When Your (My) Writing Practice Derails
True confession time: my writing practice derailed completely about two weeks ago.
I kept thinking that maybe my lack of motivation was a temporary blip. I thought that surely the next day, my missing writing mojo would return and I’d churn out page after page of brilliant prose. But it didn’t and I didn’t. Day after day, I looked at my article draft and made yet another excuse for how I was too busy to write or that I needed to “think a little more” about my topic or read another article.
I met with my writing group. Although I loudly lamented my “lack of progress” (insert dramatic sigh), I made no attempt to change my behavior. I secretly refused to even try to write for fifteen minutes because I just didn’t feel like writing. I chalked up my screeching halt to some kind of weird internal resistance to the forces of the universe and reasoned that I’d “write when the time was right” and the planets aligned correctly.
All of this is to say that I have hit the absolute bottom of my writing productivity. In the great arc of the creative process, I’m somewhere between, “This is shit.” and “I’m shit.” It is a dark and lonely place to be.
Although I know that the cure is to start writing again, I’m almost too embarrassed to try to start writing again after a few weeks of zero output. So, naturally, I decided to write a blog post about being in the writing doldrums.
Here’s what I’m doing to try to move forward.
Admit the problem.
It’s true what they say: denial is one hell of a drug. I’ve made a zillion poor excuses as to why I can’t possibly write. They are all poor excuses and only serve to make me feel justified in not writing.
I decided that the first step was to get a grip on the problem. Knowing myself as I do, I knew that there had to be something more to my refusal to write than just a lack of motivation. I investigated:
I don’t want to write.
Why don’t you want to write?
Because it’s hard.
Why is it hard?
Because I feel like I don’t know enough about my subject.
Why don’t you feel like you know enough about your topic?
Because I’m trying to write some new stuff and I’m scared.
Why are you scared to write about new stuff?
Because I’m afraid that I’m not a good enough writer.
Why are you afraid that you’re not a good enough writer?
Because I’m afraid that I’m not good enough.
And there you have it: the real crux of the problem. Your inner demons may whisper to you in their own destructive words, but mine always helpfully suggest that I’m not good enough to be writing and that I’m not a good enough person to be doing much of anything. I don’t want to move forward with my writing because I’m secretly afraid that what I’m writing isn’t good enough, by which I mean that I’m afraid that I’M not good enough. Admitting that this is the real problem has cleared the psychic smoke enough for me to see clearly what I need to do.
Engage in some positive self-talk.
If you’re anything like me, when your writing practice goes to shit, you’re excited to have yet another opportunity to bury yourself under a pile of regret, shame, and self-recrimination. Here’s the nice and edited version of my inner monologue:
“What’s wrong with you? I can’t believe you just quit writing. Do you want to be a quitter? How are you going to explain this to your clients? What kind of writer are you if you don’t write? Why did you pick this really hard topic to write about? Do you even know anything about this? Seriously, I just can’t even with you sometimes.”
To all of us, I beseech us: STAHP.
Although it may feel reasonable to berate ourselves for falling off the writing wagon, negative self-talk helps absolutely no one with anything. I’m trying to do some more positive self-talk. Even though I can still hear my negative internal monologue, I’m trying to be more aware of when I’m being mean to myself and be kinder. I try to make my monologue sound more like this:
“Blah blah blah negativity blah blah blah. STOP. Okay, so you don’t want to write. I know it’s hard and you don’t feel like it. It’s okay to feel like that sometimes. But maybe we can see what happens if you write for fifteen minutes or so?”
Take responsibility for your actions.
Blame gets you (by which I mean me) nowhere. It’s easy to blame every one and everything for our our failure to write: our partners, the weather, the dog. One thing I know about emotional grown-ups is that they take responsibility for their actions. No one forced me to stop writing. I chose not to write. The responsibility with writing rests solely with me.
Start anew with baby steps.
Fifteen minutes. Just fifteen minutes. We can all do fifteen minutes. Even I can do fifteen minutes.
Even tiny efforts towards crawling out of the abyss move us nearer to the exit.