Each year in North Carolina, when the southern sun broils the air you breathe and the oversized mosquitoes swarm thick, that’s our cue to pack up every inch of space in our car and make the 800-mile trek back home to New York. We spend about six weeks staying with my in-laws. (It’s not as bad as it sounds. Really. I’m not just saying that because they might read this!) It’s a chance for Sweetboy to spend some time with his grandparents and get to know our home state. For me, it’s the gift of downtime, which gives me the luxury of spending long chunks of time writing. By the end of this past summer, I had written the first eighty pages in the rough draft of my novel. It was smooth sailing ahead to finish it! Or so this foolish rookie writer thought.
But the first day of school approached, and we could no longer linger in the toasted marshmallow sweetness of summer days. It was time to come back to Chapel Hill. Like any busy family, the calendar squares of autumn were quickly filling up. I’m a board member for the Chapel Hill Service League’s Christmas House — making the holidays brighter for over 800 local kids in Orange County and Chapel Hill/Carrboro schools. (We’re always looking for volunteers, so if you’re interested, look here!) But this autumn, the commitment was majorly time consuming. No time for writing.
Sweetboy had Christmas-week off from school, and we traveled back to my in-laws, where I spent a relaxing week reading in the toasty, crackling glow of their fireplace. I was reading Mrs. Sherlock Holmes — a fascinating true story about a woman who was a detective and defense lawyer for immigration and homicide cases in NYC at the beginning of the twentieth century. I came home after Christmas break feeling rested and ready to switch gears from nonprofit work to more personal pursuits. Time to get writing again!
But I was stuck. So stuck. Stuck like that time in 1984 I got pink Bubble Yum in my very long hair. (Whose bright idea was it to add peanut butter? That did not help!) I thought I could delve right back in where I had left off, but I hadn’t done any work on my novel since those long lazy days of late summer. The first third of the book had come easily. But this middle third is an awful slog. So many details and so much ground to cover. I know where the characters have been. I even know where they’re going! Isn’t that supposed to be the hard part? But how to get them there without getting bogged down in too many mundane details and slowing the pace? At the same time, I’m afraid to gloss over anything crucial.
What did I do? How did I deal with being stuck? Did I keep doggedly at it, unswerving in my determination to put words on paper and make tangible progress on my rough draft? Nope. I started a blog instead. A blog writing about the writing that I wasn’t doing.
Which brings me to this moment in the predawn hours of a Sunday morning. I’ve been awake since 2:45 a.m. I stayed in bed for an hour trying to wish myself back to sleep, without success. I resigned myself to get up and start writing. But now, here’s the thing I’m asking myself nearly two hours later, at 4:33 a.m.: Is writing a blog post becoming a new way for me to procrastinate when I should be working on my novel? Why am I writing this post about writing instead of actively writing?
Self-doubt and recrimination begin to creep through the dark. But, wait! The ink is flowing freely from my pen right now — this font that has been dry for a season. Anything that gets ink flowing into words and words into sentences, must be a positive, right? And it strikes me that over the summer, when I was feeling very productive, my efforts were actually divided. I was researching and brainstorming for a business idea I was tossing about. Brainstorming for a business idea is a type of creative thinking. Switching back and forth between the two tasks proved to be an effective way to prime my mind into a productive, creative state. I’d spend some time absorbed in some aspect of the business idea, then some time writing a scene. And neither task was draining because the shift always kept it fresh. If I felt a little stuck in a scene, I’d just switch to the other task.
Self-doubt has no place here this morning. I’m sure it will be back another day. But for now, I’m optimistic because I’m betting that blogging, for me, will have the same effect. Words are percolating and flowing like the rich coffee that I will desperately need a few hours from now. Blogging is a fresh task. Let’s see if this word-brew of a blog overflows into my novel writing.
What do you do to shrug off the funk and get things brewing again?