Every writer is familiar with this phenomenon. We have a project we’re working on, and in general we are excited about it. We plug along and the words come and life is good. And then we hit a part of the story that is… not that. Maybe it’s the murky/muddy middle and we don’t know what the hell we’re doing. Maybe it’s a very emotional/exhausting scene and we’re avoiding it. Maybe we just had a realization that warrants extensive revision/rewrites and we’re avoiding THAT. Maybe it’s all three (been there done that).
Point is, that flow? It dams up and we’re suddenly doing anything but writing. It’s a joke online that a writer only has a clean house when there’s something wrong with the book. This is why discipline and habit are so important for writers. We can’t rely on inspiration or interest to keep us writing, because there WILL come a time when we want to do everything but write.
And we have to write anyway.
Discipline and habit. They’re like muscles. And, like the rest of me, they are wildly out of shape. It’s been a rough two years for my writing life. The blog can attest to that. All structure fled my life in the summer of 2019 and I’ve been grasping to wrestle some of it back ever since then. But you know, things haven’t been exactly what we’d call “stable” since March 2020. And as an ADHDer, it feels almost defeatist to make a plan I KNOW will have to change.
So, I’m floundering a little bit. But that’s okay. Because there is a silver-lining here. The “other side” of this procrastination conversation. Because, yes, discipline and habit are the keys to finishing a book. For sure. But, sometimes, the key to solving that problem in the project? That feeling that something just isn’t working and you’re not sure why?
The answer is rarely waiting for you at your desk, staring back out of your screen. The answer is lurking in your brain and it needs a certain amount of idleness to worm its way out. So, avoiding the work can actually help! In moderation, of course.
That’s the real struggle — balancing avoidance and habit. Am I avoiding the work because I need to do some dishes and listen to a podcast so my subconscious can work out an upcoming scene? Or am I avoiding it because I’m scared to write something so I’m going to watch Schitt’s Creek for the millionth time?
Just like with characters, we need to understand our own motivations to know when it’s okay to walk away from the work, and when it’s time to buckle down and get it done.
Today is supposed to be a buckle down sort of day. I have a Black Friday tradition of trying to write 10,000 words in one day. I’ve done it once and it melted my brain for about three days afterward. Lately I’ve written more like 5,000 words on Black Friday, which is still a total win (and is less exhausting). If I hit 5k today, I’ll be happy. If I can eke out more, I’ll be thrilled. We’ll see how it goes.
But I also know my brain and can feel the restlessness in my bones. I think there will be a fair amount of walking away from the desk today. So, here’s a list of things that I tend to gravitate toward when I’m avoiding writing.
- I’ll do dishes and listen to a podcast or audiobook. This is an avoidance task that also benefits my household and my brain since I usually listen to writing podcasts and nonfiction audiobooks. It tends to be my most productive avoidance task too, because my brain usually figures out the writing problem while running in the background
- Walk the dog
- Another mutually beneficial task. The dog and I get some exercise, I listen to a podcast, and my brain runs in the background to sort out the damn book. Sadly, this task isn’t always pleasant due to the Oregon tendency to rain all the goddamn time. But, we do our best.
- Read a book
- This is one that I’m usually okay with. Obviously I love to read, and reading fuels writing. So, it’s at least related. But, reading rarely provides my brain with the sort of idleness that allows for processing. I don’t usually come away from reading with the answer to my book’s perceived problems. But I do come away refreshed and maybe even inspired.
- Write a blog post
- Yep. I do this quite a bit actually. It seems silly, on the surface, to avoid one writing project for another, but it is all too common. What’s interesting is that it works a fair amount of the time. If I’m feeling sluggish in the morning or at the start of some dedicated writing time, busting out a blog post really helps get my brain in gear and ready to work. That’s why I used to start every writing day with a blog post. And it’s why Vonnegut always wrote 500 words or so on a piece of paper and then threw it away before getting to work on the actual project. Sometimes our brains just need to warm up.
- Play video games
- This one isn’t really beneficial at all. It’s actually a pretty big indicator that I’m avoiding something not because I need to process but because I’m scared or anxious or similarly in my own head too much. I’m getting in my own way and instead of facing that and dealing with it, I jump into a video game. That said, not every time I pick up a controller is avoidance behavior. I play a fair amount of video games for leisure, so I have to really monitor my feelings and motivations to make sure I’m having fun and not just ignoring my writing.
- Rewatch/Binge TV
- I’m not really big on watching much TV or movies. It’s a source of contention in my household because Trevor loves movies. So, if I’m watching something over and over again, or bingeing a long series, odds are I’m avoiding the book.
- Work on other projects
- This is a trap. I start working on a new book and suddenly there are new, shiny projects everywhere! Or, old projects that fell by the wayside FOREVER ago suddenly rear up and demand attention. I will say that I frequently indulge these interest-boosts, but I make stern rules about them. An old fanfic I never finished wants my attention? Not until I’ve met my word count goal for the day. That podcast episode needs editing? Not until I’ve spent X amount of time working on the book. I basically dangle carrots for myself to get work done when I really want to work on something else. And it works!
- Doom Scrolling
- Social media is fucking awful. And at times, wonderful. I’ve increasingly viewed it less as a virtual living space, and more as a tool. Which I think is much, much healthier. I don’t post much these days, and if I do it’s on twitter or instagram. My facebook is pretty quiet. My tumblr is mostly just reblogs of pretty fanart. Yes, I still have tumblr and I love it very much. Point is, I’m trying to be really cognizant of my time on social media. It’s so easy to lose hours of my day on my phone, with really nothing to show for it. So I’m trying to be better.
Honestly? There are probably a bunch of other avoidance tasks I do on the reg that I’m just not coming up with right now. I haven’t had any writing to avoid for a like a year now, so I’m out of practice. Maybe that means I’ll actually get more than 5k today! We’ll see…
Until later, Bloggarts.