to business.

It’s business time.

Blogs about writing. I’m not talking about updates on the blogger’s writing, here, but advice. From writers to writers through the medium of a blog.

The problem I consistently have is this:

The blog describes your problem. (Unless it has a misleading title or is poorly tagged or you’re just having a stupid moment and forgot how to read and interpret words. But no, let’s assume the blog is written about the problem which you are currently facing. In my case, this would be discipline/self-motivation – surprise surprise. How’s my New Year’s Resolution to write every day going? *High pitched* Well…)

As you’re reading the description of your problem, you find yourself getting your hopes up. Yes, you think, that is exactly the problem I am having. It’s like this person is reading my mind right now. This is amazing. They are going to cure EVERYTHING.

(You assume that because they understand your problem so completely that they’ll be able to tell you exactly how to overcome it. Perhaps this isn’t reasonable but you’re desperate. You’re done trying to solve it alone. You’ve googled this shit. Maybe you’ve gone a step further and used some kind of writing advice search tool.* Either way, shit has got real.)

You keep reading. The blog moves on to tell you what you need to do to solve this problem. Write every day. Silence your inner critic. Set yourself a deadline. Whatever. It’s the usual crap, you’ve heard it all before. But maybe…maybe there’s one special piece of advice. The golden nugget. The magic key. It will be here. At the end of the blog post. You know it…oh.

It isn’t there.

You re-read. Did you miss it? Was it tucked away somewhere?

No.

Because the problem is they’ve given you a list of things you should try. What you should do. But they haven’t told you how.

How do you write every day?

Er…hmm…no I don’t know. Can’t manage it, myself. Some people seem to just…do it. Could those lucky people please tell me how? Please?

Maybe they do it by silencing their inner critic.

Again – how? Is there a switch somewhere that I’m missing? Behind my ear? No? Sorry – can’t do it either. Except for those rare occasions when it just…happens. If there’s a way of making that happen or at least encouraging it, that’d be good to know. Not much good you telling me to do it, though, unless you tell me how.

Maybe setting yourself a deadline would help you silence your inner critic and write everyday. But, again, how do you set yourself a deadline? OK, this one is actually easy. You write it in your calendar. Stick it on your wall. Set a reminder on your phone. Easy peasy. Right? Thing is, though, who’s making you keep to this deadline? What happens if you miss it?

Nothing.

So why should you care?

You shouldn’t. There is no reason to. It doesn’t matter if you miss your deadline – there will be no consequences. OK, there’ll be the consequence of you not writing everyday and not improving as a writer and not getting one step closer to your goal. But really, is that a noticeable consequence? I don’t think it is. It’s actually very easy to ignore.

The real question is: how do you set yourself a deadline and stick to it? How do you create real consequences when there are none? You can make some stuff up about rewards and punishments but, at the end of the day, who’s dishing those bad boys out? You are. You could reward yourself if you fail or – no idea why you would but it’s theoretically possible – punish yourself when you succeed. No-one’s going to stop you from eating that brownie a little early or catching up on your fav. TV programme when you haven’t written a word. I sat at my desk and opened my laptop! I showed up! That’s totally a step in the right direction – I should reward myself and watch Bob’s Burgers NOW. I can write later. After I’m all inspired.

Yeah. Cause that’s gonna happen.

I don’t have the answers. I’m not pretending to. And yes, I appreciate you trying to help but the thing is…you’re not.

Because I have heard that advice before and it didn’t help me any of those times either and, while, yes I can see that it is theoretically a great idea and would completely work…I just can’t make myself apply it. In, you know, the real world. It just doesn’t happen.

Maybe I should just stop whining about it. Maybe I should accept the fact that every writer is different and what works for you may not work for me and I just have to find my own way of doing it. But then again you’re someone who’s had my problem and has overcome it and all you can tell me is the same old advice I’ve heard over and over again? What about personal experience? How did YOU overcome it? How did YOU make yourself follow this advice?

HOW?

Ahem.

So, in conclusion, my message is this. If you’re writing a blog post about how to overcome some common problem we writers face (and let’s face it – we’re a problematic bunch) don’t just compile a list of what to dos that the person will have already read/absorbed through the ether, explain how to do them. Or, better, yet, explain how YOU did them. In practice. How YOU REALLY overcame the problem. Give it the personal touch.

And, finally, to the people who can do discipline and self-motivation and writing every day, I implore you: tell me how!

*I use Writers’ Knowledge Base but I’m starting to think it’s more a curse than a blessing. My first creative writing tutor said that thesauruses are a curse. Why? Because they send you off on a crazy rabbit hunt in search of the perfect word. That word doesn’t exist. But the thesaurus says otherwise. It makes promises it can’t fulfill. Now, I love thesauruses and therefore cannot agree with him – I guess he hates them because he has a problem with them which I don’t have – but I’m starting to think the Writers’ Knowledge Base (I’m using it as an example because it’s the one I use – I don’t mean it specifically) is my thesaurus. Hummm…

On Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines

So. A lot of fellow feminists have been saying the ‘blurred lines’ in this song are those between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ in terms of sexual consent and the lyrics promote rape culture. And it’s easy to see why when the line ‘I know you want it’ is repeated several times. And when you take certain lyrics out of context and compare them to things rapists have said, the similarities are worrying.

Thing is, though, in context, the ‘I know you want it’ line is actually about the fact that this other man doesn’t know ‘you’ want it because he has a stereotypical view of ‘you’, thinking that as ‘you’re’ a ‘good girl’ ‘you’ don’t want to have sex, which is why he ‘tried to domesticate you’.

Now, I agree with Robin Thicke in that women want to have sex. And I agree that men shouldn’t try to domesticate women (or vice versa, for that matter). If a woman is domesticated by choice/nature that’s great – I’m happy for her that she knows what she wants. But if a man assumes all women want that or that’s how women should be, we have a problem. So, in terms of ‘blurred lines’ of gender roles – yes, I hate them, too.

Thing is, though, I’m not so sure about the need for the ‘good girl’ label. It’s creepy and, worse for me, patronising, especially when he applies it to his wife, as he did when ‘justifying’ the song by talking about her:

“Even very good girls have a little bad side. You just have to know how to pull it out of them.”

That is a worrying statement. This is a statement that promotes rape culture. It’s worse than the lyrics. In fact, if it weren’t for Robin Thicke’s attempts at justifying this song I’d be much more inclined to see it as a misguided attempt at empowering women and overcoming gender stereotypes. Misguided because, yes, a lot of the lyrics are questionable but, more importantly to me, it is patronising.

Before we get on to the patronising nature of this song, let’s take a look at some of the questionable lyrics. We’ve covered ‘I know you want it’ but what about ‘The way you grab me/ Must wanna get nasty’. For me, it’s more of the same. Why? because it’s followed by ‘Go ahead, get at me’ rather than anything about him getting at her. If a guy grabbed me I’d assume he wanted to have sex. Does that mean I’d force him into it? Of course not. Can that not go both ways? Is it possible for a woman to be a tease? Yes. Is this acceptable behaviour? No. It’s not fair to the guy. Does that mean she’s asking for rape, that it’s OK to rape her or that if she were to be raped itwould be in any way her fault? No. But does Robin Thicke suggest he’s going to force her if she doesn’t give consent? I don’t think he does.

What he does suggest is that the ‘good girl’ secretly likes it rough. Which happens. Some women do like it rough. And maybe that’s his point. In which case, it is more of the overcoming gender stereotypes thing. However, while we hear a lot about what he ‘knows’ she wants, we don’t know whether or not he’s right. I guess the rape culture interpretation of this song works on the basis that he’s lying. And, in fact, I’d be inclined to believe that what he says she wants is actually what he wants and therefore wants her to want. Good on him for wanting her to want it, rather than just taking what he wants, but it’s still really about what he wants. I mean, whose fantasies are these? His fantasy of the ‘good girl gone bad’ or hers of the sex she’s always dreamed of but never managed to get?

Either way, I have a problem with this song. You see, what really pisses me off is the fact that all the way through he’s telling her what she wants and that she can get that with him. It’s beyond patronising. At one point, he offers to liberate her. Wow, thank you, Robin Thicke, I’d never be able to liberate myself! I need a man to do that for me!

Honestly, to me this song sounds like one long chat-up con: I want to have rough sex with you so I’m planting that idea in your head with the suggestion that rough sex is empowering because it’s against gender stereotypes while  calling you a ‘good girl’, which serves to both flatter and enforce the empowerment concept by reminding you of how patronising those gender stereotypes really are, and painting myself as your sexual liberator/hero. You’re welcome!

(Or: I see women as girls I can control and it turns me on to turn ‘good’ girls into ‘bad’).

Overall, Blurred Lines is disrespectful because it’s patronising, and the fact that he tries to dress it up as empowering – maybe he even believes it is – makes it even worse because that’s manipulation. And his other claim that it’s pointing out the ridiculous, laughable nature of rape culture? Really? Come on. It’s too blurred a line for that joke to work and you know it. Makes you think it might be deliberate. After all, I’m sure all the controversy hasn’t harmed the sales.

Oh, and one more thing. Nobody wants their ass torn in two – they’d need immediate medical attention. They’d probably bleed to death in excruciating pain, and can you imagine the mess? Can you?? That’s just a terrible idea. Not hot. If you tried the whole con in this song on me, which might have a slight chance at success if I was drunk and single, that line would definitely make me come to my senses.