A 1,000 Piece Puzzle, With No Corners or Edges

I knew it before I graduated. I even talked about it in my graduating seminar presentation.

The post-MFA writing life is difficult. As I sat on the porch with a cup of coffee and my daily free writing notebook, I wrote these words.

“Too many choices. That’s where I am. Too many options without urgency to focus on any one thing. So much on my mind, it’s like a 1,000 piece puzzle with no corner pieces, no edges, no picture on the box to reference.”

I am a bit overwhelmed and unmoored. There are stories to write, stories to edit, stories to revise. One novel in progress. One non-fiction book about the post-MFA writing life to pursue. Research and feedback I could collect. Blog posts. Daily free writing. Ideas and parts of ideas and good sentences I don’t want to let slip away.

There is so much freedom, now, and in this case, unbounded freedom can be a hinderance. It can cause a sort of paralysis. Especially if I’m not vigilant.

And so, every day I’ve been “taking stock” and tracking where I am, and where I want to be. It’s been a slow process, and not terribly productive, thus far. But, I refuse to just let it die. My productivity has been a 2 or 3 on a scale of 10, but that is still better than a zero, and it leaves me plenty of room to improve.

All of this tracking and self-evaluation is meant to help me see the “picture on the puzzle’s box-top” and give me some reference point as I sort and fit the puzzle pieces together. On the days when I am completely unproductive, it does make me feel bad to look at my tracking sheet and see just exactly how little I’ve accomplished. It also gives me some hope (“Hey,” I say, “At least I did SOMETHING with my day.”) and it gives me motivation to not feel this way tomorrow.

It would be so easy to slip into a creative coma. It happens to a lot of post-MFA writers. Actively guarding against it is something that takes a lot of effort and a great deal of planning. For most of us, writing consistently (daily, three times a week, every weekend) is hard work. When the only person we have to be accountable to is ourself, that work feels even harder.

If you are a writer, looking for a “check-in partner” who you can talk to on a regular basis about your work and your progress, drop me a line (comment below or send an email) and we’ll try to get some things set up to provides accountability and encouragement for your writing life.

Make it a great day. Happy Writing.


8 thoughts on “A 1,000 Piece Puzzle, With No Corners or Edges

    • Yes. Community is key, even though writing is, at its core, a solitary endeavor. Learning from others, having someone to talk to, having someone who knows what you are working toward and can say, “So, how’s that story/essay/novel/poem coming along?”…very, very important.
      Thanks for reading! Drop by any time. 🙂

  1. I was having major trouble getting work done on my novel. I’m not doing this full-time, of course, which makes it harder. And when I DO have time to write, I want to blog, or read blogs, or maybe read a book.

    I made a February resolution. I posted it on my blog (“Let it be Resolved…”) and put up a little progress bar. Now, if I slack off, the whole internet (or at least my handful of lovely followers) can wag their fingers and “tsk” me. My goal wasn’t much, but a HUGE step from what I’d been doing.

    The drawback so far, is my blogging is flagging (not helping that my little one is getting her last teeth in, either).

    If you want an accountability buddy, I’m happy to volunteer, but if you want somebody who’s handling the same variety and quantity of work, I’m probably not the best choice.

    • I noticed the progress bar and actually think it is a brilliant idea, as long as you have someone who’s willing to call you out on your lack of progress. Not in a mean way, of course, but in a “so, what’s going on that you haven’t moved forward?” sort of way. I do think the progress indicator can be a motivator, though.
      One drawback to blogging is if you do too much of it. Yes, it is part of the modern writer’s life (for most writers) but it can’t be the center of our attention. Unless, when you close your eyes and imagine your most perfect literary legacy, you imagine you want people to know you were a blogger. THEN, the blog should take precedence. But if your real goal is the novel, then the blogging should be a tiny fraction of the time spent writing. I fall into the same trap sometimes, which is why I try to limit my blog to three to five a week, and try really hard to get all the posts for each week done on Monday, cue them up to publish throughout the week, then don’t think about it again until the next weekend. (Sunday evenings are good for planning the blog content for the coming week.)
      Just my two cents. 🙂

      • But what about keeping up with all the comments? And reading other blogs? I’ve got a teensy new site and keeping up sometimes keeps me quite busy.

        As to the progress bars, if they stayed still for too long my readers would ask (wouldn’t you?). 🙂

      • I keep up with comments, read other blogs as they pertain, but I just can’t allow that to become a central focus. I try to divide it up. I check in the morning, before I write, then again around lunch. In the evenings, I can multi-task, read blogs, write replays, tweet and Facebook.
        And, yes. That’s why I think the progress bars are a great page addition. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Writer Friends: Calling Each Other On « Stories I Read, Stories I Tell

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