Clawing a way out of the worst approach

My relationship with cleaning: It’s the same with my writing

This piece is not about how, when I try to push my nose to the writing grindstone, suddenly scrubbing mould off grout in the bathroom seems more exciting. It’s true, but nah.

This piece is about a trend I have noticed that connects my approach to housecleaning to my lack of progress on writing.

When this whole corona thing started, I wanted nothing more than to be locked at home. How much writing I’ll get done! I thought.

The “stay home” order came but the writing didn’t come.

This past weekend I thought would be my chance. Four full days of freedom from work (I’m so lucky to be able to work from home).

Instead, it was eminently more desirable to clean the storage room.

Yes, really. More appealing than doing what I claim I really want to do.

This storage room isn’t some small closet. No, it’s a room is the size of a small bedroom, half the height. It’s a handy place to throw anything you don’t know what to do with. And so I have done for ten years. It contained:

Boxes of my deceased sister's financial papers. Beautiful 50s linens for a someday art project. A suitcase holding the doll from my one-person play. Boxes of boxes. Book making tools. Boxes of writing that go back twenty years. Those kryptonite journals of my youth (too scared to go there). Chairs in need of fixing. 

Rather than write, I spent the entire weekend in there.

Now, this was not easy. Because of its height, I have to crouch when inside. Lugging this box out and that one back in. Rifling through papers. All hunched over or leaning down and very hard on this aging back.

The result of all this effort? More mess.

There is now a box of photographs I need to find a home for. Some clothing and household item donations need storing until those shops open again. And so on, et cetera.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to make a bird feeder using a cat litter plastic container and a piece of wood, so those thing are sitting behind me as I type.

Such is the state of my writing. I have multiple projects in the works. All of them in beginning stages. I get through a bit and then, I’m overwhelmed.

Finding focus. Staying there. Getting something accomplished. That would help me to set priorities. 

If I could sink my teeth into something, I might find my motivation. That is what I hope. That is what I’m working for. That is where I’m going.


Digging into relationships

If the relationships in your story are flat or confusing you, these acting analysis techniques can help to heighten the dynamics and unravel the tangles. They’re also great idea generators.

Part 1: Roles    |    Part 2: Goals     |     Part 3: Emotional bank accounts

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Relationships have labels like friend, wife, mother, sister. But since labels are factual, they tell us nothing about the health of the relationship. Is a marriage amazingly romantic or painfully toxic? The plain old label married doesn’t tell us.

To clarify, we need to look at what’s going on at an emotional level. That is, what they want from each other, expect from one another, and whether these wants and expectations are satisfied. Roles provide a short hand for doing that.

Roles come out of stories and our culture. They are icons as lofty as knight in shining armour or ordinary as helpdesk customer service rep.

If I want my boyfriend to be my knight in shining armour, I want him to come to my rescue. If he wants me to be his princess, he wants me to be a girly girl who sits there looking pretty and swoons at his manliness. This relationship has a chance of working out because what we want from each other is complimentary. But it isn’t very interesting, is it?

But if I want him to be my cheerleader and root for my legal career while he wants me to be his doting mother, who packs his lunch for him every day and tucks him in at night, we might have problems.

Finding a single, strong role allows the actor or writer to clarify what the character wants and expects from the other person.

In preparing a scene, an actor will complete the phrase: “I want Johnny to be my….”

  • Seducer
  • Play mate
  • Mentor
  • Love of my life
  • Equal…

The more descriptive and specific the role, the more useful it is in figuring out the relationship for that situation. Which brings me to another point.

As situations change, so do our wants and expectations.

At home in the kitchen I want my boyfriend to be my sous chef. When I have an appointment I expect him to be my chauffeur. Out at dinner I want him to be my entertainer.

Each character in a scene wants something from every other character in that scene, which can get complicated if taken too far. If I’m working on a scene with more than two people, I’ll focus on the important relationships and only consider the others if I have to. My aim is to understand the relationship I’m writing about, not to fill out a bureaucratic form, right?

When you’ve got some options figured out, you’re ready to put them into a scene to see how the sparks fly. That’s where goals come in.

Roles come from my fantabulous scene study instructor, Ron Singer. Goals courtesy of Michael Shurtleff’s Audition. Emotional bank accounts, business guru, Stephen Covey.