Sluggish with Shoulds

Today is one of those days in which good intentions flop belly-side up just as I’m congratulating myself on their vitality.

It’s one of those days in which prodding myself out of bed just as the sun melts upwards is no guarantee of productivity.

It’s one of those days in which I punish my brain by assigning it menial tasks… and then make messes of those as well. (The subsequent words I lob at myself aren’t pretty.)

It’s one of those days in which ants crawl around the inside of my skin and I think “If only…” without being able to finish that sentence.

It’s one of those days in which the minute hand slips through my fingers as I watch from miles under water.

It’s… well, you know, one of those days, and iced coffee and happy children and good news and TGIF vibes aren’t enough to reset the defensive sluggishness in my mind, not with the big bad shoulds still glaring through every window.

I’m the one who spoiled the view with shoulds, I know. In an effort to feel more productive and thus more fulfilled, to stop tiptoeing around the monster of inadequacy every night, and to finally make something of those dreams eternally cramped by time, I’ve been loading myself up with motivational strategies:
Cut out the unimportant and make every moment count.
Apply the 80-20 principle to every facet of your life.
Limit input, expand output.
Give yourself impossible deadlines to sharpen your focus.
Figure out what you want and only do what is absolutely necessary for achieving it.

And the result is that I’m frozen.

Attempting to regiment my creativity seems to  have drained its life force, and so I find myself sitting next to a half-empty coffee mug at 7 am, completely free of distractions and focusing with all my will on output, output, output, and… nada. Or I plant myself in my studio corner while the girls are playing quietly across the house, and I’m desperate to squeeze every drop out of the opportunity, but still… nothing. I would hit myself upside the head if I thought it would do any good. (I sometimes do it regardless.)

The energy just isn’t there—not when I’m feeling the pressure to perform on cue. The fun has fled, the magic’s evaporated, and I’m dredging the bottom of a concrete tank for words rather than plucking them from the air. But isn’t this a necessary part of life for serious writers? The need to type on a timeline under the weight of deadlines and conjure up magic anyway? I’ve watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk about a bajillion times, and I love what she would say to her genius as she worked on Eat, Pray, Love:

“Listen you, Thing, you and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant, that is not entirely my fault, right? ‘Cause you can see that I am putting everything I have into this, you know, I don’t have any more than this, so if you want it to be better, then you’ve got to show up and do your part of the deal, OK? But if you don’t do that, you know, the hell with it. I’m going to keep writing anyway because that’s my job, and I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.”

Only I want to know what happened after that, on days when her muse remained AWOL and other responsibilities clouded her mindwaves and the sentences already on her paper looked all wrong and no more would come. Is the stubbornness to keep showing up all it takes? Does my creative center just need awhile to get used to the shoulds and ticking timers staring it down?

Or are these expectations I’m putting on myself unnecessary and counterproductive? Am I sabotaging my instincts by trying to conform them to others’ techniques? Am I wasting this precious commodity of time by staring at an unfinished document trying to threaten a balking imagination into moving forward?

Or is this just one of those days and nothing more?

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  1. It IS just one of those days and nothing more. Take the weekend to relax and recharge!

  2. Because I am nowhere NEAR being a writer, I have no advice. However, I do know that everyone is different. And you need to follow your own path. I LOVE that TED talk. I watch it all the time. The part that I love the most is when she tells about the poet that has to catch the poem by the feet and pull it back to write it down. Inspiration is fickle. Even I have had that experience when words just come. Maybe not perfectly, but come all at once and it is hard to keep up and get it all down before, poof, they are gone. That is my best writing. There are other times when I bring my notebook outside and sit in the quiet and record my thoughts and try to put down something. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t.

    I just think you need to listen to your own self and follow what you need to do at that moment. Bethany, you are an exceptionally talented writer. You amaze me all the time. There is no need to worry. Whatever you are working on (is it a book??!) will be magnificent. And awesome. And wonderful. Just follow your heart. And do what it says. (Okay, I guess I do have some advice, but only take it if it makes sense to you. Otherwise disregard!)

    Sending you a great big hug and lots and lots of love!

  3. in which we make a new rule:
    all shoulds get murdered.

    seriously, the moment you decide to deliberately NOT do anything you feel you *should* do, they magically evaporate.

    {{hugs, love}}

  4. for my friend who loves words like i do: here ya go, some comic relief. 😉

  5. “It’s one of those days in which ants crawl around the inside of my skin and I think “If only…” without being able to finish that sentence.”

    that says it so. well.
    i truly dislike those days.
    and i agree with rain.
    shoulds need to be murdered on those days.

  6. Your posts about lack of inspiriation are always so inspired. Perhaps Orlaugh is more the practical joker than the delinquent lush she makes herself out to be.

  7. I’m on lunch break right now on my one day of the week when both children are out of the house and Mondays are full of should’s for me: I should be writing! I should be revising! I should be USING this time! Gah! Yes. The should paralyzes me too. When the words won’t come I work in the garden, or gather windfall plums for my father-in-law, or swing in the hammock with a book of poetry. Fill the well.

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