S16.2.0: The Book-Writing Club

At 1pm, Shut Up and Write! had a meetup at a coffee shop on the downtown Grid. (The Grid is what people now call Sacramento’s 19th Century letter-and-number street layout.) I parked in front of some hundred twenty year old houses and kept messing with my hair because it’s super long and I wished I hadn’t washed it and I just wanted to tie it back out of the way but when you do that to long hair it gets all straight and ironed-out looking for the rest of the day. Life is hard when you’re a girl. Plus I hadn’t taken my ADHD medication and was suddenly all self-conscious that I was going to be all unfocused and unfriendly.

The ADHD med actually works. It’s basically an upper. They won’t mail it to me — I have to go to the pharmacy — and it’s a federal crime to give it to anyone else. It doesn’t do much, though. I think it’s a stimulant that they discovered helps ADHD types by accident. My theory is it juices me up out of my naturally depressive state just enough so I don’t drop out of whatever I mean to be doing so readily but instead am happy to stay at it. What happens otherwise is I get bored and switch to something else, but not as a productive task switch, more as a sort of cure for mild mood depression; and now I’m all into that and then the next thing and the next, each step another increment in mood depression, each step taking me further away from what I’m supposed to be doing, each step making me feel even worse about myself and on down the rabbit hole I go. This may be a bit overdramatic; but somehow if I pop the pill I’m happier and yet not more fractious, as some other stimulants will do, and I get more shit done. Hella more shit, sometimes.

But enough about me. Whose blog is this anyway? I know better than to derail myself so easily so I just said, Self, cheer up, it’ll be great (I can be pretty shy, too). I took my laptop in its leather envelope with the UCSF Mass Spectrometry Facility logo and walked in to Shine to find a crowd of people with open laptops. I asked a black woman if I could share her table and got a small cup of coffee and a huge peanut butter cookie. The table was big enough for about one and a half laptops but I settled in while the cheerful guy up on a stool behind me intro’d himself as the organizer and said he was glad I was here. That’s a useful trick.

At 1:15 or so there was a round of brief introductions. Most people were working on novels. Most of them were in second drafts or better. The lady at my table was doing the surprisingly hard work preparatory to publication. This was interesting because it wasn’t just a NaNoWriMo crowd, which always felt like a college study group. These were fairly serious people. I also noticed the ages were mostly either about my age and up or in their late twenties. Either not yet launched into family life and its complete domination of free time, or aged beyond it (this is the same age mix we get at parties and other dance events).

(What did I say? Something like, My name is Don and like everyone else I have a crazy busy life so I’m hoping to use this to force me to get this done. I’ve got a story or novel whatever that takes place in Sacramento and San Francisco and roundabout in 1855, historical fiction is my thing, I’m just starting out and pretty much trying to get some momentum going.)

At 1:23 when all that was done the leader set a timer on his phone for an hour and everyone shut up and wrote. I did too. It was hard. Writing is hard work, in case no one’s told you. I have conceived of what I think is a pretty good piece of work but I haven’t plotted it out in great detail because that work doesn’t really lead to anything but more plotting and refining and nothing ever actually gets written before I tire out and lose interest. Instead I take occasional notes here and there and just remember my ideas and, when writing, basically try to write down what I can remember of the book I read. It’s like this great book I really liked that I’m now trying to put into my own words. It’s hard, though, because all the details are up to me, every little thing that happens or is said, and when I get into a flow I later look up to realize I made things happen I didn’t want or showed a side of my character I don’t want her to have and, bam, gonna have to go back and do that part over.

Well, writing is mostly rewriting anyway. I’m just sketching on my big canvas right now, making little cartoons in charcoal that will be rubbed out and redrawn later. At some point the brilliant oils will be laid down but that’s not for a while yet. I’m just determining the overall structure at this time, what’s in it, where it all goes.

The crowd dispersed some time after 2:30 and I went on to some of the other things I needed to do. But it was a good experience. My intention is to write an hour every day and set down the habit. Maybe by the time this sabbatical is over it will be a habit I am truly loath to break.

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The Union Pacific crossing at C St
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2 thoughts on “S16.2.0: The Book-Writing Club

  1. E is supposed to take an Adderall type of drug every day. When he takes it, his mind is able to focus and remember what it was he was supposed to do. The trouble is, when he doesn’t take it, his mind doesn’t focus and he doesn’t remember the things he was supposed to do … including taking the drug.

    I asked him if he could set up a reminder of some sort. He paused for a long time, as though this were a very brand new notion to him. And that surprised me, that someone as smart as he is would not have already thought of setting reminders.

    He spoke slowly, as though chewing each word to make sure it was the right one before speaking it, and said, “That would be a great thing. If I could have something like a task organizer that I could set up that would tell me what to do and give me a way to track whether or not I did it. Because a calendar reminder is too easy to just dismiss, saying I’ll get to it later, then forgetting.”

    I mentioned an app I use sometimes called “Timesheet” in which I created the tasks I was supposed to do, the times I was supposed to do them, and then tracked each one that I did, how long I spent on it, etc. I said, you can make it as complicated or as simple as you wish. He sounded interested in it.

    So I sent him the link. Maybe he’ll remember to install it and set it up and try it.

    One thing about organizers and reminders is to habituate yourself to check them to see if you did everything. Ideally, you start each day spending 10-15 minutes reviewing the tasks for the day, and then 10-15 minutes each night reviewing and setting up for tomorrow. But you have to push yourself to do it, daily, until it becomes a habit.

    E doesn’t form habits readily. Because, ADHD.

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  2. I have a phone alert for it. Even so, it doesn’t always happen. Not always a big deal, but sometimes it can make or break the day.

    There was a time I started each workday reviewing what I thought the day should consist of. I finally stopped out of frustration that no day ever went as expected. It’s the problem that comes with having other people in the world.

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