He was, I mean, once upon a time when he started playing with dolls. He looked down on my team’s handiwork and said, “There’s something missing.” He told Michael and Lilith to go wander around and see if they could figure out what.
God saw Michael and Lilith walking around, said, “That’s it,” and there he went playing in the mud. Meanwhile, he told Michael and Lilith to name the animals and plants and oh by the way, do this thing right here so I can see how it all fits together.
Inspired by Sunita’s post, and having sat on the idea of doing my own productivity post, I decided to take up the challenge. Today I’m just going to talk about the most important piece of my productivity regimen.
The Vomit Book
My productivity keeper is a notebook. Not a simple one because why use a 20c spiral notebook I can get at Walmart during back-to-school month when I can get an expensive, hard-to-find notebook such as TOPS Journal Notetaking Planner (TOP63827)? It’s a version of the Cornell notetaking system.
Why do I call it my vomit book? Because I vomit the contents of my brain all over it. The single most productive thing I do is vomit my brain all over the pages of my notebook. I cannot describe how mentally jumbled I get and what a short period of time it takes, and I cannot overstate how much more productive I become once I’ve spent an hour (or 2 or 3) vomiting my jumbled thoughts.
I have depression and anxiety, and I am ADHD and bipolar. My mother was pretty regulated, so she became my coping mechanism growing up without drugs. I am not nearly that regulated (or more likely, what was important to her is not important to me). But the coping mechanisms I developed during my childhood and adolescence, thanks to my mom, got me limping through early adulthood before I found better living through chemistry.
I say this only to illustrate the most extreme of my vomiting: One day, I was so jumbled, I wrote “angry” over and over and over again. Two pages front and back. That was necessary so I could begin to put into words what I was angry about. That journaling session lasted nearly 4 hours, but it was 4 hours well spent.
I don’t vomit every day. I do it when my brain is too full, which could be every day or it could be every week or it could be six months from now.
I do use it for lists. In that period when I was so angry I had to write down my morning routine in a list (though it never changes): get up, shower, brush teeth, get breakfast, take meds. During that time, I also struggled with the everyday things like…making a doctor’s appointment.
I had to write down the list: pick up phone, dial the number, ask for an appointment, check the calendar, commit to the appointment. I tried twice to make the appointment, hung up when I got voice mail because the expected thing hadn’t happened, and THEN I changed my list: pick up phone, dial the number, select the right key to go to voice mail, leave a message. And yes, I had to write the message down and read it.
I realize now this was anxiety, for which I am now medicated. But that vomit book got me through some rough times. The rough times might change, but the vomit book is there for when I need to puke up a new pen’s worth of ink.
One day, on a school bus, the bus driver was driving a load of kids to school. They were at an intersection when the bus driver made a right turn on red. A kindergartner who just so happened to be sitting in the front said, “Hey! You can’t make a right turn on red!”
The bus driver then turned around, not focusing on the road, yelled, “I CAN MAKE A RIGHT TURN ON RED!”
So since he wasn’t looking, a city bus came speeding and hit the school bus. Everybody died. The end.
So I dug an old manuscript out wondering how/if I should rehab it. I wrote it so long ago, head-hopping was still acceptable, although on its way out. It’s 84,000 words. And there are no f-bombs. (IKR?!) The thing about headhopping, at least for me, is that I could tell a story in so many fewer words with it.
This story has a story.
Before this story’s book began, I’d written a massive under-the-bed novel (whose only remaining copy is in the hands of Tina McClelland Fontana, where it needs to remain). You know, the training novel we all write and then stick it under the bed to hide forever. Then I wrote what is now (massively rehabbed) Paso Doble (it has a story too), for Harlequin. After that, I wrote the first iteration (of four) of what is now Bryce and Giselle’s story.
Then, in 1993, I saw The Fugitive with Tommy Lee Jones about 22 times in the theater (I have no idea how many times I saw it, but it was MANY!). I caught a serious crush (on the actor? the character? who knows?) and I was shipping his character with the nurse (Julianne Moore) with whom he traded all of three(?) lines. (Romance novelist to the core, people, with a slavish devotion to May-December ones.)
That book got me 1) an almost-contract and 2) a literary agent.
This is how a contract becomes an almost, and it was the second time something freaky had happened on the way to getting published (Paso Doble was the first).
I got a call one evening from an editor with Harlequin. This is heart-attack-inducing, folks. She said she loved the book. She loved my voice. And then she said, and I quote, “I bought a book similar to this last month. Yours is much better. But I can’t sell it to my editorial board.”
The ego strokes were nice. I guess.
The literary agent was an interesting experience I will not relate, but she didn’t sell it either.
With 23 years between it and now, I read it, wondering if I could rehab it. After all, Bryce & Giselle, Paso Doble, and Black Jack didn’t turn out too shabbily and I had had no intention of rehabbing those. I had no idea how I’d feel about it, but Jack was the one who started me on this self-pub journey because I’d re-read it after so many years and realized it was good. He broke my heart.
You know what? The TLJ/JM book was pretty good. For back in the day, for the line I wrote it, it was really good. It’s a throwback cliché today, but not too shabby, especially for an early-career book. I wouldn’t be embarrassed now if it had gotten published way back then. And now I’d be tempted to release it as a novelty, an extra on the website, as retro/vintage/early Moriah (hello, Morning in Bed), but the problem isn’t the headhopping or lack of f-bomb. The problem is I’ve cannibalized this book so much it’s got more Swiss than cheese. Anybody who’s read my books will know exactly where and how I used which theme, marker, motif, and zinger.1
It was a nice, comfortable, not-embarrassing trip down memory lane and now it’s time for it to go into the permanent archive.
Good night, Rook. Good night, Frankie.
I dunno. Maybe I should throw it up on my website in all its Courier-New, double-spaced glory. ↩