Vocation Stations

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Kathleen has a post for us this week on something I’d never heard of: vocation stations. The name is unfamiliar, but but having one makes for an incredibly useful writing tool.

In her book Refuse to Choose, Barbara Sher suggests setting up Vocation Stations: work stations for projects or interests where everything’s set up, ready for you to start the minute you sit down.

Having a Vocation Station, for me, means the hardest part of my writing process—the getting started part—has been stripped of the most troublesome, draining bits.

Getting started, for me, involves fending off easy distractions (things I want to do), fending off necessary distractions (housework I don’t want to do, making food although I’m tired from work), amassing what spoons I have left to do a hard thing I hate to do (block out said distractions, get set up, and do something selfish, i.e. write), all while protecting the mental energy surrounding the idea that’s spurred me to write in the first place—assuming what drove me to write wasn’t just, “I should write today.”

The distractions in my writing spot are all immediate and much more easily begun than writing. I wrote 200 words’ worth of distractions just within arms’ reach of that spot before cutting myself off—and my whole house is like that, and full of things populating my various To Do lists and buzzing around in my brain lest I forget them.

To start writing, which I do primarily by computer, I have to fight my awareness of all those things, many of which I want to do, and win. I have to then pick up my heavy laptop bag, reverse-tetris my laptop out of it, wake the computer up, pull up—or create and (gasp!) name (argh!)—the appropriate documents. Then I have to ignore my internal voice counting down my three remaining waking hours before I have to go to sleep for the day job tomorrow, listing all the things I still need to do before bed, and reminding me having four hours to write would be ideal, but require sleep deprivation, so if I write every day after work the way I want to, I’m going to feel awful all week and crash hard over the weekend.

Writing any project feels daunting with the deck stacked against it like that.

Starting wasn’t always so hard though.

My laptop and I used to be inseparable. I had an active, thriving life online, and lively online writer communities I kept up with on the blogging site LiveJournal (LJ). Not-so-coincidentally, I also wrote stories constantly, whenever the spirit moved me—and the spirit moved often. I was prolific while LJ thrived…and then friends started migrating away from the site and its new management, and I moved to a desert and got severely depressed, and my carpal tunnel symptoms worsened until I couldn’t type without hours of pain.

By the time life was under control and I could use my computer again, LJ was practically dead, my online friends had scattered, and I was years estranged from the Internet. To top it off, I wasn’t writing nearly as much as I used to, and couldn’t figure out how to re-create that productivity. I unburied old writing habits with moderate success, and joined online platforms hoping to find similar communities to what I’d lost—but when nothing recreated that old magic, I continued as I’d become: computing from my ever-present phone, laptop languishing in its satchel.

In October, however, some friends and I decided to move to Dreamwidth (DW) from LJ and try to rebuild the community we lost. It isn’t everyone, but it’s enough of us, that we think it’s worth a shot.

The second day on DW, I got onto my laptop to check my friends list. I felt more like playing a phone game and being mindless now that the workday was over, but I’d committed to our community, so I had to comment and be active, and the laptop was better for that than the phone.

I ended up writing for hours that night: 5.1k of the novel-in-progress, on top of checking DW and commenting and being engaged and encouraging, and cleaning out my Archive of Our Own (AO3) inbox.

I felt so accomplished! Sure, my body was tight from typing all day—at work and at home—but my mind felt active and happy, and so I began this post.

All of which brings me back to Vocation Stations.

Because I put myself in a situation where getting on my laptop when I got home felt necessary not just for myself, but for people I cared about, I unwittingly sat myself at my writing Vocation Station and was perfectly positioned when that novel scene wanted to come out.

Because that 5.1k? Was just going to be a few notes before checking DW and then playing a mindless match-3 mobile game before bed. Hours later, I felt more accomplished than I would have if I’d stuck with that plan—and I’m still proud of my decisions weeks later. My commitment to rebuilding my writing community on DW made me make choices when I got home that worked to get me writing better than any decision to Write When I Get Home ever has and probably ever will.

While I’m not yet as consistent as I’d like to be about choosing DW when I get home, I’ve found the outcome of choosing it consistent: I do more writing.

I write best in community, but what I realized that night was community doesn’t just motivate me to write—fostering it makes me position myself to write whenever the spirit moves me, even if the whim is whisper-soft and the commitment to that whisper is only supposed to be a sentence.

Thankfully, with Vocation Stations, a whisper of a whim is all it takes to begin.

P.S. If you are curious about me and what I write, my short story “The Faerie Tree” is out now in Lightspeed Magazine! You can read it for free here: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-faerie-tree/. If you’re still curious, “You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych” is free to read at Nightmare Magazine here: http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/will-always-family-triptych/. Both magazines are excellent and full of wonderful work. It’s worth purchasing issues if you can. Anyways, happy writing! ^_^

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