My titles get longer every week. Expect by the end of the year the titles to be the whole entry.
I wasn't expecting to end up here. I've been putting off writing this for a while, trying to come up with any excuse to avoid it. After last week's work revealed just how deep into writer's (editor's) block I was, I knew that if I actually wanted to make the most of this year, then I'd have to face up to some difficult truths.
It starts with a meditation, which is a cliché if ever I heard one. I always groan now when I hear that the solution is meditation. I've got an app I use for meditation and one of the special guided choices is a "Procrastination" one.
I actually hadn't intended to use it for the writer's block thing. I decided to use it last weekend because I was supposed to write a business plan for a disability grant and had been productively putting it off for ages. I'd even gone as far as to ask for extra time so I could procrastinate for a whole additional week.
(I had a cold last week, and marking to do, which is my excuse.)
Frustrated that I'd delayed and delayed, I tried this meditation out. It's not easy; having to face the fact you're procrastinating and then that there are lots of horrible emotions under that, is low key awful. Still, it got the job done. Once I found the right template, I was able to get on with it without too much trouble.
Of course, the moment I realised I could use this meditation to work on my issues around writing, I didn't want to touch it. That would be too easy. This is some level 9000 writer's block we've got here, and every time I figure out a way around it and think I have it resolved, it pops up in some new and unexpected way. Now I procrastinate over the procrastination meditation instead.
Still, I've made a bit of progress. This is tied into something else I've been doing to try to reduce the stress on my sliver of executive functioning. I'm trying out an app that plans my day for me. I put in a set of schedules, tasks, and deadlines. The app tells me what to do and when.
I was hugely skeptical at first, because I'm so good at using planners for a week and then abandoning them. I don't live up to my own enormously inflated expectations. I'm only now getting to grips with my own disability, and this is one of the ways I make life harder for myself. The problem with planners is that I have to set them up, I have to decide what to do and when. Then when I have a bad day, or a string of bad days, I end up falling so far behind I give up.
I'm still skeptical of the advertising claims for this app. One part of me is worried that there's going to be some kind of awful downside (beside the cost), and that eventually I'll stop responding to its polite suggestion to set up a focus banner and work on X task for the next half an hour.
So far, I've been using it for two weeks. It's been relatively successful. There are problems, the biggest of which is the fact that although there's a mobile app for this app, it's barely functional. Ticking off tasks when I'm on campus on a teaching day was therefore impossible during my first week of use. The second week, I set up the app on its browser view on my iPad, and that did work.
On top of that, it only works if you're absolutely clear and realistic about what you can do when. Everything needs to be in the app. It recommended I take an afternoon nap (thanks for permission, app!), but I do need to put that in to make sure I don't end up with tasks scheduled for times when I can't do them.
At first, I tried using the default schedule, with work hours, night hours, and weekend. This isn't all that helpful, especially if you're autistic and figuring out how to get around some of the difficulties of your own brain. I have an unusual daily structure, so I decided to alter the schedules to find one that worked for me. And that's when things really improved.
I had the bright idea of setting up a schedule specifically for "Amnar". I've seen lots of people say you should dedicate a specific time of day for writing, but the time I've set is also for everything from planning to research to map-drawing and world-building.
I also have a specific workspace for Amnar, along with projects. I'm not limiting myself to a "write a novel" framework. I did that thing everybody does at first—assumed I could do all these tasks in about half an hour. Bollocks to that. Not gonna happen, innit.
All of the activities around Amnar have to have their own specific project boards, and their own timings. Realistic timings, not "I can write a whole history timeline for the whole of Amnar (every city in the Alliance) in about half an hour, right?" timings. I've got tasks and subtasks, timings set weeks into the future, maybe even months.
Results and Conclusions...
I've been using this system of a dedicated time plus clearly defined tasks for about five days, so the jury's still out on whether it'll last. What I've observed so far is that having a clearly defined task makes it easier to settle on something to do. I've noticed that since I'm suffering a lot of anxiety around writing and anything to do with it, I struggle to work out where to start with what.
I never used to have this issue, but picking a time to set up tasks, along with their subtasks and some very loose deadlines, seems to have made a difference. Past me and an AI scheduler have ganged up on me and decided what I should do on any given evening.
And... you know what? It's actually helping. I do find myself settling to tasks much more quickly, and with less effort. It does require a fair amount of setup work, which has to be done when I'm fresh and alone and not feeling harried. But this at least has given me a framework to contain some of the anxiety, or at least start to process it in a safe and effective way.
Admittedly, Amnar still looks a lot like Charlie in my head, but this week, for the first week, I don't absolutely hate myself for not getting on with any writing.