A month without writing
Life happens. With it, your ability to put words into blank spaces is relegated to the deathbed. It stretches from an off day to an off month. Bouts of illnesses in the family (the non-threatening kind), the long school break for summer, the general atmosphere of laziness all around, and before you can acknowledge the gravity of your non-writing days, the rhythm dies. Your tapping fingers come to a halt at the keyboard. The momentum that had built painstakingly over the years vanishes without a trace or warning.
No, it does not come to a screeching halt, grating your senses awake, like you had hoped. It just happens. Slowly. Almost without notice, without acknowledgment.
“This is probably the longest I have gone without writing since I began this journey of self-expression.”
You know this to be true, yet it’s difficult to beat this inertia.
“Today’s the day I’ll hit publish. I promise. Today’s the day.”, you psyche yourself up every morning, but life gets in the way. Meals to cook, laundry to do, Lego towers to build, summer reading to finish…
No, the business of living cannot be paused. It cannot – it will not – wait for you to hit publish. So, day after day, you stare at a new blank page in moments stolen from life. And you will yourself to begin. Your out-of-practice fingers aware of the effort it takes, yet raring to get to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
So, you persist…
The beat is not quite right yet, but it will have to do. You start tinkering with the first semi-tangible thought that forms inside your head. “When and how did it all slip away? What did this month (of non-writing) do to me?”
The answer – in part expected, in part surprising – is a reminder of why pauses, even though uncomfortable and unwanted, matter in the greater scheme of things.
So, here’s what I’ve learned from my month-long pause from writing:
You forget how to reboot and self-doubt creeps in
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
– Stephen King
Writing is all about practice. When you stop writing for a period, you may find it difficult to hold a coherent thought in your head and commit it to paper (so to speak). You may end up dismissing every idea that pops up as non-sensical, and reject it before it had had the time to take shape. Unless you keep writing, you are not going to get any good at it. But since you are no good at it in the first place, you may find it difficult to let the world in on your private thoughts and witness your incompetence. It’s a vicious cycle to break.
You realize how therapeutic (or not) writing is to your sanity
When your writing is in sync with your truth and worldview, it can be therapeutic and calming. So, when you pause writing, you may find it difficult to keep your outlook and personal energy equation positive.
I have found that when I go a week or longer without writing, I tend to snap and yell more, have difficulty processing thoughts, and experience cranky moods often. There’s this chaos, this unrest in my headspace that refuses to abate.
Then again, this pause can also make you appreciate that the turmoil inside is two-pronged. First is the obvious one that I mentioned just now. That is, not writing can cause unrest because of the loss of it’s inherent therapeutic and meditative benefits.
But there is a second equally disruptive writing challenge too. That happens when you are writing but not about the things that move you, the things that speak to your core personality. This sneaky disturbance to your sanity is harder to identify. More so when superficially, you keep at it on a regular basis but are not writing for yourself and/or your ideal reader. A long pause in your writing days can help you dust off the cobwebs to this hidden problem and better align with your true writing voice (This happened to me when I took a break before new year).
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
– Stephen King
You recognize the inherent irony of page views and site traffic
If you are writing online, page views, site traffic, social shares etc. are always at the back of your mind (even when you don’t want them to be!). What if you pause for long and your page views take a nosedive never to return to normal?
Well, if you have been writing for a while now, you will know it already that traffic means squat if genuine connections, honest self-expression, and in-sync readership are things you are after. These things will not disappear just because you paused (And if they do, you may have to soul-search and rethink your craft).
So, the next time you are worried about page view dips, remember this. When you pause, there is a good chance that people who are genuinely interested in your writing will still visit and read your older posts. If the connection is authentic, they will not leave simply because you are having an off week or an off month. They will wait. (There is an equal chance that spammers would bombard your comments section with general feel-good statements about your “impeccable writing style”. But I am digressing here. This is a story for another time, maybe).
Anyway, to drive home the irony of page views, let me give you a recent fun fact from my blog: In April, I had published two blog posts. In May, at the time of writing this post, I had published a grand total of one blog post (that too, a guest post not written by me). As per Google Analytics, compared to April, I have 35% more page views in May and most of these page views are from posts I wrote a year ago. So, what does it mean? Yeah, like I said before, diddly-squat!
You realize that diversifying your portfolio is, in fact, much less complicated than you think
In the beginning of this year, I made a conscious choice of moving away from my chosen blogging niche to a more diverse, inspiration-based writing. Easier said than done!
Because once you start hoping for inspiration to strike from “wherever”, everything becomes fair game. From your morning roast to an eaglet’s first flight, everything’s worth thinking and writing about. Free will and choice, in turn, become a self-defeating bet, dealing in the currency of procrastination and excuse generation. Every time you start writing, you feel yourself getting pulled in ten different directions.
Don’t get me wrong. I love every single of the posts I have crafted this year. And whether anyone else reads them or not, I find myself going back to them every now and then (which in itself is a writing win). But diversification does not have to mean chaos and lack of focus if done right.
When you stop writing, you get the time to think about your many interests in a neutral and unhurried fashion. And a light bulb moment is bound to happen.
In my case, when I stopped worrying about producing “inspired” content and paused, I realized that just because I enjoy and pursue many different passions, does not mean that I have to be directionless. I don’t have to sit at my desk every morning hoping for one of my many muses to show up. Instead, I could organize my interests and come up with a plan to diversify, but with better clarity and non-procrastinator mindset.
So here’s what I did…
I shortlisted better-known publications for niches which are currently topping my curiosity and began pitching.
Many pitches were rejected (Rejection is part and parcel of a writer’s life, hello!) But then again, some were accepted too. And voila! Just like that, I am writing about things as diverse as WordPress, Coding, Parenting, Blogging, TV shows/Movies, Education etc.
Now, when I sit at my desk in the morning, I am not fumbling for subject matter or wondering what I should write about today. Instead, I have an assortment of pitches to focus on. If I am in a techie-mindset, I start writing about the WordPress topics in the list. If I am in pop-culture mindset, then I write about the topics related to TV shows/movies. Or if my son’s latest mischief has given me an idea for a fun story, parenting writing it is for the day. The fact that I have a pre-identified home for my writing (other than my blog) motivates me to concentrate and finish. Organized chaos is the best, don’t you think? 🙂
You find time to read and reflect on the bigger picture
Finally, when you stop writing, you get time to do the one thing that probably got you started in the first place. Read. Read about things that make you happy, things that inspire, surprise, shock, and worry you. Things that make you wonder about your place, your reason to be here.
The daily grind of writing can make you short-sighted. When you pause, you have time to take a step back and reflect on the bigger picture. What needs work, what looks beautiful, what shape is your art and your life taking. It gives you the roadmap from where you are to where you want to be. Of course, it is entirely a different matter whether you have what it takes to follow that roadmap or not. But still, it’s a start.
“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”
– Stephen King
Breaks are inevitable. Unwarranted, but inevitable. The idea is not to “survive” them. But to know when they happen – and they will in the course of living – how to enjoy and learn from them without feeling guilty. No matter for how long you disappear from your creative outlet, the good news is that if you love it enough, you will be back. Upgraded and guns-blazing 🙂