On Being A Tugboat

July 28, 2020 § 81 Comments


By Kirsten Voris

I was going to let this anniversary go unacknowledged.

I must have known it was a big deal. I wrote it in my calendar. One year out. July 26th, the day I took the decision to sit down for a specific amount of time, on specific days every week, to write. No matter how I felt or what else was going on.

Guess what?

For one solid year I have been sitting down, for a specific amount of time, on specific days of the week to write.

I wasn’t going to mention it. But that’s just false modesty. And feeling shy about outing yourself is counterproductive when you’re in the business of writing personal essays.

You might be wondering how I did it.

I had some help. From the Tucson Writer’s Table. What we do, is write. For two hours. Together. At a table. Every Monday. After fifteen minutes of pre-work chitchat, there is no talking allowed. That’s it.

Up until COVID our companionable silences were held amidst the roar of a busy neighborhood restaurant. Now, we Zoom—to say hi and bye. In between, I write. I’m not sure what everyone else is doing. We keep our cameras off.

I have kept this Monday night date for almost 3 years. Without fail. Nothing interfered with Writer’s Table. Why, I wondered, couldn’t I duplicate this at home? Imagine, getting even more done.

But first, I needed a hanger for my office door.

I got stuck here for a while. Writing “do not disturb” on a piece of cardboard didn’t quite do justice to the commitment I was making to myself. Three weeks and a trip to Kinko’s later I had a laminated door hanger featuring my alter ego—the tugboat.

Tugboats are slow, and their pace is steady, no matter what they’re pulling along behind them. I’m slow and it’s okay. It’s all going to be okay. I can do this. I love my door hanger.

When it’s out, I’m never disturbed.

I’m never disturbed period, because I no longer try to write in the run-up to kitty feeding time.

As I moved into a less sporadic writing routine I could see how I’d undermined myself in the past by, for example, waiting to sit down until I was certain to be interrupted by a starving cat.

But there is a time of day when my personal alertness peak intersects with household quiet and that’s when I write. Even if I’d rather be doing something else.

My former habit was to be seized by inspiration, crank something out, over-edit, and stop. Until my writing partner shared some amazing thing he’d composed and asked, anything new from you?

I was episodically committed. I got used to not writing for ever longer periods until, eventually, I stopped jotting down the very thoughts that ignited these “seized by inspiration” cycles in the first place.

I’m not special. What I read in books about writing is also true for me. I have to be sitting down and doing the work, so I’m available when the story arrives.

And no, I’m not going to tell you how many hours a week I’ve added. But here’s what I think: the perfect time commitment is located midway between resentment and contentment.

I have hundreds of idea files on my computer. And a book draft. I used refer to these as “unfinished projects,” a phrase that fills me with shame and anxiety.

Today, there are no unfinished projects.

There is only what’s next.

This is new.

Because I am working steadily, I know I’ll get to the ideas and drafts that I want to finish. Eventually.

More importantly, there is always something next. Which I start while I’m still editing what came before. No more work gaps.

All of this has made me more confident and less fragile in the face of rejection. Which has also increased because, hello, I have more work to submit.

I could have scheduled writing years ago, instead of lurching between production and procrastination. But I was afraid.

Fear has helped me get to jobs on time, adhere to deadlines, remember promises I’ve made–to others. In fact, it keeps me perma-stressed, lest I forget something and cause disappointment or distress or inconvenience for another person.

And fear is what kept me from writing regularly. Fear of prioritizing myself.

By taking this scheduled time for me, I’d be less available. I’d be saying no to other people. Disappointing them. And I have. I’m here to tell you it’s possible to do that and not die.

In fact, I’m happier.

Now, I’ve had a taste of discipline. I can see that it will take even more discipline to write and edit one entire book. I’m in awe of you book-writing people.

And I’m in awe of me. In the past year I’ve written amazing stuff I can’t believe I came up with. I’ve written terrible stuff. I’ve felt really stoked to be writing all of it.

I don’t wish I was writing someone else’s story anymore.

Sitting down to write on a schedule has healed even this. I’m no longer comparing myself to writers who are writing, and publishing, the beautiful things I wish I had written. But didn’t. Because I was not yet committed to being a tugboat.

__________________________________________________

Kirsten Voris is a contributor to the forthcoming anthology Embodied Healing: Survivor and Facilitator Voices from the Practice of Trauma Sensitive Yoga (North Atlantic Books) and her essays have appeared in Sonora Review, Hippocampus, Superstition Review, and others. Follow her on Twitter @bubbleate.

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§ 81 Responses to On Being A Tugboat

  • Julie McGue says:

    Agreed. Scheduled writing time has eased the uncertainty of these times and pacified the ache in my soul. On the other side of this, we shall still write.

  • Michael Lewis says:

    Thanks for this wonderful, inspiring essay.

  • Jamal Said says:

    saidjamal638@gmil.com

    +255783506507

    On Tue, Jul 28, 2020, 14:28 BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog wrote:

    > Guest Blogger posted: “By Kirsten Voris I was going to let this > anniversary go unacknowledged. I must have known it was a big deal. I wrote > it in my calendar. One year out. July 26th, the day I took the decision to > sit down for a specific amount of time, on specific days ” >

  • dorothyrice says:

    I love this Kirsten! And I needed to read it right now. You give me inspiration to sit down and write, no matter what. Thanks so much!

  • Happy anniversary—tugboats can move faster and with more precision than the loads they pull. That’s why they exist. You proved all that, and “the perfect time commitment is located midway between resentment and contentment.”

    • Kirsten Voris says:

      Another tugboat fan!

      It’s easy to be a tug when you’re not collaborating with a hydroplane…
      This time alone is a gift, in some ways.

      Thanks for reading, Jan : )

  • bearcee says:

    Well, thank you! That was an inspiration. Just what I needed, especially the bit about not wishing you’d written someone else’s story, and about leaving no gaps between projects.

  • Bar Scott says:

    Thank you

  • Relax... says:

    Incredibly encouraging! Amen!

  • Kristen Paulson-Nguyen says:

    This was the perfect essay in every way. Thank you! Tugboat’s are amazing!

  • Reblogged this on the oracular beard and commented:
    Been tryyyyying to make me a schedule during this pandemic with all the ups and downs. This gives me some hope.

    • Kirsten Voris says:

      Hi Jared,

      Thanks for reblogging. I’m glad you’re feeling some hope!

      Scheduling myself with kind attention to other needs (for fun and rest) has been key for me. Rewarding myself (with fun stickers!) has also helped.

      Write on!

  • dkzody says:

    Always write your own story–I love it.

  • Wow! Simple, practical, and inspirational. Thank you. I feel so encouraged by your story.

  • mincs1 says:

    I, too, feel encouraged and inspired by your story. Happy anniversary and thanks for sharing!

  • Eilene Lyon says:

    This is such a wonderful, inspirational piece, Kristen. I hope I can find a group like yours sometime. I can’t seem to knuckle down and just put the pen to paper for stretches. When I do, sometimes it’s shite and sometimes I’m truly amazed. But it doesn’t happen by osmosis, eh?

    • Kirsten Voris says:

      The Tucson Table started as a result of a conversation at a writing workshop. The fact that we are there to work, not talk about or workshop our projects took a lot of fear away, for me.

      It’s low stress. You will find your people, Eilene!

      Kirsten

  • This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  • Thank you for sharing this post! I have just completed my 100th blog. Yet I only became consistent 6 months ago. Consistently is key and I agree we need that time to write without distractions. It’s been hard with 2 kids and a baby who always need my attention. However, I make sure to find time to write. Even if it’s in the middle of the night!

    • Kirsten Voris says:

      This in itself is inspiring, Azilde! Congratulations on your 100th blog post, against all odds…you’re doing it!

      Kirsten

  • Read it all. Wow, i also find myself in the same situation. Got a lot of drafts and ideas in my mind. I just need to have a steady pace and focus one at a time. Thanks for sharing!

  • I am impressed by your doggedness, your failures and high points, it motivates me to ride out all the disappointment and challenges I go through in my own writings. Kudos.

  • henhouselady says:

    Carving out a block of time to write is so productive. The trick for me was to get up early in the morning when the rest of the world was sleeping. I’ve been able to get long stretches of time without interruptions.

  • Great portrait of how to find what works for you/us. Will be keeping it in mind as I work to do the same! Thank you.

  • Hello, pleased to meet you. My favorite time of day to write is when I first get up. Mornings seem to be my most productive time. I looked over Tucson Writer’s Table finding it most interesting. Take care.

  • I am so glad, Kirsten that you did choose to honour this anniversary with your insightful essay! It is not rocket science, is it?
    During the pandemic and in spite of suffering from the constant pain I created my blog on 2nd April and have written at least 1 poem per day. On the first of June, I started my Daily Affirmations post and on July 1st I have added my Gratitude Journal post another daily post.
    Thank you for the Tug boat analogy, and also the perfect time to write is “halfway between resentment and contentment.
    Best regards
    Carolyn Crossley

  • richonhealth says:

    I needed to hear this today. I have fallen away from my personal writing practice because I’ve been buried in grad school writing assignments.
    It’s. All. My. Writing.
    I want to shift my thinking to embrace the “what is next” attitude rather than lament on what has not happened.
    I want my brain to stop coming up with a ready “because of…” excuse for not writing and focus on what is possible.
    I think my door sign may be a graphic image of your words.
    “The perfect time commitment is located midway between resentment and contentment”.
    Thank you for the inspiration!
    @richonhealth

  • Hope you don’t mind if I reboot this inspired bit of writing

  • Preetisingh says:

    Thanks. I learnt what a tugboat is from you today.

  • Amitbhat0912 says:

    Setting sun leaving a golden red glow on the waves that endorse the mighty ships…cruising to reach thy destiny, fanatically paddling, pushing it hard.

    Near the shore to amalgamate the perfect matrimony…setting the directions right despite the murmuring tug of war….the shadows are small, the chassis incomparable to what it struggles against, slow and steadily moving forward and guiding the mighty load…..small and slow…a tug boat. A representation of might and will.

    Whatever is slow and small is not always week or cowardice.

    Your short jotted liners are perfect match to a tug boat. Keep sailing and keep pulling along.

  • Thank you, I needed to add fuel to my tugboat of sorts and your story helped me find that energy . Also I had heard about the writers group here in Tucson and wondered about it during this time of change.

  • At the start of my writing journey, really useful to read. Big deep breath … and off we go.

  • Vidisha says:

    Waao!!! This is an achievement worth flaunting!!

  • Sound, Solid,*&* Profound!

  • That’s quite a inspiring essay Kirsten.

    Thank you for that!

  • Madeleine Zachria says:

    I totally needed to read this. Not only do I procrastinate as well, have my own category of unfinished projects, relations, processed emotions, thoughts, experiences- but, I do have a fear of rejection. Being an empath, I feel rejection at my core, in turn, I feel the, tightness another feels, when they’re rejected. The feeling of, “-f•ck, the search is not over. I either have to take on this task, or, I have to bend someone else’s will.” Putting them, in the predicament, of getting out of their own, comfortable, comfort zone.. I don’t know where I am going with this, other than, momentarily, I thought, “this is a long message… how much is left.” And I scrolled down to see I had covered a majority of your very important, inspirational experience… seeing I had completed more than I thought, and had so little left, I would’ve disappointed my sleepy self not following through- not completing this project… I don’t know.. you’ve healed a part of me.. I appreciate you, Tugboat 🖤
    I honor you and your will power, your grit, determination, and self-love.
    You, are, worthy.

  • “Rejection isn’t found in creativity or innovation nor productivity but exist in lack of confidence *&* procrastination *&* only the Imagination erase the feeling of Rejection.”_-Van Prince

  • In essential essence your post is precious-rare-priceless=keep writing. Why?=When you write every day you are ready and don’t have to get ready=well done is better than well said, meaning>never procrastinate but create<

  • It is time for poets and writers to have their positive writing to be respected beyond advertisement and money from advertisement. The site is free, but nothing compliment that freedom; because it is a lure to attract writers to sell them this, that, and the other except publish their worthy content, and for those who can afford the $ extras $$ great, but those who can’t not so great. Those who are poets and writers strive and drive to have their works published to make mankind happy and make some money to help themselves and the less fortunate, but where are the publishers and those to promote one’s work.

  • This is amazing. And a great story to pick up lessons

  • This is fantastic. As a writer myself, I’ve struggled with this. But after reading this, I probably won’t struggle with it as much now. This was exactly what I needed to hear (read).

  • Beautifully written. I particularly loved “…the perfect time commitment is located midway between resentment and contentment”.

  • Haifa .S says:

    This was very useful! Thanks for sharing it! 👏

  • fawzipp says:

    Many thanks to everyone who contributed with admiration or comment

  • […] Tugboats are slow, and their pace is steady, no matter what they’re pulling along behind them. […]

  • It is always a + to read top notch poetic content as this, and I look forward to reading your prose weaved into innovative make-sense interesting reading at a time when COVID-19 has so changed the nation cross cultures from normal to abnormal, and it is such posts as yours that give us hope to defeat Covid-19 and return to life as we once knew it without masks minus stress=*Keep Writing*

  • Jojo says:

    Congratulations on the one year!! It definitely takes a discipline to do something consistently for that long. And for two hours each time!? I thought you were going to say 15 minutes.

  • Thanks for sharing this, Kirsten. I could identify with so much of what you shared. I love your tug boat analogy. I too am a tug boat. I also love your perspective, how you appreciate the good and the bad writing and how nothing is ever unfinished. There is only what’s next. All the best on your onward journey. Olivia.

  • This is a great story.Story of self . A way for creating positive self image and confidence. I loved it.It would definitely inspire us.

  • Reblogged this on musingswithoutamuse and commented:
    Discipline…how much I need thee!

  • I’m so glad I found you. Thank you, you give me courage. I write because I’m inspired to. Without formal training, I just write. Always waiting for the inspiration. I must stop waiting.

    • I’ve always believed and practiced what you’ve written about here. I’ve never read this in a blog before. And you’ve expressed it beautifully. Nothing happens by itself. An inspired idea needs consistent follow up and follow through to fully manifest. Inspiration is two percent. The rest is sitting down and doing it.

  • You’re wonderful ❤️

  • Well done on completing a year. I did a year of doing a sketch every day. I missed about 15 days so I know how much effort it took you to do every single day. Well done 😀

  • Congratulations and thank you for sharing this. I myself always want to write but I don’t do it most of the times, this has made me think what mistakes I have made and how I can correct them.
    I am thankful to you for sharing and I will make sure I make a schedule that includes writing from now on.
    I just wanted to ask you that , sometimes I don’t know what to write like I have some thoughts but they are very vague and generic. I can’t figure out what to write about , should it be personal experience or something informing the society I always overthink it and eventually scrap the idea. It would be really helpful if you could give me a bit of advice over it.
    Thank you and once again congratulations.

  • SteelCaps2Uggs says:

    Thank you for sharing – I love the analogy.

  • Flower says:

    Thank you. Writing, taking classes, living out my faith, and being inspired by my husband (another writer- scholar), sustains me.

  • I love this so much. I completely relate, I write in brief inspired bursts which have been happening less and less. This essay is beautifully written and has some excellent advice. Thanks 👍

  • melinda says:

    Well done! Your piece offers me a clear understanding of what I need to do now. Just say “no” to others & carry no guilt! :-))

  • Theresa C Sampson says:

    Congratulations! I understand this entirely. At the moment I am up between 4 and 5am to ensure I get much needed writing time. Wonderful blog.

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