OK, here's the problem: I don't write.
I'm a writer but I'm not writing. I guess that means I'm not really a writer. But I can't let that be true …. because …. I am a writer! I need it. And I will write. I will make myself write and I will write until I write something worth reading.
It has become too easy to find excuses. And eventually I don't even need to say or think the excuse. All I need to do is know there must be one … out there in the world or in here in my mind. It's there …. somewhere …. so I don't write.
Well, that's crap!
Even if I had an excellent excuse to not write I still should be writing every day. As long as the excuse does not rise to the quality of an actual “reason” why I “really” cannot write (unconscious, heart stopped beating, all my fingers got broken) …. then I should write. I have pledged to myself and to my therapist that I will write …. I will write every day. I may not publish to my blog everything I write but I will write.
That's part of my problem: I don't like to write stuff that isn't worth reading. My writing needs to at least be interesting to a few people. It needs to be well constructed. It needs to meet my standards for grammatical quality. It needs to sound like me.
I can't always meet those requirements.
Sometimes I just don't feel up to the effort of churning out something good. And if I'm tired, stressed, or anxious or if my mind is filled with fog …. well, I don't even want to try.
I've stopped writing …. and that's gotta stop!
Another writing problem I have is baffling and almost infuriating. From time to time I write a pretty good piece. Even before I let anyone else see it …. I know it's good, maybe great (at least for me). Often I know it's going to be quality work fairly early in the creative process. The ideas and the words are flowing …. it feels good. It feels almost too good. And the feeling continues throughout the writing and the editing. To know you are creating something worthy of being read, something that might affect a reader, even inspire them …. to know that is to know joy.
I've known that joy.
The work is finished. No more to do. It's time to move on to the next writing idea. But then, an ugly monster appears in my mind. It's the monster of doubt. I've written this good thing and now I begin to wonder if I can do it again.
Maybe it's gone …. that magical stuff I had with me when I was writing before. Maybe I'll never be able to write another piece of that quality, or of any quality. I read the work I'm proud of and can't remember how I came up with those words. Where did that phrase come from? How did I get those paragraphs to fit together so well?
I try to write.
And it's bad. It's terrible. It's uninspired. It makes no sense. It's not worth the effort. So I stop and delete the file …. don't want to leave evidence like that where someone might find and read it. A few days later I try again but with the same results. Pretty soon I'm looking for other ways to spend my time. Pretty soon days, weeks, months have gone by and I haven't written a thing.
I've stopped writing …. and that's gotta stop!
This is my first attempt at forcing my way past the obstacles my brain has thrown between my thoughts and my fingers. Moments ago I just sat down at the computer and started writing. I didn't even know what I was going to write about when I sat down. This idea came to me …. and it seemed to fit my situation perfectly.
So now I'm searching for thoughts in my mind that might guide me toward more writing in the future. I want that joy. I want to feel it as often as I can. I know I might not feel it very often but the feelingdoesn't come at all if I'm not writing. (and that's gotta stop)
There is a thing I know about writing …. an important thing I've known a long time. But this thing I know has not moved my fingers toward the keyboard as it should have. That joy I seek comes at the end of many lesser writer's joys where several pieces have been completed that were good enough to publish to my blog but not good enough to fill me up the way an especially well-written work fills me up with that longed-for feeling.
In other words, I have to write a lot before the good stuff comes.
So there's the real problem. I need to write good stuff to feel the good feelings but I can't write good stuff every time …. but when I write something good I start thinking I'll never be able to do that again and so I don't write …. but until I write the lesser stuff I can't get to the good stuff.
I know other writers occasionally have productivity problems. Mine are not unique. I suspect they aren't always directly connected to my issues with anxiety, depression and low mental energy. And I must not let myself find a “mental disease” scapegoat and decide to accept my “I've stopped writing” condition as the “new normal.”
Any “normal” absent joy is no normal worth having.
But there is a condition of my life I cannot seem to avoid. I remember myself as being a very productive person for extended periods during the years leading to my fiftieth birthday. If the job wasn't too stressful and my private life was absent the distractions of intimate relationships or social commitments…. (long phrase, had to take a breath there) my ability to be productive in a number of endeavors at work and in my many hobbies proved to be satisfying. I did not feel overloaded with too many things to do. I enjoyed them all and the more things I did, the more time I found to do them.
I've lost that …. that feeling, as long as I was in control of my time, I could accomplish more and more and never feel overwhelmed. No project at work scared me. In fact, most of my work time involved improvement projects outside the “normal” scope of my job description. That's where my creativity flourished. The job, itself, was important but usually boring. It was too easy. And I used my creative efforts to make my career more interesting. That took a lot of energy and a lot of work. But it made “working for a living” bearable – at least, some of the time.
Now I have far more control over my time. My expectations should skyrocket. And I guess, in a fanciful and unrealistic way, they did. My New Year Resolutions blog posts indicate what I expected I could handle. I haven't even come close. High expectations seem to backfire on me now. I fall behind my expectations. I contemplate all the things I want to do but can't …. and slowly reach a stall point. Faced with overwhelming opportunities to be creatively productive, my mind decides it can't handle the load and shuts down. I can do a little with my photography and a little with my music …. but writing is hard work. It takes my full concentration. It needs lots of time and a fountain of clear thought. But the fountain dries up …. and the time is consumed by the important task of watching old TV shows on Amazon Prime.
That's the second pledge I made while at my therapist's office: no more TV in the daytime. Watching TV has been a distraction mechanism during times of anxiety. If I can get engrossed in an interesting series for a while, my anxiety will temporarily subside. It became a major habit for me following a recent health scare (on which I still haven't finished my blog article – that's next) and months flew by with almost no writing accomplished. The health issue is as resolved as it can be and I need to move on.
I'm sure you know that this article is supposed to be my writing kick-starter. I've worked on it across two days – got tired after an hour or so yesterday. I'll finish the draft today, edit tomorrow and publish Saturday …. at least, that's the plan (I don't think I'll be overwhelmed by that plan; I hope not).
I need to be smart enough to evaluate my current mental state and set my productivity expectations at a reasonable level. That's gonna be hard. I still want to think my brain can handle the same load it could when I was younger and mentally stronger.
I hope I can now accurately say, “Lessons learned.”
No more daytime TV
Set reasonable productivity expectations
After a well-written piece, keep writing …. even if the new work isn't good
Write every day
And if I miss a day …. don't try to make it up, just be sure to write the next day.
Early in the article I realized this piece might be interesting to some people but it will not be the quality of writing that fills me with pride or gives me extended moments of joy. It's sort of like intellectual grunt work. And I gotta do it. I gotta do a lot of it.
To get to the joy .... I'm gonna have to put in the “pre-joy” work.