I haven’t written in a week. Normally, I avoid the temptation to simply write about the emotions I’m having around the craft, because I believe it’s too easy and worldwide. “Oh, I struggle with the writing practice, just like a million other folks. Instead of actually writing about a topic that deserves attention, I will delve in to feelings and basically write about how terrible I feel.” But, I believe this is a challenge worth putting some words to.
Because a week has passed between my posts, I had a gnawing fear inside. What scared me wasn’t fear that I had lost the desire to write, not at all, because I felt the need to write every day. The fear stemmed from thoughts which pervaded my mind, ready to pounce on my self-doubt.
You’re all washed up, good year with trying!
Nobody cares you haven’t written in a week.
The flip side: Everybody on your mailing list feels cheated because you haven’t written in a week. You said you post twice a week!
You’re not really going to write about what you’re feeling are you? What a cop out!
These feelings, the work of the Resistance, are the never-ending fight inside us to keep our art inside. For me, it’s writing, and for you art may be painting, web design, a golf swing, speech, or teaching. You will go through a dip, which may last a week, a month, or longer. Give the voices no quarter, and follow through. The gift you give the world by creating your art is bigger than you. Keep going.
Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, relays the story of a friend, who goes through the following ritual every time she writes.
My friend will spend 10 minutes writing about what a horrible writer she is, how she is worthless, lacks creativity, and has no business writing anything for anyone. After 10 minutes, she prints the page, tears it up, and picks up where she left off in her book.
Take comfort in the fact many artists and creators behave this way. The gnawing self-doubt and panic doesn’t really leave. If you believe in powers greater than your own (and I do), then you may also believe some are at work against you. These evil powers (whatever you have named them) take great interest in lobbing bombs at you whenever possible, and constructing vast roadblocks in your mind and even your physical life.
For instance, have you ever noticed that in the moment you’ve decided to take action for your work, the phone rings? Or you remember the clothes really need to be washed? Or you need to pay a bill? This is no coincidence, and likely, if you have put those chores off for this long, they can wait another 30 minutes.
When I’m feeling stuck, or without ideas, or I simply haven’t written in a while, here are 9 steps I follow to break out of the rut. You may find them helpful as well. Please share your own ideas and practices in the comments, or hit me up on twitter. Thanks!
1. Turn my phone off
It only serves to distract me. I will inevitably receive a re-tweet which will drive me wild with happiness and keep me from writing.
2. Set a time limit
I recommend 15-30 minutes.
3. Write about anything
Mental state, what happened today, describe a happy day, painful day, a day in which “nothing” happened, the best/worst day of high school or college. Whatever, just write.
4. Save draft
Schedule publication for the next morning. If you want to include an apology to your readers, go ahead. I know I appreciate a little honesty, and have never unsubscribed from a list because the writer told me they were having a bit of a creative crisis. Now, if I continue to have a crisis, and am providing no value, please let me know ASAP.
5. Dive in to post ideas
I keep a running list of ideas on Evernote, ready to go when I need a post the next day. Since I’ve warmed up with a big pile of crap, I’m probably ready to create something decent.
6. Set another timer
I recommend 30-60 minute this time
7. Write on your topic
Write without filter, spell check, or worries. Simply get through it, as if you were told to run as far and fast as you can, and when you were totally spent there would be food and water at the end. Now is not the time for judgement, it’s time for writing.
Give myself a pat on the back. I’ve won a small victory. Revisit the topic in the morning.
9. Begin again
I hope you found this helpful, and if you are not a fan of my rambling post on feelings and writer’s block, my apologies. I would actually enjoy hearing from you, so I can know I shouldn’t get away with this self-indulgent writing. This post has been largely about me, which is a total no-no in relationship blogging, but I do believe this is a problem that afflicts most people. Again, please let me know if I’m wrong, and I will keep it to myself next time. Thanks for reading, I appreciate every one of you.