Writing Inertia: Did You Work on Your Dreams Today?

Photo by Oakley Foxtrot
Photo by Oakley Foxtrot

It’s been a long summer and the kids are just settling back into their nursery and school routines. I have yet to find my writing rhythm, the one where I feel no resistance, where I believe in myself and the work is a joy. More than a few days away from my desk and my creativity is sluggish, as if I am a musician who has failed to practice or an athlete who has been missing training. It is disconcerting to find that the creative side of my brain is hibernating, and only comes forth spluttering in fits and starts, unreliable and sad.

Trickier still is the trap door that is left open when my writing routine is interrupted. Doubts that visit so regularly that they have become boring. You know, those old demons: I’m not good enough; I will never be able to pay my bills with writing; I started too late. Or worse still, the excuses: I don’t have enough support; I don’t have enough time; no one cares about words. None of this is true, except that my fear of being ordinary is holding me back. That resistance and change are inextricable entwined.

Photo by Hartwig HKD
Photo by Hartwig KHD

The Trap of Inertia

Inertia is a thorny bedfellow. His guise is to make you feel comfortable and safe, but thorns lurk beneath his winning exterior. He’ll tell you that you’re fine as you are, to bunker down and stay within the same landscape, the same confines. But you might find that you just can’t escape the niggling feeling you are going nowhere. That’s when you know it’s time to act and seek growth. Once the comet is in motion, the hardest part is done. You just need to hold on.

Gratitude and Celebration

The journey of a writer is a continual one, and sometimes it is easy to lose sight of what we have already achieved. I’m a great advocate for writing down what makes you feel good: a beautiful sentence you have crafted; a perfect piece of dialogue; a poem or blog post complete; the offer of a collaboration; a comment about your work; a reader who has really engaged. When progress is slow, don’t erase your memory of how far you have come. Be gentle with yourself. Sometimes, you need a break and that means you will shine all the more brightly afterwards.

Photo by Trey Ratcliff
Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Taking Writing Too Seriously

When you feel passionately about something, it is easy to lose your sense of perspective and humour. That’s one of the reasons, for example, that my dad and I are good at pushing each other’s buttons when we talk politics. The same goes for writing. Taking our passions seriously is admirable. It allows us to prioritise them, be disciplined and improve. Taking things too seriously, however, can lead to excessive pressure resulting in burn out or blocks. Or they just might make you smelly (In Kafka’s short story A Hunger Artist, read to be an allegory, serious writers are advised not to take baths. “Serious writing comes from intense pain and suffering. Bathing is pure joy. Leave it for the happy and shiny.”)

While my words might be important to me, and I believe that communicating ideas is a beautiful calling, there is freedom in remembering that we are not saving lives here. There is freedom in restraining feelings of self-importance that sabotage our work. If you are creating anything at all, it is dangerous to care what others think. Have fun, distill the truths you find, create the best possible work you can, but throw all delusions of perfection and grandeur away. They will only limit you.

Ignoring your doubts

It’s easier said than done isn’t it? Do doubts and fear ever go away, or do the most successful people just learn to override them? One thing is clear. Over-thinking weakens us. Sometimes, the best approach is ignore fear and act anyway. In the case of writers, that means sit at your desk and feel your fingers glide over the keyboard. It means do the work and apply yourself to a routine until it feels natural again. It might mean setting yourself small targets or making yourself accountable to a writing partner. I don’t know about you but I’m happiest when I am productive, creating. Did you work on your dreams today?

8 thoughts on “Writing Inertia: Did You Work on Your Dreams Today?

  1. I think we all feel like that from time to time Nillu. Getting started is always difficult but just focus on that exhilarating feeling when you’re in full flow and the ideas are tumbling out of you so fast that you can’t get them down quick enough. I’m sure it will soon come back. :)

  2. Wonderful post, Nillu! I can relate to so much of this, and it’s so nice to hear about another writer’s struggles with the same things.

    One thing that helps me overcome self-doubt-based inertia is remembering my mantra, “I am on my own path.” This eliminates the sludge in my heart that has built up from comparing myself with other writers, and it reminds me that however messy and imperfect my writing and my writing career seem to me right now, I am on a path that is not yet over, and it’s a path that is totally unique to me. That frees me to just be myself, write what I want to write, forgive my lapses and imperfections, and return with renewed spirit to my paused writing projects.

    1. Sarrah, that’s the most helpful thing I could read in my current mindset. And you writing now makes me smile because I wrote a letter to you on Sunday, which is still sitting on our window sill waiting to be posted :). I’m going to copy this comment onto a post it and stick it by my desk. I’m not sure I’ve ever admitted to myself that I compare myself with other writers, but I recognise the emotion of the word ‘sludge’ and I think you’re right: this path is so individual and winding, it helps to reclaim it as our own unique journeys and treat ourselves kindly. Loads of love and thank you, n

      1. I’m so glad my words were helpful for you! Yes, I say “sludge” because it’s a really subtle kind of self-doubt that creeps in, and I only know it’s from comparing myself to other writers when I really pay attention to my thoughts. I do sometimes discover myself to be thinking things like, “I’m not good enough; my writing will never be good enough” and etc., but more often than that it’s actually envy of other writers’ successes/career paths that gets me down and causes me to subconsciously wonder if I should be doing something differently (for example, making my blog more market-driven, or deleting my blog altogether and focusing on writing novels, or re-branding myself as a nonfiction writer about some issue—and so on infinitely). Even hearing about the career paths of great, old writers can get me down—“if it was so easy for them, why isn’t it easy for me?” (But obviously, it wasn’t easy for many of them, and it helps to remember that.) But when I start subconsciously thinking that I should change my path in some particular way because that’s what has worked for someone else, that’s when I get slowed down into sludgy inertia. I’ve stopped being true to myself above all. Therefore, the way for me to get out of the sludge is to say, “Good for them and their success—but that’s not my path. I’m blazing a new trail here, and it might take a while, and other people might not get it, but I’ll get where I want to go eventually. I know I will.” That’s another thing I need—faith. I don’t care if it’s irrational; it’s essential for me to wholeheartedly believe that I will reach my dreams.

        As a related thing, I heard an analogy somewhere that stuck with me: I’ve started thinking of myself as a business, and I am every employee. I am the writer/worker, but I’m also the supervisor/boss/manager. (And you can extend the analogy even beyond that if you want, to “departments,” etc.) It turns out, being the manager of my writer-self is a harder and more important job than actually doing the writing! I do need to sit down and write, but the time I spend managing my mindset, whatever that may involve, is all necessary.

        Part of the trouble with all of this is that my writing appetite is so huge (and I think you might be similar to me in this way)—I cannot settle for writing just one type of thing. I need to do it all: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and pretty much everything else (I also like children’s writing, and songwriting, and I’d like to try my hand at play-writing…). I used to second-guess myself a lot as I switched from one genre to another (“Maybe THIS is my true calling…no wait, it’s THIS”…), but I’ve finally accepted that at least for right now, I must let myself write whatever I want to write. I still do like to have some structure (specific writing goals and such), but only as far as it serves my heart’s desires. That’s the best way for me to manage my writer-self.

        And as for listening to other writers’ advice, I am learning to be more conscious/mindful/self-aware when I’m taking it in, so I don’t lose myself by swerving onto someone else’s path. I may genuinely find someone’s advice helpful, but only when I synthesize it into my own path.

        (I guess the larger concept here is assertiveness, which is something I’ve been working toward having more of my whole adulthood; I grew up having basically zero assertiveness—I didn’t think my feelings mattered as much as other people’s, and all that sort of thing. Now I’ve begun claiming my selfhood, and that’s a huge deal when it comes to being a writer!)

        Sorry if I talked your ear off, and thanks for listening…it’s really good to talk about this!

        And I’m looking forward to your letter! :)

  3. Hello, Nillu. It is good to be visiting your blog again. ;-) “I have yet to find my writing rhythm, the one where I feel no resistance, where I believe in myself and the work is a joy.” To tell you God’s own truth, I don’t think I have ever found such a rhythm in the writing itself – though there is a point in the revising process which is close. I have just learned to chunk my work in ways that somehow keeps the overcritical perfectionist at bay. (Except when I run out of time. Then, I do the panic-and-freeze thing.) I took a course from a woman at the Loft – I’ve referred to her before, Rosanne Bane – who actually focuses on the brain chemistry behind creative resistance. You might find some of her posts useful.

    1. Hi Paula, I missed this comment. Still getting the hang of I am getting there, with the joy. I found it when I finished a short last week, but am back at square one now I’m returning to the novel. There is something to be said about training yourself to work on auto-pilot, let the sub-conscious take over, stopping over-thinking the words. That’s when I’m at my best. I’m not sure I could ever be joyful about revising :). I love that link you sent – the title of it is great. Will take a look.

      Reading some Wayne Dyer at the moment. Never read him before, but he’s been all over SM because he passed away recently. I’m attending a Jen Pastiloff yoga workshop this weekend and she recommends him. Neither his style nor content are my usual cup of tea – he’s at the more spiritual side of say Julia Cameron, but there is something to be send for intentions, and nurturing your own light. Mine gets lost from time to time, like most people, I expect. Sending love, n

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