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Cold Turkey is Good

By September 8, 2009Writing

playing dress upHaving worked in triple time at the beginning of last week to get all of my client work completed, I left my island on Wednesday and headed to Shelter Island, just a few hours south.

My task was twofold:

1. To work with the insanely talented life coach, Sarah Sherwood, on her book. (as her writing coach)

2. To work on my own book.

This was a true experiment. I was eager to see if leaving my usual environs would actually influence my writing. I mean, is it the daily demands of client work and home life that curb my craft? Or is it something much more sinister? Like, I’m not really supposed to write a book or that I don’t have it in me or simply that I’m not writing the right book yet.

Working with Sarah was delightful. Let me tell you how much easier it is to work on someone else’s book, then your own: magnitudinally (made that word up, feel free to borrow it). Looking at Sarah’s book, my vision was 20/20. Huh, it all seemed so easy – this goes here, that goes there, boom – it’s perfect. And so, I found myself singing, ‘Waking up in Vegas’, to her in my mind. I mean, seriously, Shut up and put your money where your mouth is. Which is a much nicer way of saying, shit or get off the pot. And I’ve never been one to mince words.

Not to mention the fact that I was really singing it to myself. She was my beard.

You’re wondering about my book. So am I. When I got to the island, I started writing madly – having been composing in my head for days waiting for this moment of unfettered time. And then, in a typical moment of distraction, longing for escape from my productivity, I realized my internet connection would not work. Everyone else in the house was tapped in, but my computer stuck its virtual tongue out at me. I whinged for a few hours, and then I found total bliss – meaning that I surrendered. And for the first time in 3 1/2 years, I actually unplugged. Cold Turkey.

  • I did not surf the net.
  • I did not procrastinate.
  • I couldn’t send email (‘sides via my Blackberry which is beyond ungratifying)
  • I couldn’t skype fluidly.

Before long, I had no idea where my Blackberry was for hours at a time. Something that used to make me quiver with fear and now made me giddy and relieved.

The result was a settling into my body and a presence with myself and those around me that I’d forgotten was possible. The other result was that after that first day, I became entirely disinterested in my fiction, and more hyper-focused on my reality. To me, this means blog posts, this means the documentation and analysis of my life. And this sort of writing – what I’m doing right now, as luck would have it – is what rolls out of mind and onto the page so effortlessly.

I realized that the fiction feels forced. Always has, truth be told. Maybe that first burst feels ecstatic, but then it always drops away, and I feel like a little kid playing dress up in clothes that are far too fancy and uncomfortable for me. I can’t breathe, move or grow in them. More than that, I no longer feel real, genuine, authentic. I no longer feel like myself.

I realize now, upon re-entry, that I can escape my usual environs and that it will help me write – but I can never escape myself and my life – and that’s what I really want to write about.

Non-fiction, baby.

Image credit: Brymo

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Jennifer Halloran says:

    Wow, Julie — what a MAJOR discovery! You are so, so good at non-fiction writing, cutting through the crap and speaking with a pure, genuine voice.

    Who knows, maybe some day, your own version of “The Shipping News” will just come pouring out (effortlessly, of course). But until then, how liberating it must feel to discover that your ‘true calling’ is something you’re already doing extremely well, and loving it, to boot.

    Time now to celebrate with that typewriter cake, methinks…

  • Julie Roads says:

    Jennifer – THANK YOU for all of those kind words. I do deserve a frickin’ cake. I only wish I could read it with my fabulous readers…

  • --Deb says:

    That’s so funny–I have an absolute need for fiction. In the past, when I’d get stuck on my novel and couldn’t concentrate, the only thing I’d need to do to get going again was to stop READING fiction for a few days. Inevitably, my itch for fiction would kick in and, if I couldn’t get it anywhere else, I’d write it myself! I’m perfectly happy writing both fiction and non-fiction, but getting something completely different from both of them … go figure!

  • I can soooo relate to all of that! I have though written the non-fiction book – published next month – so I know I can go the distance. And I agree that doing the retreat thing is actually the only way – shut down everything and Just Do It.

    And, like you, I find it’s a breeze to help others assemble and reassemble their books, to edit their books, to bring ideas to their books, remove flights of fancy from their books. All easy-peasy. I never have any trouble writing about what’s happening out there either, in my life and the world in general, but sitting down and really engaging my imagination? Eeek.

    Now, though, the voices (not all of them mine!) keep nudging me more and more forcefully towards going the fiction route and – like you – I’m really unsure. I don’t doubt I can do it. The question is do I WANT to do it? Or will I – like you – discover that’s actually that’s not where my strengths lie after all?

    The journey begins shortly… Will keep you posted…

    Meanwhile, just you carry on doing what you’re doing – you do it sublimely well.

  • You amaze me. You do. You just do. You’re introspective and brave. You can also self-diagnose with what seems to be relative ease to the rest of us.

    Like you I find it relatively easy to jot down my train of thought, or to relate my daily life in my blogs. (And yes I’m talking about me but only because we struggle with so many of the same issues, and I’m hoping we can help each other.) But fiction writing. That’s what I want to do. I haven’t a clue how to do it, however.

    I’ve been reading up. It seems that so many successful fiction writers have been writing stories for as long as they can remember. Some completed novels before ten. They weren’t concerned with the craft or with wordsmithery or creative expression. They simply enjoyed telling stories. And they still do. I don’t think I ever did that. I use to play pretend often, role-play if you will, but I don’t think I can do that now. My Mom swears I used to have quite the imagination until I fell into the corporate world of grays and numbers and golfing, none of which interest me in the slightest. You say you felt like an impostor, that you were possibly relaying the wrong story. I think we all need to write down from the ugly stuff. The stuff we don’t want the people we know and love to read. I think there is where the good stuff hides. Flowers can spring from shit.

    I don’t consider myself a story teller. My Mom’s side of the family – now THEY are story tellers. They sit down, focus themselves into the correct mood, and gather just the right amount of energy from the room and the people around them. Then and only then do they look up and open their mouths and begin to relate and act out a story. Hmm… now that I think of it, they are also relating events of their lives rather than creating characters and entertaining us with fantasies of their own device. Hmmm.

    I think you can write fiction if you WANT to write fiction. As you said, it is a shoe that doesn’t fit. Maybe you don’t want to write fiction, but rather you just want to write. I do, however, want to write fiction. I don’t know how to do it, but I’m damn well going to learn. It will involve dusting off decades of imagination-stuffing, but I think it can be done. Yes, it hurts. It hurts just as bad as if I were to take my flabby body out onto the basketball court and participate the way I did when I was 15. But eventually it will come. I have to believe that wholeheartedly or it will in fact not come. Ever.

    You have found your medium: writing. That is no small task. There are all manner of forms of expression. At least you’ve whittled it down to one. Hmm… can one write a fiction novel based upon non-fiction? Why jes, jes one can. Or you can help others to organize their thoughts as you currently do. Or instruct as you currently do. Not everybody can do that, you know. It’s a talent and a skill just as worthy of your passion as fiction writing.

    Now we just need to figure out how to spend our days. What distractions are good and healthy and support our craft and our goals. Which detract from it. The best use of time.

    (Sorry for such a long and disjointed comment.)

  • Cari Noga says:

    Hi Julie – Belatedly reading this after you linked to it from your new blog. Wanted to tell you I can relate completely but came to the opposite conclusion. In August I gave up journalism column after realizing I never really wanted to write about that subject – but because it afforded me an easy byline and regular income, I did. Man, was it tough to keep the ego at bay and convince myself I was still a “real” writer even if I wasn’t racking up more bylines and checks. But I’ve now afforded myself the time and space to write the fiction I think I want to. It may yet turn out to be a Benneton skirt, to allude to another recent post of yours. But at least I don’t have an excuse anymore for not finding out.
    I’m really enjoying your posts.

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