I’ve just hit a bit of a sticking point, for several reasons. Firstly, two countries (it’s a travel memoir) and 22,000 words into my second draft, I’m losing confidence in my writing, my hope that anyone will ever publish/read/care about it.
The other is more external. Back in January, I entertained the vain hope that I would be spending at least some of the Easter holidays with family and friends in the UK. Even if we were only sitting outside. Alas, it is not to be. Seeing as I now live in France, I am entering yet another lockdown (this will be my fourth) and holing up at my in-laws. The same place I was for three months last year. So it’s hard to feel like I have a sense of forward momentum when I am most literally back exactly where I was last year.
Sometimes it’s hard to push through. Be it self-doubt, external pressures or just lack of motivation, writing and other creative pursuits can be all too easy to give up.
Here are my suggestions for pushing through when it gets really tough.
1. Celebrate the Wins, However Small
I’ve been ripping along at a jolly old pace in terms of word count the last few weeks. Today, it was a measly 400 words. But instead of feeling like a failure, I’m remembering that this is a small part of what will be a whole book. I can reframe it. Rather than being less than 500, I can say that it’s almost half of 1000! I put the exact number into my lovely word counter and saw the weekly total edge up, just a little bit.
I also read this rather lovely article from Out Of Office (an awesome weekly newsletter for self-employed women by Lizzy Denning) about celebrating wins. It suggests doing something physical when you achieve something. An air grab, a little dance. This morning I smiled at myself in the mirror and congratulated myself on the words I wrote in March. Out loud. At the time I felt silly, but it definitely lifted my spirits. Write a post-it and stick it somewhere noticeable, make a drink or a food you love. When the going is tough, you need to magnify any steps in the right direction.
2. Share Your Woes
I would much rather be sitting in a café moaning about my lack of progress. Or even walking in a park holding a cardboard coffee cup. Since all of those things are denied to me, I’m going to send a flurry of grumpy WhatsApp messages while drinking coffee at my desk. Trust me, it’s already helped.
It seems obvious to say that sharing things makes it easier, but it really does. I’ve cultivated a lovely set of writer contacts through Twitter that always provide sympathetic replies when the going gets tough. In fact, this is why I’m setting up a Facebook group to go with my workshops. As of the 14th April, anyone who signs up for a workshop (and I’ll backdate it!) will get an invitation. We can talk about our progress, our failures, anything we like, in a lovely Scribbling community.
If you’re feeling brave, actually talk to someone. This article relating neuroscience to focusing on difficult things says that talking about completely unrelated things (the equivalent of by-the-microwave conversation at work) can actually help you get back to what you’re doing. If anyone I know gets a random call to discuss the weather at 11am next week, you’ll know why.
3. Get Inspired Elsewhere
If the thing you want to do really isn’t happening, there’s no point in sitting there and forcing it. Instead, try to set off some creative sparks in other ways. Last year when I despaired of ever writing again I painted an image for each month and made a creativity calendar. It’s so nice to have something I actually ‘made’ hanging by my desk.
Sometimes it could be small or passive. Reading something you’ve been putting off for ages takes your brain in new directions and might mean you find your way back to the project you lost sight of in the first place. I often find non-fiction books are particularly helpful as I get absorbed in the facts of it all and spend less time worrying about how lovely the prose is compared to mine.
4. Give Yourself A Break
I tell myself to do this all the time but I find it so hard. I will stubbornly sit at the desk, watching the minutes tick by, knowing it would be better to go for a walk, dig around in my plant pots, do a puzzle, anything to take me away from what is refusing to happen. It’s harder when you have limited time. When I know there’s only an hour until I need to pick my daughter up, or she might wake up from her nap soon. What a horrible waste, to spend that time having a break!
I recently came across the phrase ‘positive constructive daydreaming’ in this article about staying focused. All it really means is that you let your mind wander while doing some sort of low-key activity. Basically take a break. But doesn’t it sound scientific and lovely? Next time you’re feeling guilty about taking a break, tell people you’re engaging in ‘positive constructive daydreaming’ in order to make better progress. Better yet, tell yourself. Much harder to object to.
5. Wear It Lightly
We were discussing this exact thing at my Wednesday Scribbles workshop last week. It was based on food, and we wrote lots of lovely sensory things, but at the end we were chatting about our creative progress and how it was going. One of the creators (a composer) said that he knows he’ll be back up there again, thinking that what he’s written is lovely and feeling proud. And then down again.
It made me think – maybe this is just part of the creative life. I read somewhere that parents are both happier and more miserable than people that don’t have children. The peaks and troughs are just bigger. Maybe it’s the same for someone who creates. After all, the words you coax from your fingers become fragile poems, stories and books that you nurture enough to send out into the world.
So maybe we are both more joyous and despairing when we regularly turn ourselves to the task of making things. And, by knowing this, maybe you can wear the cloak of your misery just a little lighter, knowing that it will soon be taken from your shoulders.
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