As a writer, you are typically either On or Off. When you’re On, the ideas seem to flow without signs of slowing down. You keep writing even though you’ve met your daily quota. You start dreaming up a dozen different new projects – things you’ve never tried before, but suddenly, you REALLY want to.
When you’re Off, you go on autopilot, only writing what’s absolutely necessary, stopping as soon as you can cross it off your to-do list. You struggle with even the simplest writing tasks – it’s not that you don’t want to write. You honestly feel like you can’t.
I have Anxiety (capital A for AAAAAHHHH) which means if I’m having a stressful day/week/month, I have more Off days than On days. You’d think that would make me unproductive, generally, because of all the days I have to spend on autopilot just to make it to 5 p.m. But it’s only made me appreciate my On days more. When they come around, I keep my eyes wide open for those new project ideas that are bound to come to form. I know I’ll need them when I’m having an Off day.
The thing about writing professionally is that it’s easy to fall into a rut. I’m fortunate to work with a steady set of long-term clients. We work well together because I know what they need, and they know they can count on me. The only downside is that procedural patterns emerge. I often end up doing the exact same thing at the exact same time days if not weeks in a row without a break in routine.
Which is dangerous. Because a little spontaneity is what keeps creativity thriving.
So what do I do when I’m running low on ideas and motivation? I turn to those not-yet-tangible ideas I’ve stored away in a document on my computer. I pick one to do some brainstorming on, and I spend a little time lost in my imagination. I have ideas for ebooks, writing courses, YouTube channels, magazines, TV shows, you name it. I have moved past the brainstorming stage on very few of them. But I keep coming back to them, when I’m feeling AAAAAHHHH, because they remind me that my brain still works and I’m going to be successful someday and I’m not the kind of person who quits or runs away.
Every expert will tell you that having ideas but not acting on them is foolish. I do not disagree. However, I also understand that Things get in the way and some excuses are indeed excuses while others are legitimate reasons why something can’t be done right now.
I think we all need at least one writing project we can’t wait to start but Just Can’t Start Yet. I think these give us hope; a reason to keep going; something to work toward in those moments it’s a struggle just to finish what absolutely needs to get done. It’s not wise to let them sit idle for too long. But even if we just look at them, make some lists, let ourselves imagine what they will become at some point, some days, on the Off days, it’s enough. Barely. But still enough.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.