Over the past few weeks, I have been struggling to get my work done. After over a month of having no problems staying ahead of my writing goals, this was not an easy set of obstacles to overcome.
Every night I went to bed anxious and frustrated. And every morning I woke up worried about everything that needed doing, and all the things I could have done the night before but didn’t.
It got to the point where I began to wonder if continuing to pursue my overly ambitious writing goals would even be worth it. It was halfway through 2019 and I just couldn’t imagine enduring six more months of constantly trying to play catch-up, always falling behind due to circumstances completely out of my control.
I felt as though I was constantly slamming my head against a wall trying to Make More Writing Happen. Why couldn’t I do more? Maybe it was because that time just wasn’t the best time, and I needed to slow down.
When life hands you roadblocks, do you keep writing? Do you slow down? Or do you stop completely and wait for the storms to clear?
My frustration continued to grow. My stress levels continued to escalate. I wanted to do more, as I always do, and the minimum was not enough. But maybe it couldn’t be. Maybe it wasn’t possible anymore.
And then one morning I just said, “Fine. This year is not going to pan out the way I hoped it would. I can’t change the past, but I CAN change how I respond to it. And right now, even though I’m too stubborn to quit, I do need to stop trying to sprint through my work. I just can’t handle it.”
I made the active decision to slow down. To stick to writing the absolute minimum every single day to stay on track with my goals without pushing myself too hard or quitting completely.
It’s going to take a while to adjust to my personal settlement. I don’t want to accept that I’m not going to be able to do all the projects I wanted to do this year. I’m not happy that it’s going to take longer to finish writing my book. I’m upset that I’m not more in control of my world.
But I’m going to be okay. Because I know my words will, somehow, find a way.
When you first get an idea for a writing project of any kind — whether that be a book or a blog, a website, a business, anything — anything seems possible. You forget how ruthless the real world can be. You forget the challenges you’re going to face along the way are going to stretch you and beat you and wear you down.
You forget because, in the moment, you’re solely focused on the idea in front of you and all the possibilities that come with it. It’s not that you don’t acknowledge them. You’re just distracted by your inspiration — at first.
Also, especially when you’re considering attempting a project you’ve never attempted before, you don’t always know every roadblock you’re going to face along the way. That’s why sometimes you have to dive in and try something before you decide whether or not it’s worth pursing. You don’t know a particular challenge is going to come up until you slam headfirst into it on Day 3. Ouch.
Once you get further and further along in your development of a project — let’s say, you get 10,000 words or so into your novel — you start to see the flaws. You begin to understand this road isn’t going to be as easily traveled as you thought. You remember that the real world exists, that writers don’t live inside bubbles, that sometimes Life Happens and your work stops being a priority because it simply can’t be right now, or anymore.
Having to slow down and put things on hold is heartbreaking, especially when you’re feeling inspired and/or motivated to get things done. But as much as we would love to be able to control everything and always get all of our writing done every time we sit down to do it, that’s just not how the real world works. Things come up. We slam into walls. Family members get sick. Plans fall apart. Partners leave. Everything changes.
What do you do? Sometimes you can keep writing as if nothing is different at all, at least for a while. Other times you couldn’t write a single word even if you tried because your energy and headspace are being taken up by things that are, at least for the moment, more important.
How do you learn to deal? You figure it out in your own way. You do whatever needs to be done. You prioritize as best you can. You focus on the most important things and you try not to worry about letting things down the list completely fall off your radar. You go into survival mode. You vow never to give up on your creativity, but acknowledge that right now, you just can’t give it the full attention it deserves.
You’re not a failure for saying, “Not right now.” You’re not wrong to set things down and promise “I’ll come back for you as soon as I can.” In fact, doing so might be the best thing you will ever do for yourself and/or the people around you, and there is absolutely no shame in that. Don’t ever let anyone try to put you down for putting the most important things first.
If writing is as much a part of you as it has always seemed, if your passion for creating things is as strong as you believe, if your ideas mean as much to you as you claim they do, then resting will not ruin you. It will not crush your chances of success. You won’t drift so far from your dreams that you can never find your way back to them.
Slowing down, stopping, it’s not the end. It’s only a fragment of your journey, a part of your road to getting where you’ve always wanted to go.
Focus on taking care of what needs your attention now. Because if you do that, you will be much better off later. You will be able to come back with a clear head, a recovering heart, and a willingness to ease back into the work you had to set aside. Sometimes, if you keep trying to push yourself when you’re already burned out, you do yourself much more harm than good.
Rest now, work later. It might be frustrating. It might make you feel like you’re suffocating. Yes, technically, you could be doing more. But should you?
You have to be honest with yourself in moments like these. If saying “someday, but not right now” is what is going to be best for you and your work and your future, then accept that you’re doing the right thing. Accept that your guilt is unjustified. Try to move forward. Try to hold onto the hope that you will be back, that when you return, your work will be better than it has ever been.
If you’re in a situation that is forcing you to put your work on hold, I’m sorry. And I want you to know that it’s going to be okay. If you need to step away, if you just can’t handle your work right now, you don’t have to. You are a human and you are flexible, but you can only stretch and bend and push so hard and so far before you break.
Take all the time you need. And don’t be afraid that you’re going to lose your spark. Chances are, things are really tough right now, and you already have. You’ll get it back. There are other things occupying your mental and emotional (and maybe physical) space right now. It’s not your fault. But it’s going to get better, in time.
Believe that. Trust in that. For now, do the best you can. That’s all anyone expects of you. I promise.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.