It’s been a slow start to my writing year. I was doing OK for the first few days, but then we hit a snag. The world sorta blew up, and watching that — plus the fallout afterward — took a toll on my writing. The wind out of my sails, I actually ended up with the longest streak of NO writing days that I’d had in over a year.
The why doesn’t matter that much; different things will impact different people differently. That’s normal, and to be expected. What bugs me might not bother you at all, and vice versa. We all react to things based on our personal values and past experiences.
No, the point isn’t the why (and I definitely don’t want this to be a post about politics, so please understand that I will monitor comments to that effect). This sort of thing happens to most writers and, indeed, most creative people in general.
Life sometimes throws us curve balls that knock us off course.
Dean Wesley Smith calls these ‘life rolls’. His idea is that every so often, life hits you with something disruptive. Sometimes you can continue pushing ahead, keep working despite whatever the distraction or interruption might be. Other times it smacks us right between the eyes and knocks us down for a bit.
The first step for me when this sort of thing happens is to recognize it. It’s all too easy for me to start self-blaming if I have a couple of bad days where I’m not writing. I’ve called myself lazy, told myself that I wasn’t working hard enough, that I ought to just be able to get over whatever it is…you know the gig, right?
Spotting that the problem is coming from an external source instead of an internal one is a huge help for me. But from there, the next part is the hard one. See, I was a nurse before I was a writer, and I know I’m a terrible patient! I have a hard time sitting still long enough to heal up from injuries or recover from illness. It shouldn’t shock anyone that I also have a hard time giving myself a day or two off for life tossing me a curveball.
I’m getting better at it, though.
Permission To Rest
Did you know that psychologists have studied recreation, rest, and downtime and learned something very interesting? It doesn’t help us unless we’re really resting, and we can only really rest when we are feeling guilty about not doing something else.
What that means is that if we take a breather and feel guilty about doing it, we’re not actually getting much real value from the time off. Turns out, it’s important to intentionally give ourselves the time to take a break. That it’s not merely the rest that helps us, but the intention we put behind the rest that matters most.
That means taking intentional time off is the key to helping us recover well from whatever random crap has rolled our way.
I used to guilt myself over taking time off. What I’ve learned over the years is that this is extremely counter-productive. Not only am I not getting work done when I do that, but I’m also not really getting good value from the break, either!
Healing Takes Time
Think about mental exhaustion, stress, and overwork as being similar to a physical injury — because it is. Our brains are physical things, and we can put them under too much stress, injuring them in much the same way we can damage a muscle or bone through overwork.
Like a pulled muscle, a hurting mind takes time to heal. If we’ve had something bad or stressful happen, sometimes we can handle it and keep going (like a minor muscle strain) and sometimes it can put us down for the count for a bit (like a broken bone or major muscle injury would).
Whatever the particular scenario, assessing where we are in the moment and what we need to do to recover is crucial. I’m not precisely the poster child for being good at this sort of thing… I’ve gotten back into athletics too soon after an injury more times than I can easily count, for example.
But I’m trying to do better. So when life tossed me a few curves early this year, I took a step back. I assessed where I was, and then I gave myself permission to just breathe for a bit.
Then Get Back To Work
But always get back on the horse again as soon as you’re able, even if it’s just a little bit of work. My first days back to writing this month, I only wrote a couple thousand words (I often do two or three times that on a good work day). I eased back in, rather than waiting until I felt ready to kick out a six-thousand-word day.
Take the time you need, but remember: the words won’t write themselves!