I failed #NaNoWriMo 2017. I know that it is now January 2018 and I’m a little late to announce this. I stopped writing about 19 days in, as I realized that there were simply too many gaps in the story I was trying to write. There was too much I didn’t know about my dad. And as I ran out of “stories about my dad” that I’ve told in anecdote form over the years and entered into emotional terrain, my urge to write ground to a halt. That emotional terrain is important, though, because that is the legacy my father left me.
When I set out to write about my childhood and my father, I knew I was going to run into uncomfortable emotional territory. Memoir writing makes this likely, but I really I think that most writing puts you in a position to second guess your work, or to worry about whether you are right or wrong or eloquent enough for the task you’ve set yourself. The act of putting something concrete down on the page is a dangerous act in many ways; it demands confidence or even a certain amount of audacity to lay claim to your version of the truth and put it out there for others to read and assess.
Questions and renewed grief got in the way of me wanting to write, or even feeling able to write. I wasn’t facing deadlines, though, which gave me more wiggle room than many writers have when they run into the messy middle of the writing process.
My path out of non-writing has involved scanning old pictures, talking to family members, and re-framing some of my old anecdotes. Other writers and creative people I know use similar methods to jump start their creative processes when they need to overcome a messy block or when they find themselves in an emotional spot that makes it difficult to continue. My partner in Thrive, PhD, Katy Peplin free writes, gets outside for a walk, and does something mindful like yoga or meditation. Many of my clients swear by free writing to both get their writing juices flowing at the beginning of a session and to get them through messy patches. These people know, along with Jerry Seinfeld and others, that simply writing something every day is a way to slowly work toward a finished project you can be proud of.
Another tactic I use when I don’t want to get pulled down into the swamp of the messy middle in my creative work is to start my day intentionally. Taking a few minutes to meditate, or to even gather my thoughts with my planner in hand and remind myself WHY I’ve chosen to do the things that are on my agenda, tends to result in days that are more productive than those where I just launch into the first thing on my mind.
The group writing program I’m hosting (Get Your Book Done), offers individual and group accountability, which is also a tried and true way to create and foster good habits. We check in as a whole group on Fridays and I email or text participants, as they request, during the week. We celebrate small wins and remind ourselves what it is about this project that excites us and look at how far we’ve come.
Most well-laid plans run into a “messy middle” at some point. That doesn’t mean it was a bad plan or that you aren’t meant to complete it. When you hit the spot where you lose steam, lose direction, or lose motivation, take a break and look elsewhere for a minute. What sort of support do you need to get you out of the mess and back into the work?