I don't know about you but this summer, I didn't get nearly as much done as I had planned, mostly in the writing department. I had expected to finish revising my WIP (work in progress in writer's speak, but it can really apply to anything), draft some blog posts--IN ADVANCE, conduct research, network with other writers and accomplish a hundred other items on my to-do list.
But what happened was quite the opposite. I played with my kids, I hung out with my teacher-husband, and I read a dozen books. I balanced summertime easy-living with my part-time day job, and managed only the essentials. After a few weeks, I sat down to write and nothing. The well had run dry. Completely. I panicked and cried and consumed many summertime cocktails, for a good week. Then I put my fingers to the keyboard again. This time...IT WAS WORSE! So I took a different approach: denial. I tried to ignore that uncomfortable feeling, the nagging sense of a hidden block, because it's SUMMER! You can't have have anxiety during the summer. You have to RELAX!
So I forced myself to be calm. I was completely committed to enjoying my days at the beach with the family. But come evening, when I cyber-stalked all the writers I admire and witnessed their extreme productivity, I felt guilty for my underachievement. Pretty soon, I was overtaken by a crisis of confidence and I felt like a failure.
To my always-patient husband and my stalwart writing partner, I began to say things like, "Maybe this isn't the season for me to try this writing thing. Maybe when the kids are out of the house and I don't have SO MUCH STUFF to do. Maybe that's when I can pick it up again." I tried to convince myself that the sinking sadness in my gut was just part of the writing-dream-on-hold mourning process.
Holly totally understood. EVERY writer goes through this at one time or another. EVERY ONE. My husband thought something was really wrong with me and worried for my family. He had a more holistic approach. "You NEED to write. Because you're scary when you're not writing. Writing is like your Diet Coke addiction...it would be BAD for everyone if you quit." So I decided to let go of the guilt and panic, to lower my expectations and put the stalking on hold, and essentially wait the summer out. Really, what choice did I have?
A couple of weeks before the kids started school, when they were enrolled in prep classes and working on summer assignments and getting organized, when I'd finally stopped trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with the voices, I mean, characters, in my head, something happened. I wrote a list of blog post ideas down. And I even drafted one. Then I hid it because it could be an anomaly and I didn't want to get too excited. I read it the next day and made some revisions. Huh. When I took out my WIP, I made some easy edits there too. Then I added a few paragraphs. And outlined! And HOT DAMN! It all came back! Four blog posts drafted, two chapters revised, hope renewed!
The very best part of it all: I felt like ME! (My husband even noted that the borderline-crazy look in my eyes was gone.)
Today, looking back at the summer from the vantage point of a productive weekend writing retreat, I'm a little embarrassed that my resolve could be compromised so easily. I almost didn't have the guts to share this, but then I wouldn't be able to offer this take-away: With any project, whether we're thinking about going back to school or trying to switch careers or figuring out who we want to be now that all the kids are in school, we have to be three things. Flexible, forgiving and brave. We have to take things one day at a time, as long as the movement is forward. We can't let guilt for not doing enough have a louder voice than the drive. We must keep at it until we land at that ever-changing, often-blurry, imperfect finish line.
So next summer, when there's more sand in my toes than words added to my WIP, I won't panic. I'll simply remember that there's a time for leaning into the rhythm of the process and there's a time for taking a break.
(Photo courtesy of KeepCalmAndPosters.com and enhanced by the ABM app.)