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?