So, I’m knee-deep in book writing after a two-month hiatus of non-stop existential crises and some actual crises. I know they say circumstances are never ideal for creativity, but calmer would be nice.
I heard Adam Grant say in an interview once that he used to write term papers in college while his roommate threw parties and it didn’t bother him at all. It was part of his “no excuses” for not getting your work done argument. My first thought was, well screw him. My second thought was, “if that’s the bar I. am. SCREWED.”
There’s a scene from Empire, I think season 1, where Lucious Lion is songwriting in the living room of a house full of crying kids and screaming adults – and he’s completely focused. I remember thinking:
Well, that is some bullshit.
If you’re part of the elite few who can tune out the world and hyperfocus amidst chaos and noise then I envy you. But if you’re human like the rest of us, chaos is deeply distracting. It’s also slowly becoming the norm. The older we get the more I’m convinced “extenuating circumstance” is the new normal.
There’s also the steady drudge of normal life that eats away at your abilities, as Chloe Angyal captured so well in her viral tweet this week:
“As I apply for writing residencies, I’m continually struck by how what they offer – peace and quiet, meals cooked for you, limited domestic labour to distract from your “real” work – is what so many men authors have had forever by virtue of having a wife.”
Having a wife would be nice. And apparently Chloe isn’t the only one who feels this way as nearly every application to join my writing accountability program mentioned this, too. Literally, they said, “I need a wife.”
There are a million and one reasons why we can’t get to our work. All of them legitimate. We all have kids and aging parents and employees and roof-leaks and unexpected travel or medical emergencies or financial pressure…none of us is exempt from participating in life, certainly not exempt from capitalism.
Our job as creative professionals is to determine the difference between “chaos and crises” and “resistance.”
Chaos and Crises: External factors keeping you from writing
Resistance: Fear keeping you from writing.
Resistance is obvious when you’re alone with your pen and suddenly you realize there is a lot of laundry to be done and have you called your mother back yet? It’s less obvious amidst chaos and crises. It’s hard to know when it’s your own fear lurking behind those legitimate excuses.
A colleague of mine once told me to, “be aware of the season of life you’re in.” His view was that these things come in phases. And part of my job was to be cognizant of the “season.” What he meant was to be patient and have self-compassion. Which I think is the answer when you’re battling external chaos and crises.
But if you’re anything like me this answer is insufficient because bubbling under the surface is rage and resentment, which is like the King Of All Terrible No Good Very Bad Emotions. Rage, anger, frustration, self-pity – oh boy, do I love self-pity. In my experience, there is no use denying this stage. You gotta feel your feelings in order to release them. Too often, I see legions of creative professionals holding onto their anger and rage, so when the chaos and crises subside, and they finally have time to focus, they can’t.
They’re too busy being upset. For a lot of us, this shows up as perfectionism. “What’s the point of only writing for 20 mins today?” “I finally had a day to write and I have nothing to show for it.” “I’ve lost it. Everything I write sucks. Whats’ the fucking point, I won’t have time to do it tomorrow anyway.”
We get addicted to our scarcity mentality. Not enough time. Not enough support. Not enough ideas. Not enough (good) words on the page. Not enough not enough not enough.
Anger is a famous and infamous emotion because it leads to sexy dysfunctional behaviors we like to watch on TV. Like murder or a really great “verbally chewing her out” scene. But since you’re one of my readers, I’ll let you in on a little secret from the psych world: Anger is just another word for sadness.
On the other side of that coin is always sadness. Grief, loss, pain. You see a bro with a temper, that man is hiding pain and sorrow.
And when it comes to creative work, sadness is actually a beautiful place to start.
Because it’s true.
And the best way to get to work is to write one true sentence. And then another. And then another.
PS: If you’re amidst chaos and crises and would like to get back to writing consistently, you don’t have to do it alone. My writing accountability and coaching program kicks off in January. We’ll help you set goals that you’ll actually follow through on.
Remember what it felt like to get your writing done? Get that feeling back. Join us in January. Apply here today.