This is the writer’s life: we carefully construct plans and schedules; we arrange and sacrifice. Everything from, “If I give up TV, I can write for two hours more each night,” to life-altering decisions like deciding to major in creative writing in college or putting off having children.
This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been bitten hard by the bedbugs of creative ambition. But no matter how carefully we orchestrate things, keeping those carefully chosen balls in the air, sooner or later life will throw an extra ball or two at us: health problems, unexpected expenses, moving …
Even happy changes like a promotion, marriage, or the publication of one of our books can temporarily knock us off balance. Next thing you know, your balls are on the floor, and there you stand, embarrassed and wondering if you have the guts to pick them up again.
I have just experienced this myself. Over the past year I’ve had a few health issues, helped shepherd our tourism business through a monster expansion, and prepared my book of short stories for publication. But as alert readers will have noticed, this is my first post here in about six months. Ouch. And the longer I went without writing something for the blog, the harder it got to get started again.
But here I am, slinking back onstage, sheepish smile on my face, hoping I haven’t forgotten how to do this particular act, and that someone’s still around to watch. And so, dear reader, if you ever find yourself in a similar position, I thought I’d share a few of my strategies for getting your balls up again.
- Forgive. Regardless of who or what made you drop your balls, let it go. Anger, guilt and embarrassment only serve if we can apply them as lessons for how to do things differently in the future. But sometimes there is no lesson. It just is what it is, and we need to move on.
- Reward Yourself. Our creative selves are like kids. They want unfettered play and experimentation. But our adult selves can get so rigid with fear and expectations about how things should (and might not) turn out that we can’t friggin’ relax and go for it. We forget the absolute bliss of that the creative process, even when we’ve experienced it hundreds of times before. So how do you get kids to do something they are reluctant to do, when you know they’re going to love it once they start? Trickery! Bribery! Ask your subconscious what it wants in exchange for getting back to work (preferably something that won’t get you arrested or bankrupted). Make a deal with the reluctant part of yourself, and stick to it. It’s a win-win for you … and you.
- Entertain Yourself. There is a time and a place for the inner critic, the inner marketer, and the inner editor. The first few days you get back to your creative project is probably not that time. Tell those folks thanks, but don’t call us, we’ll call you. Writing is hard work, so if you’re having trouble getting going, skip the boring parts. Explore, experiment, jump off cliffs, and have some fun with it.
- Break it down. Writing a novel seem impossible? Just write down an idea or an outline. Blog post too daunting? Just write a paragraph. Can’t write all day? Set a timer for fifteen minutes. Do whatever seems manageable to you, however small. Quiet that voice that says you’ll never get anywhere until you can take off a year and write in a garret in Paris. It’s a lie. Small bites add up to a meal, eventually. Any writing is better than no writing.
- Just do it. Yes, I know this is the slogan of a certain corporation, but it happens to be a brilliant strategy. When you know what needs to be done, don’t over-think it. Go. Sit. Write.
See there? I’ve taken my own advice and finished my first post in six months. I hardly cried at all, and now I owe myself a margarita and another half a dozen episodes of the Walking Dead marathon.
Cheers to all, and thanks for sticking around.