The older of my two dogs was very sick on Saturday. He spent the day lying on the concrete, whimpering, throwing up, and trying so hard to poop. We spent the day forcing fluids into him (via a red Solo cup, so at least he felt cool). And today he seemed to be back to normal again.
As part of my job, I do a lot of writing for other people. In fact, at the moment, I’m working with four or five clients. They depend on me to keep their content moving. Search engines like fresh content, and so frequently updated blogs/sites will tend to rank higher. I’m in no position to mess up anyone’s search engine optimization (and if I did, I’d be fired as a freelancer). So not doing my work and giving the excuse that I have writer’s block isn’t really acceptable.
Still, I sometimes sort of feel like it should be.
I recently got into watching Mad Men. Like… really into watching Mad Men. Hands down, easily my favorite show since LOST. I think it’s a must-see for anyone who works in advertising, sales, marketing, PR, creative, or …. pretty much any kind of communications position. It’s amazing. And funny. And I love the jazz music.
There was an episode I recently watched in which Don Draper makes the comment that creatives need to have room to be creative — even when they’re not. (Or something to that effect.) That really struck me and has stayed with me the past week or so as I’ve been struggling to get through my writing.
It’s true, though. When people seek creative services, they don’t always recognize that the juice can tap out. A few months ago I had to take a leave of absence from one of my regular clients (who was thankfully very understanding and told me I could begin again as soon as I was ready). I’d been blogging daily for her about topics that required a lot of research and at least an hour and a half of writing time. Then another hour recording and editing the podcast version. Every day. It was making me feel stressed with my other positions and I could actually feel myself running out of steam.
But back to my dog. Yesterday afternoon I stood on the patio trying to clean up his three enormous piles of vomit, and I noticed that he was hunkered down in the yard really just trying to get something out. It wasn’t happening, though, and after a few minutes he gave up. Apparently he went this morning (or so I hear).
I thought of this incident today when I sat down to work on some posts for another client. I needed to write about content marketing which is one of my favorite topics to discuss — blogging and thinking like a publisher. I truly am fascinated with the topic. And the ideas were there. They were making themselves known.
But they wouldn’t come out.
I must have started three documents and deleted everything on the page before I could finally get something decent down on paper. But even then, it was a few sentences and I was stuck again.
So I got up and went to play the piano because I was house sitting in a place that had one.
(House-sitting. Freelancing. I sound like such a vagrant. Living on the edge!)
It’s worth noting that I don’t play the piano incredibly well. In fact, I took lessons many, many years ago but gave it up to focus more on my band instruments (flute and trombone). Only in recent years have I been re-teaching myself a little bit at a time. I can play both hands now (I’d never been very good at the left hand), but slowly. I can really only practice when I’m house-sitting for my aunt (and thus able to use her piano), so given the circumstances, I think I’m doing pretty well.
But most of all, I enjoy it. Like knitting, I find it relaxing.
When I got tired of struggling through the sheet music, I would stop and play by ear some songs that I like. I like to figure them out (just the treble!). And when I got tired of playing that, I reverted to my standards: Heart and Soul, and The Dancing Bear (aka, my second grade piano recital).
It occurred to me as I was keying my way through “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure that it was so much easier for me to let creativity flow musically than it’s been to let it flow through words lately. It felt really good to just close my eyes and visualize the piano keys. Visualize the notes. Anticipate the ones I needed to hit.
Words are what I do and yet it’s been so hard to get them out. In my personal life, it’s been hard for me to accurately and succinctly express what’s been on my mind, and it’s starting to fester because I need to reconcile that feeling.
In my freelancing, it’s been a chore. After playing the piano for 20 minutes or so, I did go back and finish the piece that I started working on. It was optimized really well for the Web (according to a program I’m demoing), but I didn’t feel like it came to life.
I wasn’t able to find the words for the rest of the day. I gave up and watched Mad Men (hoping some of Creative’s magic would rub off on me).
What I need is a rest from writing. Or rather, that’s what I want. I know, however, that taking it would be the kiss of death.
I haven’t been able to write much here lately, but suffice it to say that I’ve been writing a lot. No matter how busy I’ve been or how tired I am, I’m writing. There are no breaks. There can be no breaks.
If there’s something I learned in my writing minor in college, it’s that you can’t lose your writing momentum. The more you’re practicing, the better it will be. And even when you’re in a slump, it’s still going to be better than if you weren’t writing at all. You can’t just roll over and give up because you don’t have ideas or time or drive.
We still do it, of course. We take those breaks. Some of us just take a day or two and have the self-motivation to get back to it. Others of us don’t.
But I think that, either way, as writers, we instantly recognize the repercussions. For some of us, it’s a decrease in web traffic. For others, it’s the rapid loss of momentum. For others still, it’s a sense of guilt because we know it’s just an excuse for us to be lazy. It’s so hard sometimes to motivate ourselves. But ideas are of little to no use until they become something, and it takes some degree of effort to move them from one stage to the next until they’ve become realized.
And so that is why even though I’m in a writing slump, and even though I have no idea what I will write tomorrow for my Wednesday job, and even though it’s almost 1 a.m., I’m exhausted, and I still have work to do, I’m still writing this post. It might not make a ton of sense, but it’s important to move ideas. To create and maintain a flow of words.
Stagnant water starts to stink, and so do stagnant brains.
I totally agree. You have to keep writing, even if it’s tripe. It’s so hard to come back to, after a long break.
Definitely — and then the “what ifs” set in. “What if I would have just made myself keep writing?” — Thanks for commenting!
Great post. It’s not what we do when it’s easy that matters. It’s what we do when it’s not that really counts.
Well said! It kind of reminds me of the pipes in an old farm house. My grandparents always had to let their water trickle just a little so the pipes wouldn’t freeze in the winter. In a lot of ways, I think it’s very much the same with writing — or anything creative, really. There always needs to be at least a trickle. :) Thanks for commenting!