Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Step Away From the Iron

Post By NCW member Laura Bridgwater

In preparing for Shari Caudron’s upcoming NCW class “Write an Essay in A Day, ” I decided to draft a new essay because when I have a work-in-progress, I get more out of a class. Though, now that I think about it, is this cheating? After all, the class isn’t called “Write an Essay in Advance.”

In any event, I’ve always wanted to write a “Modern Love” essay for The New York Times. “Modern Love” essays run every Sunday and I’ve been clipping them out for the past two years--which is also about how long I’d been kicking around an idea for one.

Plus, the Times is once again planning to charge for its online content, according to a recent NPR story. This change makes me want to write a “Modern Love” while I can still freely Google the Grey Lady (Maybe I’ll write about Googling your self. That’s as modern as love gets.)

It was time to stop procrastinating.

But before I could draft a MoLo, I needed to read some. So I dug around in the dark depths of my cramped file cabinet where I’ve been shoving story ideas since college. (And college was more than two decades ago.)

I don’t know why I was surprised that the contents of the folder labeled “Modern Love” were a mess. In a rant reminiscent of a third grader doing a word problem (or when writers do higher math), I calculated, “Fifty-two weeks at once a week for two years is 104 essays. How long will it take this writer to read that many?”

Well, maybe I didn’t need to read all 104 of the essays, but I needed to read a few. And in order to read a few, I would need to straighten them up. The newsprint looked like it had been wadded up as packing material for a cross-country move. They were too disheveled to read.

Using my old purple-handled Troop 16 Girl Scout scissors (the Boy Scouts aren’t the only ones who are always prepared), I trimmed off advertisements and cleaned up the ripped edges. Then I flattened the dog-eared corners and the folds that ran like an equator across each sheet.

But the pages were still too wrinkled to enjoy. So I organized the essays by date, hoping that chronological order would magically impart surface smoothness. It didn’t, and now my hands looked as if I were, in actuality, a grey lady.

Finally, I cleared a space on top of the file cabinet and anchored the MoLos in place with the two heaviest coffee table books I could pick up: The History of Art and The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker (Whoever said “Everything is Bigger in Texas” hasn’t read New York.) I would let gravity do its work.

But when I sat down at my desk to revise other works-in-progress, I glimpsed at the essays yet again. And I thought to myself, “I could iron them!”

And that was when I realized that I had just spent my morning procrastinating like my daughter does when faced with homework. She pets the cat, gets a snack, pets the cat, sharpens her pencil, pets the cat, writes one sentence, and pets the cat until soon it’s dinner time and she has finished one math problem that probably goes like this: If a writer has four hours a day to write, but spends three hours a day ironing newspapers, then how much time does the writer actually write?

If I hadn’t been aware that I sometimes dally instead of rally, I would have set up the ironing board. And the irony is that I don’t even like to iron. (Procrastination gives new meaning to the power of the press.)

I’ve learned that you have to be careful as a writer. You have to know yourself and watch for those times when your writing life starts to feel like that best-selling children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Because if you give a writer an essay, pretty soon she’s going to want some spray starch to go with it.

What ridiculous behaviors have you engaged in to avoid writing?

*By the way, if you haven’t had the chance to take a class with Shari, I would highly recommend it. She’s an excellent teacher and NCW is lucky to entice her up from LoDo to NoCo for the day.

Laura Bridgwater is an award-winning journalist and radio commentator from Colorado. To hear Laura's latest radio spot, click here.


Carol Kilgore said...

So true! I've done about anything I could do on the computer. Away from it, I've raked, walked, read, cooked, cleaned, made "important" phone calls that couldn't wait, shopped, painted, and more. And I've been known to scour the library and online to locate obscure details that I then never use before I write another word. That's why I set deadlines for myself even if I don't have a real one.

Jen said...

This was a great post! I love the give the mouse a cookie version for writing... Loved it! I'm still chuckling!

When I get home from work I plan to work on my novel, but instead I check the mail, pet the cat, lay dinner out, pet the cat, have a snack, pet the cat, and by the time I put the computer on it is time for me to actually cook dinner!! Time is of the essence!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I love "dally instead of rally" because it's so me. A fun post, Laura.

Anonymous said...

All I can say for myself is Facebook. It's a writer's enemy (though this blog was also an entertaining procrastination tool).

Laura Resau said...

Great post! So true! I love the image of ironing newspapers...! (And one of my dreams, too, is to have a Modern Love essay published. I did submit one, but alas, it wasn't picked up.)

Jenny S. said...

I'm not sure if this qualifies as "ridiculous," but my biggest procrastination is re-reading what I've already written instead of using my time to write something new.

Laura.Bridgwater said...

Like a true procrastinator, I'm responding to these comments late. But I have a good excuse. I learned so much in Shari's class that I've been inspired this week to write. I haven't thought about ironing once. My take-away? Maybe writer's block and procrastination are signs that it is time to learn something new. Anyway, glad to know I'm in good company in the procrastination department!

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