Summer Games

It’s only early August, but summer is already spiraling toward its close ever more swiftly, like one of those disappearing wormhole effects in a sci-fi TV show.

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I return to a grown-up job at the end of next week, and while I realize there is much to be gained by resuming a more regulated schedule, I am pre-grieving these freeform, unstructured days. And, as always, I’m wondering what the hell happened to that broad expanse of time that stretched before me in June? Specifically, what happened to the list of projects I happily fantasized would come to fruition?

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Easy answer: the same thing that always happens to a project or goal when you fantasize about it rather than setting action steps and deadlines that culminate in the completion of a goal. That is, nothing.

Well, not nothing, not entirely. A lot of incubation is taking place, a good deal of inner churn and visualizing and otherwise intangible preparation. Like a duck, I look unruffled on the surface, but underneath there’s a lot going on, and somehow I progress across the lake.

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That’s the hope, anyway. And after this much time in my own company, I have learned that as my schedule packs up, I get more done than in those periods where I am awash in unstructured hours. Like they say, if you want something done, assign it someone who’s busy. The projects will get done when I’m back in “doing” mode. I’ll get there, this I know. My internal engines are even now gearing up to resume their normal speed.

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But I also know that there comes a point where, if I keep on spinning, my orbit destabilizes. If I don’t slow down and free-float on a cyclical basis, I crash. Knowing this helps me relax about relaxing, although it’s not my native state. Like exercise, I do it because I know it’s good for me, and I’l feel lousy if I don’t.

So, that audio book that I want to produce? The next rewrite on my WIP novel? The second short story collection?  Those will resume production once I’ve achieved velocity. Meanwhile, the trick is to savor the remaining pre-launch days without lapsing into torpor or online shoe shopping.

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One thing I’m doing in the interregnum is to challenge myself to a writing game. There are a zillion games and prompts and exercises for writers out there in the regions of the Interwebs, but this one is my own invention. At least I think it is. Here’s how it works: whatever else I’m working on for the day (yes, these are the summer doldrums, but that doesn’t mean I’m not chipping away at things; I’m just doing so without deadlines breathing down my neck), I set aside time to do the following:

  1. Find my journal (I have this unconscious habit of hiding it from myself)
  2. And a pen (ditto)
  3. Begin telling a story, with only the murkiest idea of what it might be about
  4. Write three pages (handwritten): no less, and no more
  5. End on a cliffhanger
  6. Put it down and don’t think about it
  7. Repeat daily until the story ends

Ideally, I do this first thing in the morning, and I do it rapidly without self-editing. But that doesn’t always happen; sometimes I don’t get to it until evening, and sometimes I dither over my word choices. As long as I adhere to #1-7, I’m still in the game. When it ends, I win.

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What I like about this game is that it becomes increasingly challenging as it goes on.  Characters I’d never thought of show up, and get themselves into situations I’d never dreamed of. And they establish relationships with each other, quite without my interference or even approval. Since I’m just experimenting, with no expectation of producing the next Pushcart Prize winner or even anything that will ever see the light of day, the most surprising things can happen. It’s not a big investment of time. It’s not like it’s keeping me from writing my magnum opus.

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The game is an activity somewhere between practicing and playing. It prevents my storytelling muscles from becoming too slack, and it reminds me that writing, like reading, is pleasurable. If it weren’t, why would there be so many of us with our heads bent over our keyboards earnestly tapping away, when we could be shoe shopping online?

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If you’re a writer, what do you do to keep yourself in tune when you’re not working on a major project? Writer or not, what do you do to recharge your creative batteries? Please leave a comment and share!

9 thoughts on “Summer Games

  1. My major projects last so long that I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t working on one. When I get a lull I read more, beta more, and brainstorm more. (And play on Twitter more.)

  2. As usual Jan you nailed it – and Me! Internet shoe shopping? Actually it was bathsuit shopping which will give you some idea of how easily I can be distracted. But seriously have you got a hidden camera somewhere in my house?!
    So my solution to this on-going writer’s challenge was by no means cheap. I rented an office Without an internet connection! Of course there are ways around this. It’s
    called Data Roaming which, I learned the hard way, can be an extremely costly way of cheating yourself. Now I just take the odd break – like now – to answer the irresistible call of Distraction! Rationed to 5 minutes!

  3. It is so kind of you to say that, Scott. Also reassuring; there are moments when I think I might be imaginary 🙂

  4. Yep, me too. And I do my best not to pay attention to all the experts who insist I should be blogging three times a week, or five times, or every. Single. Day.

    That way lies madness 🙂

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