Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Writing used to be my “safe place”

by Rick Blechta 

I’ve been around long enough to have collected a lot of writer friends. Over the course of the past several years — and this predates the Covid pandemic — many of us have experienced difficulty writing.

Writing requires major amounts of concentration and focus. You cannot craft good, readable prose if you’re going along word by word. A complete thought has to be clearly defined in a writer’s mind to get the words onto the page. I’m not suggesting that it comes out perfectly, but it has to at least be complete. 

If you’ve followed my posts for the past few years, I think it’s become pretty clear that I’m having difficulty writing. Hell, I’ve written a complete, full-length novel in 11 weeks. Right now I’m stumbling along working on a novel I began almost six years ago.


This past weekend I think I figured out what’s going wrong. There’s too much turmoil in the world. 

Sitting down to write whether it was in my home office, in a library, even on transit, I developed a level of concentration that allowed me to work no matter what was going on around me.

No more. That skill has completely abandoned me. Even when I was away for a few days recently and there was no one around to bother me, no internet, no email, and my cell turned off, I couldn’t manage more than a half-hour of good concentration. I was restless and distracted no matter how hard I tried. 

Outside thoughts, meaning outside of what I was trying to write, kept intruding into my brain. It was almost as if someone was firing a ray containing a newsfeed of distracting, well, BS as far as I was concerned. I could not shut it off.

It left me feeling frustrated and unhappy, two things that are not conducive to good writing.

In asking around, I’m finding that I’m not alone. One friend describes it as “the world is too present inside us.” I think that hits the nail squarely on the head.

What to do? The same friend suggested just sitting down to write and go where the muse takes you, even if it comes out more like a poor stream of consciousness. “Certainly don’t attempt anything with your WIP. You’re trying to clear your mind and get your focus back.

Writing used to be for me a way to shut out the world and focus on my own imaginary world, hang out with my invisible friends and share in their lives.

You know those newsfeeds like CNN or Fox News that are shown in waiting rooms or airports? That’s what it’s like inside my head.

“You have to learn how to shut that off,” said my good friend in a final bit of advice.

I answered, “Easier said than done, I think.”

“You have to keep trying. What else is there to do?”

She’s right.


Sybil Johnson said...

"The world is too present inside us" is a good description. I'm having trouble writing as well. I have managed to complete a couple projects (book and short story), but the book took way longer than it should have. Now, while I have several projects I'd like to pursue, I'm having trouble getting started. I'll get there eventually as I'm sure you will as well.

Donis Casey said...

I'm having exactly the same problem, Rick and Sybil. Can't concentrate, can hardly think straight. In fact, I'm wondering if I'm ever going to be able to complete anything again - I was complaining about my difficulty to a writer friend not long ago and she commented that it seemed I'd lost the joy of writing. I fear that's true, at least for the moment.

Sybil Johnson said...

I know what you mean. This week I decided to reorganize a bunch of things around the house. Maybe it will make my mind less cluttered.

Anna said...

Sybil, I think you're right about physical decluttering as an assist to mind clearing. I have found that to be true and helpful.

Tanya said...

Many people recommend meditation to help with focus and concentration, but so far all I can manage are a few deep breaths but not much more. Kudos to those who can do it.

One thing I am finding helpful is to lower my expectations re: productivity. When I stop beating myself up for what isn't done and try to focus on what I do accomplish, it helps me feel less negative about myself and the world in general. For now, if I can work for one hour and then take a break, I try to feel good about whatever I did get accomplished in the hour. (Even though it often isn't as much as I used to get done in that same time span.) Then I go back and try for another hour. Some days I only manage two or so productive hours; other days I've been able to do four or five. In the current environment, taking small steps seems like all we can do.

The other thing I'm trying to do is to check email less frequently. I seem to get sucked into responding to emails and then that drains the energy I should be applying to real work. Sometimes the emails require a same-day response, but I'm trying to get better at skimming to see what's there and then deciding on a specific time in the day to respond vs. doing it right away.

Rick Blechta said...

Even though I feel bad for you, Sybil and Donis, I'm glad I'm not that alone in this.

Yes! It does feel as if I've lost the joy of writing. Whenever I force myself to sit down and just get on with it, the results are less than worthwhile and in almost all instances I just chuck it. That's really depressing.

And spot on with my mind feeling cluttered. I'm suffering from that too.

Anna, oddly my wife (who's feeling burnt out from teaching a year and a half online) and I have been going down to the basement lately and coming up with stuff to chuck or try to sell. Maybe this will help if we go after it with more vigour!

Thanks everyone for the comments. I do feel a bit better about what I'm experiencing.

Now I'm needed back in the kitchen to check on the crab apple jelly I'm making today. That always makes me happy!