Hello, friends. This week, I felt tired. I was easily irritated. I slept poorly, drank too much coffee, and didn’t get enough fresh air. It follows that I also didn’t write as much of my novel as I’d hoped – and not for lack of honest effort.
In the past, I’d have been angry with myself. I’d have decided that I was a slacker and an impostor, and found ways to punish myself. It would not have occurred to me that a) I don’t treat others this way, and 2) I would not tolerate this treatment from someone else.
However, in a small but encouraging sign that change is always possible, I didn’t fall for the own-worst-enemy routine. Instead, I decided to be gentle with myself. I gave myself an hour off. And when that hour was over, I went to my writing shed and happily fixed a scene that had been troubling me for 2 days. It really works, not being a jerk to oneself.
In an effort to step back and protect myself in future rough weeks, I’ve made a checklist called, “I’m stuck/tired/lethargic/don’t feel up to writing, WAAAAAH.” As its name so subtly suggests, I’m aiming to train myself to refer to this list every time I feel stuck, etc.
When I mentioned my checklist on Twitter, I got an immediate response and fell into a really interesting private conversation with another writer, which made me think that I should share my list here. It’s geared to me as a self-employed writer, of course, but I think it’s much more broadly applicable.
So, on days or in moments when I feel stuck, etc., my goal is to step back and consider: why do I feel this way? Is it a) low mood, 2) mental fatigue, 3) physical fatigue, or 4) a combination (or something else entirely)?
Then, I have a list of strategies for each type of problem.
- Focus on self-care: go for a walk, practise yoga, or make a cup of tea and drink it while looking at the garden.
- Do a couple of small tasks that cost little energy and are satisfying to check off on a list (viva the bullet journal!).
- Organize something small; choose something that gives positive concrete results.
- Think about another aspect of my life that I could change, with satisfying results, and make a plan to take care of it.
- After an period of self-care, try slipping into a writing session. Even a couple of hundred words can be a triumph.
- Take a short break from work.
- Focus on something concrete and personal (NOT for the children!).
- Maybe do something domestic: garden, bake, tidy.
- After a break, turn towards the WIP: where am I in this project? What tweaks do I need to make? Make notes towards the next writing session. Maybe slip into that writing session, or maybe not.
- Rest, already!
- Read (secondary sources or go over the existing WIP).
- Think about an aspect of the WIP and where it’s going. Once the brain is humming, slip into a writing session.
If progress on the WIP remains elusive
- Work on a secondary project (mine is currently a picture book)
- Make a list of scenes, flesh out in the historical detail in the existing WIP
- Read secondary sources
- Figure out how to start the next writing session with a sense of momentum, inevitability – map out where I need to go
That’s my checklist-in-progress. It’s far from exhaustive, though, and I hope to build on it. What do you do, friends? How do you manage work slumps and protect yourself from your harshest critic?