Carleen Brice on Bad Habits: An Appreciation

Carleen Brice is the author of novels Orange Mint and Honey, which was optioned by the Lifetime Movie Network and was a #1 Denver Post best-seller and Essence Magazine Recommended Read, and Children of the Waters, which One World/Ballantine released in June 2009.

Carleen also wrote Lead Me Home: An African American’s Guide Through the Grief Journey (HarperCollins), and edited the anthology Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife (Beacon Press, Souvenir Press). Her book Walk Tall: Affirmations for People of Color sold over 100,000 copies and was in print with traditional publishers for ten years. It is now available from iUniverse.

In 2008, she won the Breakout Author of the Year Award from the African American Literary Awards Show and in 2009 she received the First Novel Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. She is a finalist for the 2009 Colorado Book Award in literary fiction, and is a two-time finalist for the Colorado Book Award in nonfiction (for Lead Me Home and Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number). She lives with her husband in Colorado where she gardens and works on her third novel, Calling Every Good Wish Home.

Carleen, thank you for stopping by The Debutante Ball during Bad Habits week!

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Bad Habits: An Appreciation

I was going to write about procrastination, the ultimate writer’s bad habit, but, you guessed it, I waited too late, and ran out of time to say anything interesting about the subject other than I do it. If you’re a writer, you probably do too. It’s why God invented Facebook … and Twitter … and People magazine, Harry Potter, movies on demand, gardens, and cuticles that need moisturizing. What was I talking about? Oh, that’s right: bad habits.

All kidding aside a bad habit I’d really like to address is worrying. Worrying does no good, but I come from a long line of worrying folks — on both sides. I worry about everything. Everything and nothing.

Right now, I’m worrying about what comes next for me. See, I’ve just had a huge success. My first novel Orange Mint and Honey was published two years ago. Last week, the movie version of it (“Sins of the Mother”) premiered on LMN, the Lifetime Movie Network. It did very well. Surpassed expectations. Yay, right? Everybody keeps asking me if I’m floating, soaring, walking on air. I should be. I guess I should be, but really what I’m doing? Planning what’s next. Writing what I hope will be my next novel. Talking to my agents about future projects. Strategizing. Already looking ahead to the next thing instead of just sitting with this thing for a moment.

That is a really bad habit that I’d like to change. It would be lovely to just enjoy for a minute, you know?

But I just had a thought. These bad habits of mine have gotten me, and yours you, this far. Maybe they’re not so bad. Think about it. Sure we procrastinate, but those of us who are published and who will be published do eventually get to our work. Maybe procrastination is just part of the process. We writers live in our heads, focused on the past, alternative versions of the present or wondering what the future might be like. We spend a lot of time with people who don’t exist. It is the opposite of mindfulness. Some would call it monkey mind. But dreaming turns out to be an excellent habit for a novelist.

Maybe worrying’s not so bad either. I mean getting my ducks in a row so that I can strike while this iron is hot (let’s play how many clichés can one writer cram into a sentence!) isn’t exactly a mistake. Maybe all my neuroses combine to create just what a writer needs to get her work done and just maybe succeed. It’s dawning on me: some bad habits just might be a gift.

So this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to try to enjoy the process of being a writer, all of it, the highs, the lows, the boring parts, the thrills, the obsessing, the doubting, the dreaming. I’m going to try to like myself, as Darcy says to Bridget Jones, “just as I am.” Hope you will too.

~Carleen Brice

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12 thoughts on “Carleen Brice on Bad Habits: An Appreciation

  1. I was just thinking about this! I daydream; I wander the internet; I read all kinds of publishing advice, intently. I honestly think that the time I spent imagining what rave reviews of my book would look like and how I would answer fawning interview questions was part of my process for figuring out, in large terms, what the book I was writing was about, and how I wanted it to be perceived. This gave me a lot of direction. It wasn’t writing, but it was part of my writing process.

    I’m doing a similar mental wandering now, while working on my second book, and I’m hopeful that this supposed procrastination has the same upside again.

    I read an article in the Economist some years ago about how keeping a messy office space full of “piles”, may actually be helpful to organized thinking and progress, rather than the detriment untidiness is always supposed to be, because it acts as kind of an adjunct, external brain, and keeps priorities visual.

    Yay, upsides to my supposedly worst habits!

    And Carleen, *congrats* on the recent huge success of your book’s TV movie! I can’t get Lifetime TV in England, but I hope to catch it in rerun sometime when I’m home in the States…

  2. Emily, OMG, by any chance do you have a copy of that article? My husband calls my office the Land of Pileasia! I need proof that piles work. LOL The movie is available online, but I don’t know if you can download it. I think they don’t allow Canada to download, but they may England?

  3. So, is the opposite of mindfulness mindlessness? No matter–I agree with all that you say. I have found too many time to count that when I’m doing everything but writing is when the best ideas come to me. When I allow my thoughts to truly meander, as I go about doing all my procrastinating, is when the best ideas have a chance to alight. I love it.

  4. I’m tired of beating up on myself for supposedly bad habits. Based on results, I’m doing just fine, so what difference does it make how I got this far? I mean this not just for writing, but for every area of life. I am overdosed with advice in parenting, healthy living, how to eat, how to dress, how to act…

    Makes me want to cover my ears and shout: “ENOUGH! I’M DOING MY BEST. LEAVE ME ALONE.”

    So, yay for your piles and supposed procrastination. Whatever it is, it’s WORKING.

    Kris

    (And now I’m off to the Y where I’ll do whatever exercise I want for however long makes sense, ignoring all fitness “experts.”)

  5. I just read this today and believe it applies: “That it will never come again is what makes life sweet.” __Emily Dickinson

    Doesn’t that encourage embracing everything?!

  6. Growing up I had a big wall poster that showed Brainy Smurf in The Thinker pose, in the middle of a very messy bedroom. It said “messiness is a sign of genius” or something to that effect. My workspace might look chaotic, but there’s order to those piles!

    I too fight the mindlessness/mindfulness battle. Writing is a satisfying mix of letting the mind wander before reeling it in and focusing.

    Thanks again to Carleen, and to all who’ve joined today’s discussion.

  7. I’m a big fan of Carleen’s and am so glad she’s here today! I’ve also never thought about the positive side to worrying – maybe it does help us in ways we don’t really understand. Now that you’ve given me permission to worry, I find myself less worried. Dang!

  8. Carleen–This is the article from The Economist about Clutter. You have to subscribe to read it in full, but I bet you can find a library back issue. It’s from the December 2002 issue.
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb5037/is_200212/ai_n18265410/?tag=content;col1

    And…here’s the book that it was apparently reviewing (I don’t recall that it was a book review, but hey! It says it was:
    http://www.amazon.com/Myth-Paperless-Office-Abigail-Sellen/dp/026269283X/

    Cheers!

  9. Omigoodness Carleen!

    I so needed this today. I can be an angst-filled mega-worrier, and I’m in the midst of one of those periods right about now. I should be writing, but instead I’m procrastinating and musing <—– my favorite descriptor of living in my head instead of working.

    Thank you for letting me know I'm not alone in my Bad Habits…

    🙂 Cheri

  10. Yea Carleen! I long ago embraced my bad habits and presto chango they became no longer bad. (The problem was convincing others to see it my way.) Then after several years of enjoying my new carefree state, I fell off my own high horse and found myself mired in worry and agita. Thanks for the reminder and for spreading the word…

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