The act of not writing is just as important as writing. Never underestimate the importance of staring out of a window or going for a walk. All too often the knottiest story problems can only be untangled by getting away from the desk. If all else fails, try going to sleep and letting your subconscious do the heavy lifting. It’s amazing how often the resting mind can resolve a problem your active thoughts couldn’t fix. ~ David Bishop
These words of David Bishop crossed my desk yesterday as I was trying to come up with a new idea, something fresh to write about. I read them, and then looked at the clock.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
My fingers itched to type some brilliant words, (well, any words, if I’m being honest) but…..nothin’.
Instead of coming up with a new idea, I mostly just stared at the blinking cursor as the seconds ticked by, occasionally opting to scroll through social media.
We all know by now that scrolling through social media is not the optimal way to fuel your writing.
Anyway, as I contemplate what’s going on, I realize that I’ve been in a season of production for quite some time – I published two books this year (a short book on job loss and a poetry collection). The poetry book came out at the beginning of the month, so the last three weeks have been filled with interviews, guest blog posts, a book launch event, and finalizing and then co-leading a poetry retreat for 10 women. I’ve also been co-writing another manuscript for the last two years or so. (Aside: we just signed the contract for that one.) This is on top of working 40 hours a week as a health coach, being present with my family, and putting the garden to bed for the season.
In my defense, it felt manageable at the time.
However, today, as I sit looking at the list of things I just finished doing, it occurs to me that my resources are running low. I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel; running on fumes. The well is, in fact, nearly dry. I had another event on the calendar for later this week, but I’ve stepped out of that commitment. While it typically doesn’t feel good to back out of things, in reflection, I said yes to this one when I had a full charge (and apparently very little foresight into how stacking energy drains [like public speaking] together doesn’t jive very well with my personal constitution). Now that I’m running low on fuel, it feels more good than bad to change my yes to a no. It would be possible to power through and just do it, of course – sometimes that’s the best way forward. But I’m fairly confident that it isn’t this time.
A writing colleague of mine, Thomas Lloyd Qualls, writes, “the harder I try to make any of these things happen, the more I chase the fickle cats of progress or achievement or impact, the more I think I really need to do or be some thing, the more these things become water between my fingers.”
Instead of plugging myself in to a backup generator, I need to truly replenish the stores. Go dark for a little while. Take more walks and look out more windows without the intention of writing about those activities. In other words, spend a bit of time not pressuring myself to write new stuff (or to publicly present my work or facilitate groups around the craft of writing). At least for a little while.
Honoring what I actually need, instead of what I think I should do, tends to offer the restoration necessary to pick up the pen (or microphone or group roster ) another day. So, for the next week: Walking. Staring out windows. Filling the well. They say you can’t pour from an empty cup, and it’s true. (Except for, ah, blog posts about that very phenomenon – but that’s a rabbit hole for another day. Maybe in a few weeks, after I’ve done more walking and staring and less scrolling.)
If you need something similar, I invite you to join me. This doesn’t have to be a year long sabbatical. I’m going to take the next week or so to rest the parts of myself that have been working hard lately. Maybe you need an hour, maybe you need a month. Do what fits your life right now, and don’t apologize for taking the time you need to restore. Cultivate a resting mind, and see what problems that fixes.
3 thoughts on “Running on Fumes”
Thanks for the reminder. (And for the link back.) And I’m relieved to see you also have a tipping point! Here’s to more staring out the window…
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Good for you, Heidi. As you know, book promotion requires an almost entirely different energy and skill set than writing, and for many of us, it’s not our favorite activity. You had very little (none?) break between these two book releases, so no wonder your gauge is close to empty. You’re wise to create some downtime; everything (even the garden) will wait. Savor the walking, gazing, and many cups of tea.
Thanks, Iris 🙂 I intend to have many cups of tea in the days to come!