It’s not you, it’s the situation.
Mucky swampy energy… and of course not doing your writing.
Those are signs that you’re about to get stuck and that finishing your dissertation or academic book or article is going to be seriously derailed.
And that’s the weird thing about it.
One of the most common things I have to remind writers who are seriously going about building a powerful writing habit is that there are natural ebbs and flows.
Sometimes when we just don’t have the feeling, even for a few days, it’s because something in us wants to shut down and rest, and probably we should just cooperate.
Writers need to be reminded of that.
And the really weird thing is we can’t necessarily know or judge when it’s just a system reboot.
For the most part my best advice is don’t be alarmed if you’re not feeling it. Sit it out. The winds will change. The more desperate you become about this, the longer the shut down will last.
(This is mostly directed, of course, to people who are serious about building a powerful writing habit and are on that road).
But sometimes you do know exactly what are the conditions that are leading to the doldrums.
Like right now, for me. I’m in my 5th day of coronavirus shelter-in-place, locked in the house with my children who will be out of school for, like… forever?
It’s early in the crisis, but I’m already feeling the magnetic draw of the couch and watching another 3 hours of CNN repeating the same breaking news.
I had trouble even sitting down to write this right now, and had to remind myself that others must feel the same way, and we need to externalize what’s happening.
In my case I’m pretty certain that it is these external conditions and not some internal and natural process that is starting to shut me down.
So I’m glad I caught it early. I want to be sure that you recognize it early too.
If you’re stuck in one place physically, like I am, and feel it’s getting hard to get into your writing…
Or it could be that you are on sabbatical…
Or for any reason you are at the moment a bit adrift without much forced structure to your day…
Then it’s time to get some structure and cut this off before it gets bad.
It’s not going to take much, but first you have to be sure not to succumb to certain assumptions:
Don’t think that because you have more unstructured time, you have to “produce more.” That may happen in the long run if you approach this wisely. But in the short run you are adjusting to a whole bunch of things that are changing and all kinds of uncertain and new circumstances.
Just having unstructured time, at first, can be a very disruptive circumstance!
Furthermore, as you may have seen during certain political elections, especially if you were in the U.S., there is a great deal of emotional wear and tear that may be happening now, and it’s possible you don’t notice it because it’s subtle and unpunctuated.
There are a lot of reasons to not set big and oppressive goals right now and a lot of reasons to set very small goals right now, including the goal of having writing play one small part in how you cope with the current situation.
Most of the time, most people push themselves too hard, or at least in the wrong ways, at least in their minds, thinking about the writing they should be doing.
Much better is to do modest amounts of work consistently and without really thinking about it too much.
But you do have to act in due time. And if the doldrums are settling in then now is the time to do something.
For the most part, the purpose of this blogpost is to just issue this word of warning:
If you are flagging, it’s perfectly natural given the situation.
And if you notice it early, it’s easy to turn it around.
So watch out for this, and take action!
Three Simple Things That Intervene Immediately.
First off, walk. Walking is the best exercise in relation to writing, bar none.
If not walking then some kind of exercise, preferably not too daunting. I’m lifting weights, like an inmate in a movie, but to be honest sometimes it feels daunting and with the amount of resistance I have right now, I’m not sure I’ll be able to sustain it. I might change that, because physical motion is key to writing out of the doldrums.
Second, commit to a small daily writing time and do it no matter what. Just make it a small amount of time, not too daunting. Yet you must experience the regularity and structure of this practice over time. It will heal you. If you can do this with online buddies to keep you accountable, that would solve two problems with one stone. Staying on track and staying in contact are two things that work together powerfully.
Third, clean things and tidy up, every day, and if possible, throw things away as you do. Discarding weight and clutter will lighten things up. If you experience resistance to this, like I do, then again just be modest about it. The more resistance you feel, the more you need to do it, and the less you’ll need to do to feel the effect. So go for it!
Do these three things. Start now. Start early, before it becomes a big problem.
Of course when I say “now” I mean at the start of this coronavirus crisis. If you are cooped up, the reason for your doldrums is because you are cooped up. It’s not you.
Nip it in the bud now.
If you are coming to this at some other time in history or under very different conditions, then the advice might be different.
It may be that your natural ebb and flow, wax and wane, is telling you that for now it’s time to turn off a bit and that’s nothing to struggle against. Especially if you’ve already committed to a program of building powerful writing momentum, you can afford to ease through such a period.
But if you are like me right now, it is time now to add some structure and work modestly within that structure, and best if you can do that with some group accountability. Let it prop you up.
Soon you’ll be soaring again and the next Netflix binge will more likely be, actually, just exactly what you need.