Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I'm No Longer Speaking to Myself

No, we didn’t have a falling out. Me and myself still get along pretty well, but we’ve decided we spend entirely too much time chatting and not enough time getting things done.

You’re thinking, gee – she went right off the deep end, didn’t she?

The truth is, I’ve been out of the shallow pool for a while now and I’ve been treading water trying to figure out how to keep myself afloat.

The problem I have with myself probably stems from being a writer. I always have dialogue running in my head – the ‘voices’ writers all talk about. When the dialogue is taking place between two characters, it’s wonderful, it’s the creative process at its best, but when the dialogue is taking place between me and myself, I’ve discovered it’s more destructive and time consuming than anything.

I started reading Quiet Your Mind by John Selby in an effort to figure out how to tune out my internal monologue and/or dialogue – the non-productive stuff that keeps me awake at night, that makes me stop in the middle of writing a scene and have a conversation with myself about something totally unrelated to what I’m doing. I’ve long thought of this ‘hashing of internal conflict’ as a form of therapy. When there’s no one else to rant to about something that’s bothering me, I rant to myself. The problem is, I do it constantly.

It’s like having an argument with someone, and whether you win or lose, you walk away angry, so hours or days later you come up with ‘and another thing...!’ to add to the argument that’s already over. You play out the conversation in your head and even if you win the new argument you still feel frustrated because you didn’t really have the conversation. Sometimes you’re mad at the person all over again even though you didn’t actually have a new argument.

I do that all the time. I run scenarios in my head, I fret, I worry, I rehearse things that might happen or that did happen but should have gone better. I waste a lot of time with it, too. I argued with my ex-boyfriend for something like six years after we broke up. Granted there was a lot of material to work through – being at opposite ends of the religious and philosophical spectrum can give you a lot to argue about and I did, in my head for years trying to work out all the things I should have said. None of it matters now of course, to him or to me, but I had to get it off my chest so I played out the argument as though it raged on and on and on.

To what end? None, I finally realized. I’m a writer, so I can’t leave anything unsaid. My thoughts go on continuously and they need a place to go. If they just stay in my head they knock on the walls of my brain and drive me nuts. Story ideas have a place to go, but long lost arguments, imaginary worst case scenarios, conflicts that have yet to arise, have no place to go but into the ether and the only way to get them there is to have the conversation in my head.

So John Selby says this has to stop and I think he’s right. It’s like shutting off a radio and trying to keep it off when you’re used to the constant noise, or refusing to answer a ringing phone because you know who’s calling. It’s a challenge, but so far, I think I’ve got something here. Yesterday was a very productive day that seemed not to whiz by leaving things half finished like most days. I finished the first draft of my Amber Quill Superhero story, I sent out a number of queries and received another agent request which I turned around immediately and sent out by snail mail. I worked on Hunter’s Mate for a little while in addition to getting the laundry done and straightening up the house. I didn’t even mind matching the socks last night – [socks are another story all together].

I haven’t shut off my creative voice, at least I hope I haven’t, but I’ve given myself permission to not have arguments in my head anymore, to ignore the impulse to rehash or pre-hash every scenario that could possibly happen. It’s not being prepared after all, it’s only obsessing needlessly.

As you can see, to make up for it, I spewed it here, but if it helps me quiet my mind and get more accomplished in a day that doesn’t include useless thoughts, then it’s worth it even if I’m someday unprepared for an argument that I could have rehearsed for and planned in advance.

Wish me luck and if you see myself, tell it I said hi and I’ll drop it an e-mail now and then.

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