You’ve read the articles on writing and productivity. You know what they say, or rather, how they make you feel. If you’re not writing every day, however many thousands of words, you’re not a real writer. Plant butt in chair. Produce on demand, without exception. This is what you’ll have to do if you expect to survive as a professional writer.
I’ve read other articles that state the opposite, freeing you to create as your schedule permits, as long as you commit to your writing in some form on whatever timetable works best. Be regular. Be consistent. These are the keys to success.
I’d like to suggest something else. Something new and a little different. Instead of focusing on how much writing we’re getting done, how about we focus instead on how much writerly rest we’re allowing ourselves? I’m talking about balance, yin and yang style. Our lives, and especially our writing lives, are inseparable from the rest of our bodily well-being, in the most holistic sense.
As writers, we are intimately aware of the complex interplay that must take place between our minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits in order to produce our best material. If even one of these aspects of our lives takes a nosedive, the others quickly feel the added strain. If we’re not careful, our inspiration languishes and we may begin to straggle into the dreaded wasteland of burnout.
I’d like to suggest some ways to prevent this from happening. If we stay tuned to our body’s needs, both external and internal, our art never has to pay the price.
Physical lack: I don’t know about you, but when I’m exhausted, everything seems harder to do, including writing. I’ve read articles that say to write when you’re tired since your inhibitions won’t be as strong and you’ll be more likely to speak form the heart. That sounds plausible, but what usually happens for me is a muddled mess I have to struggle to untangle later.
Fix: Pick another artistic project to tackle, like sketching, gardening, scrapbooking, arranging flowers, or whatever activity gets your creative juices flowing. Maybe for you, that involves a walk in the woods, chatting with a writing buddy about your latest idea, or cracking open the cover of the next irresistible book on your to-be-read stack. Refresh yourself physically by taking yourself on an artist date, so to speak. Then come back to your writing when you’re more rested. Challenges feel less insurmountable when we’ve got a healthy amount of physical reserves to throw at them.
Mental lack: I get so frustrated with myself when, after hours of a good plotting session, I still don’t have what I would consider the best representation of my idea. I just spent hours, hours! at the drawing board. Why don’t these plans look any better? *tosses papers in the air* *huffs* This is taking too long! I must not be a real writer. Sound familiar? Yeah. You’re not alone.
Fix: News flash. Writing takes time. LOTS of time. More than you might think. This is normal. We are creating something out of nothing and although our final products will be streamlined and polished (we hope), the process to arriving there is not simple or linear. Extend grace to your writerly self and your creative mind. Tread gently. Accept that the process will take time and that this is normal and essential to producing good work.
Emotional lack: Recently I was all set to write a certain short story I’d been excited about and planning for weeks. The day came to put words to paper and I hit a brick wall. I couldn’t face the opening to the story any more than I could gouge out my own eye. Writer’s block? I didn’t want to think it, let alone breathe the term out loud. I moved onto another project and wrote something else that day instead.
Fix: Several days later, I realized what the problem was. I’d just finished writing the emotionally charged climax to my novel and, rather than giving myself a change of pace by starting a short story, I’d exchanged one emotional challenge for another one very similar to it. I’d bitten off more than I could chew emotionally. My psyche threw up a red flag as a result and pointed me in another direction. I wasn’t blocked, I was emotionally overwhelmed. My creative brain knew the difference and together, we blazed a trail forward. I kept writing. (I intend to finish that short story eventually.)
Spiritual lack: Sometimes life doesn’t cut us a break. It plays hardball. We get thrown zingers that knock us off our feet or demoralize us beyond what we can control or anticipate. I get that. I’ve been there, and I understand. Spiritual fears can be the hardest to detect in ourselves, and the most difficult to overcome, especially without outside help and counsel. They can even lead to us putting down our pens permanently.
Fix: Self-care is so important, guys. It’s vital, now more than ever as we face new and greater challenges in our society than many of us have known in our lifetimes. I can only speak for myself here, but meditation has played a HUGE part in my artistic recovery. It’s no coincidence that shortly after I started practicing yoga regularly, I wrote my first poem, then my first novel. Mindfulness isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a healing journey that will spill over into all areas of your life as you learn to silence the world’s clamor and tune into your inner voice.
I hope you find time this week to take the writerly rest your body craves, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. As in music, the rests are as important as the melody itself. Restoring ourselves is essential to staying productive and finding inspiration in the world around us.
Rest up and take care of yourselves!