Monday, November 14, 2011

A writer, a procrastinator, and a blogger walk into a bar . . .

It’s 3:35 pm, and the light is already fading on Hardy Pond, leaving the sky a muted stone gray with a hint of pale peach off near the tree line. I’ve been fighting with myself all day to get some writing done. One minute I’m writing. The next minute the procrastination devil is tap dancing on my shoulder arguing that Scrabble is actually a form of word research. If I just look up any unfamiliar words that the computer uses against me, the game can actually qualify as what Pricilla Long calls lexicon work--though I know perfectly well, she’d never buy that con.

And so it goes. I write for 15 minutes, and then all of a sudden, I get excited about pulling the laundry out of the dryer, unloading the dishwasher, and folding all the tea towels. I write for another five minutes--part of a writing exercise, and then I decide I’m hungry, and I can’t really be expected to write while famished, now can I? While in the kitchen, I make salads for tonight’s dinner and for the week, and finally urge myself back up the stairs. A quick check of my Google reader shows me that no one else has posted a blog in the last 20 minutes, so perhaps I’m not alone in my procrastination.

I write again, doing more exercises, but it’s like a bad day of running where my feet are always heavy, my breathing never slows, and have to talk myself into every last step. On days like these, I actually question why it is I say I want to write. All of us writers and wannabe writers, we have these images in our heads about writing. We picture ourselves at our desks with steaming cups of coffee and tea, diligently putting in hours in the morning and hours in the evening. We picture ourselves having written and basking in the glow of what we have created, which, of course, in daydreams is always top notch and popular.

But I have to remind myself that there are good days of writing--even for out-of-practice dilettantes like me. There are days when I feel energetic and focused on a project, when I can’t wait to get started--even days when I end up pleased with my progress. But today is sadly not one of those days, and in my current situation, I lack the writing structure I tend to rely on and crave. Being newly back in New England, I don't yet have a writing or a critique group. I'm not taking any classes--online or otherwise. I'm really on my own to figure it all out and have recently been gifted with a new abundance of time coupled with a dearth of funds, all of which actually seems to be scaring me, raising expectations. So I try to think back to when I’ve been in this sort of spot before--trying to draw analogies to help get myself unstuck. I think back to my first ski season at college. I had been skiing my whole life and ski racing for most of it. But that first season at college, we didn’t have a ski team coach yet. Instead of returning to the structure I was accustomed to, I was on my own to train--and early that season, I didn’t feel I was skiing well at all. Something just wasn’t working, and I wasn’t initiating or finishing my turns properly. The harder I fought, the worse it got. I cursed and fumed and my frustration built. I got angrier and angrier with myself, wondering how could I be struggling with something I had been doing my whole life. What was wrong with me? There were expectations, and I wasn’t meeting them.

Eventually, I decided to quit trying. I quit pushing and pressuring myself to instantly ski well--as if it were the last day of the previous season. I quit beating myself up for not doing as well as I thought I should be doing, and I quit getting more irate with every run. I quit all my nonsense--but I didn’t quit skiing. I decided to stop my own madness and tried having some fun. I went off by myself to ski some easy, groomed, intermediate runs on the west side of the mountain. I started not caring that I was skiing badly, not caring who might be watching me, not caring how my season was going to turn out, and I just decided to goof off. I sang songs in my head, and I popped off small bumps on the hill. I played. I relaxed. I sang. I jumped. I did stupid stuff, and I made myself laugh. I didn’t do anything that would have really resembled training as I envisioned it. I stopped taking it all so seriously--and of course, you know what happened. The more I relaxed, the more my skis started to feel like they were positioned correctly underneath me. I got my balance back, I started coaching myself gently through making the kind of arcing turns I knew I was capable of making, letting my skis roll up on edge naturally, and it all fell into place. Best of all, it started being fun again.

So maybe I just need to do the same thing with writing. Maybe I should stop pushing myself on a day when I’m just not feeling it, and maybe instead I should try to write some limericks, or some cheesy “three-people-walk-into-a-bar” jokes. Maybe I should write some really bad country song lyrics or some angry, angst-filled letters or some smut--just for fun. And even if it all stinks and I end I parroting all the classic cliches like “There once was I writer from Nantucket . . .”--perhaps I’ll eventually find my lighter side and in time my groove.

Do any of you have recommendations for getting yourselves out of a writing slump?


  1. I'm one of the crazy people who needs to write or I feel awful. To me, it's like breathing. I'd never choose laundry or cooking over writing. I think getting into a rhythm of writing every day is important. You can train your mind to be creative at certain times of day. And before you know it, you'll be counting the minutes until your writing time.

  2. Hi Khashway,
    Thanks for stopping by! Oh, it's true that I do feel better once I write, but sometimes--as I used to with skiing--I tend to put too much pressure on myself, and instead of helping, the pressure ends up blocking my creativity. But, I'm trying to establish more routine now, and I think you're right that I need to train myself to be creative at certain times of the day. I'll keep you posted, and I'll check out your blog too.
    All the best!

  3. I live in enough dust to make a man! The laundry is starting to pile above the sweat, I simply joined the ranks of writers who live in their pj's. Writing has claimed my soul and I now get jitters trying to figure out how to get a simple essay into print. Am such a newbie anyone who prints anything must be putting me on the dump pile. Bio?no chance of having a bio. Oh yes, my sears, I do know I have something to say and say it well. But I have no defense against "well, when did you ever say anything that got printed?" so I'm feeling frustrated, but not about the writing itself. That's grown in quantum leaps.

    So I am sooo glad you are writing again and blogging. I still write in Sheila's essay's like going to the gym to work out. Even I can measure my progress. But I can't seem to win a contest there either. Sigh. Teachers set a higher standard for their own, maybe.

    I'm going to Tucson conference in march but not to Istanbul in May. I am warring in my household but not getting any progress. All dollarscare allocated to the unstable future. Not ever had to think this way in my whole life.

  4. Hi Barbarann,
    Great to hear from you! I am writing some days in my pj's too! Don't worry about the print thing. It will happen; I'm sure. And, I am glad to hear that the writing is coming along in leaps. I am still following your blog, and I saw your essay and revision on Sheila's blog. Nice work!!!

    Good luck in Tucson, and do stay in touch. Maybe after the new year I will take another class, but in the meantime, I'm just going to keep plugging away. Even though I have off days from time to time, I know that it will get better as long as I stick with it

    All the best!!!

  5. I do attempt to write every day whether it's a blog post or just in my journal. 90% of what I write will likely never be seen by eyes other than my own, but I've been doing it so long (kept a journal since the fourth grade) that to not right would be like, well like not having the first morning cup of coffee. I couldn't start my day without it.

    So I guess my suggestion is just to keep at it.


  6. ummm...that should be 'to not write''s late :-)

  7. Hi Jane,
    Good news! Today was a much better, far more productive day of writing. I do try to write something nearly every day, but I am a very random, very sporadic person, so my habits shift a lot. I am trying, though, to be more structured about my writing and writing practice, and I am also trying to establish a set time of day for when I pick up my journal, but even that seems to shift back and forth from morning to night. Anyway, I am trying!!!!

    Thanks for stopping by again. I've worked my way through most of your posts and am really enjoying your blog. I definitely hope you keep writing, as I am enjoying the reading!

    All the best!

  8. Just remember, if you stop writing, then the terrorists have won! :)

    I personally think it's all about rhythm. I can go 40 days & nights without writing a single decent page, but the creative flailing almost always leads to a 2-3 day burst of good work.

    It's those few days that make the many other days all worth it. Sometimes you need to lose your way to find out where you're going.

  9. Hey Erik,
    Thanks for reading, Bro! And, I'll try not to let those terrorists win!!!

    I agree with you about the flailing. It may be rough, but things improve on the other side. So, I'm just going to keep on flailing!!!

    Have a super day, and hugs to you, Jules, and Zachary! :-)
    Talk with you soon!

  10. Great post! I can totally relate. There are days when I have to work really hard at being a writer--even though writing is like breathing for me.

    I think sometimes the expectations we place on ourselves is what smothers our creativity, but once we relax and let it rip, there's no stopping it.

    Keep up the great writing on your blog!

  11. Hi animprobablelife,
    Thank you so much for stopping by! You're so right. There are days when writing is so hard--and others when it feels effortless. But, I agree, I hurt myself with inflating my expectations and with not having patience with myself. It was true of skiing too; no one succeeds without failing too. I had a coach who used to say that if we didn't fall, we weren't trying hard enough.

    Anyway, I am enjoying reading your blog, so I am so glad that you've stopped by to read mine.

    All the best, and I'm hoping to get a new post up here very soon!



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