What It Takes

What It Takes

Praise for the Vuvuzela-Loving Steel Magnolia

By Callie Oettinger | Published: September 21, 2012

I don’t want to get up.

This thought hits me at about 4:30 AM every morning. It comes in the voice of the animated devil sitting on my shoulder, a la the old Tom and Jerry cartoons. The little angel on the other shoulder always responds by climbing into my head and yelling, get up, lazy—almost as annoying as a soccer stadium filled with four-year olds going to town with vuvuzelas.

For the most part, the devil doesn’t say much. I rarely hear his voice. He just sits around grinning. The angel is the vocal one because she’s the key motivator—and she’s a real steel magnolia, with a mouth that would cause a shipful of sailors on liberty to blush.

The devil is more like a marionette operator. He know which strings to pull, without saying a word. Next thing I know, I’ve spent an hour on Facebook. Huge timesuck that one.

It’s interesting, because the good guy is always portrayed as being nice, sweet, and a million other buzzwords. But this gal on my shoulder is a nut case.

Get out of bed. Don’t eat that cookie. You look like a slob. You’re  going to wear that?!?!

And those are some of the milder comments.

This week I started writing two different What It Takes columns. She kept yelling at me that they sucked. Yes, sucked—one of her favorite words.

I went to bed last night thinking about the one I was favoring. I’ve found that if I go to bed trying to sort out something I’m writing—no counting sheep—it will come to be by the time I wake up. I have the pad of paper on my nightstand, ready to go.

Last night I did dream about it. And then the alarm went off and I thought about how to finish off the piece and get it up this morning. And then that devil whispered go back to sleep for a few minutes. You’ll have time.

And I did.

And when I crawled out, I was in the same place I was last night, with two crap articles.

So this week’s What It Takes article isn’t an article. It’s a public apology for me not sorting out what I was going to say, and for letting that little whispering devil sit so fat and happy on my shoulder, while his opponent is blowing her vuvuzela-loving head off.

I owe a lot to her for sticking with me—but I’ll never let her take a vacation. I need her way too much.

Posted in What It Takes

8 Responses to “Praise for the Vuvuzela-Loving Steel Magnolia”

  1. September 21, 2012 at 11:36 am

    I’d say you have two devils and no angels.

    As much as I revere Steve’s books on writing, I’m working on my own version, something about peacefully courting the muse.

    I think there’s another school, one that doesn’t involve grabbing our ankles for cricket-bat wielders; one which involves more love and less guilt.

    My wife is kinder to me, gentler with me, more supportive and positive than the rest of the world combined. If softness doesn’t motivate, she should be my last go-to person, right? And yet, if I believed for an instant she needed me to waltz naked through fire, I’d already be picking out the music.

    Love is a better motivator than guilt. While we’re moving toward pleasure, away from pain, which direction are we facing, anyway?

    • September 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm

      When I was a kid in the school yard the teacher had a bell which she rang if she saw any errent / bad behaviour. It was loud and noisy and always brought us “Wild things” to a halt until the evil doer was brought to heel. I have a similar bell on my writing desk that I ring … out loud … on a regualr basis when I’m off task. It seems to help!

  2. September 21, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Callie,

    Thanks for sharing that, and no apologies needed — just sharing that has value.

    As for yourr dilemma I read this tip in the book Movies in the Mind and it seems to work for me — hope it helps:

    First, get out a yellow legal pad (or some other notebook) and write “The Critick’s Comments” in bold across the top of the page. Now, when you are writing and your inner critic says “that sucks” or “that’s the worst piece of cliche-ridden crap I’ve ever seen” put a little footnote-like mark next to the passage, then go over to your legal pad and write down your critic’s comments next to a matching footnote number. Then tell your inncer critic “Duly noted, now shut the *&^%$! up,” AND KEEP WRITING.

    When you’ve finished the piece, go back, look at the notes, and throw it back at your critic: “All right wise-ass, how do you propose to fix it?” Don’t expect a good answer, but the challenge will shut up your critic long enough for you to fix it.

    This seems to work well for me because it lets your critic do a critic’s job without stopping your writing. And, once acknowledge, the critic seems to pipe-off a whole lot less.

    Again, hope it helps.

  3. September 21, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Thanks for keeping it real!

  4. Paul C
    September 21, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    That’s okay. We won’t tell your boss.

  5. Basilis
    September 22, 2012 at 4:04 am

    Our daily routine-madness I suppose!

  6. September 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    I understand exactly how you feel!

  7. September 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    It’s really great when a writer has one of those moments where they create sub-par work and they don’t just put it out there for the sake of the deadline. When they have those slack-off moments and then half-heartedly wrap it up in some vague lesson, or spin it towards the positive, it just reeks of pander.

    “I slacked off, I didn’t create a thing, next time I’m hoping I don’t.” Simple message that should be put out there way more often.