I am not going to say my experience is that of every other writer out there, but first and foremost, can I get a little more shut the hell up on being accused of procrastination if I am not actually typing all the words onto the screen? Thank you.
Writing is strenuous work. Achieving the creative focus need to generate all the words is a herculean task in a world where instant interruptions come in the form of canines, children, spouses, friends, family, and social media. Guess what, only one of those has an off switch.
The first quarter of this year, I couldn’t find my focus with two hands and a flashlight. No matter how well intentioned or disciplined, I’d sit to write or I’d start cleaning (my go to when focus is lacking and dude, let me tell you how clean the house was), but the words wouldn’t come. Why?
Yes, I am sitting here miming shaking my fist at the sky, but you can’t see my actions. Why is a damn good question, one I didn’t really have an answer to until I was driving back from one of my conferences. The answer, it seemed, was exceptionally simple. A year ago, my uncle passed away. Yes, I went to the funeral. Yes, I moved events around, we flew over, we stayed with family, we reconnected, then we went back to London, ran around for a day to try and alleviate my daughter’s stress and I focused on a lot of my emotional attention on my mother and my daughter.
After all, my mother had just lost her brother. My daughter is still young and her emotional well being always takes precedence with me. Once we were home, it was a marathon of getting ready to go back to school, getting school started and of course, getting to the next book on my list.
Long story short, I was busy. Then came our vacation, then the holidays, and the back and forth. In January, my mother-in-law fell ill, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and my daughter was up to her eyeballs in rehearsals for her show not to mention all the work that came from being a Freshman in high school.
The stress kept piling on and I did what I always do, I kept shouldering it and pushing forward.
Now to the epiphany…during the drive, I was listening to a book on audio, and I don’t even remember which one, but one of the characters was saying something to the fact that no matter how fast or far she ran, she couldn’t escape herself.
The elusive answer to my lack of focus suddenly clanged through me. In all the months since my uncle passed, I hadn’t taken the time to let myself really grieve. Nor to really cope with all the other items in my life. I just kept piling them onto my back. I was still standing, but the burden was too much. I couldn’t walk.
Family, no matter how distant physically, is a vital part of us. Artists rely so much on their emotional foundations—good and bad—we can sometimes forget, that if we spend too long in the weeds, we can choke ourselves out.
I’ve always equated writing with a type of mental fitness. You have to exercise those muscles. Well you can also strain those muscles or force them into fatigue by working them when they aren’t healthy or ready. Understanding and accepting that part of my grief manifested in shutting off my creative outlets let me acknowledge the loss I still feel. A loss, I may always feel, and it is okay to feel that loss. I miss the man with the twinkle in his eye and the magical gift of always making me laugh.
Accepting the loss, accepting my feelings on the subject, and accepting myself and all the requisite flaws that entails opened the flood gates and the words poured out of me. So, with the best of intentions, let me remind you:
Set aside time to write – Don’t just say you’re going to write a chapter today, say you’re going to write between 8 and 12. Don’t just say you’re going to write x number of words, say you are going to write x number of words between hour a and hour b, then don’t let anything tramp on that.
Set aside time for you – As a mom, I always put myself last. As a mom and author, well let’s just say I have more time for everyone and everything else than I do for me. So I carved time into my schedule that is just for me. It’s time when I exercise, meditate, or if I am in a mood, I just curl up and read a book. This isn’t being lazy it’s self care and it’s as important to my muse and to my well being as getting the words down.
Clear distractions – Sometimes, when we’re distracted there’s a damn good reason for it. Instead of accusing yourself of failure (a bad habit I know a lot of us have) when we can’t write or the words aren’t flowing, ask yourself, what’s wrong? What do I need? What has my attention? Then face it, cope with it. As I mentioned earlier, I clean, a lot, when I’m lacking in focus. The physical act of cleaning house also lets me clean out the mental and emotional cobwebs. It clears away the distractions.
Free write – Still feel stuck? Still not seeing the words coming? Take the idea you want to write and twist it. Change your PoV, change the action, change one element and see what happens. To be absolutely blunt, my subconscious is so much smarter than my conscious mind, when a scene doesn’t work—it’s usually my subconscious slamming on the brakes with the understanding that it sees something I can’t. Trust those instincts.
Trust yourself. And hey, writing is hard work, so cut yourself some slack and dig deeper not only into the words, but to yourself.