April 17, 2020. Day 34, in the Age of Coronavirus – Observations and Thoughts…
Crap, I have writer’s block…again (how to get out of it and/or beat procrastination)
How can I write when each day looks exactly the same, when my usual places for inspiration are off-limits, when I have no quiet time or space to breathe or for contemplation?
This is not an exaggeration when I say that I am typically interrupted every five minutes throughout the day. Many interruptions are necessary; kids needing help with school work, dog needing to go outside, etc. But with an irregular work schedule right now–which is beholden to the needs of the kids’ schooling, the availability of the office for writing, and the unpredictability of my migraines–I feel I’m not able to get to the things I need to do or want to do.
So what’s a girl or guy to do?
1. Start small. I’ve been stressing out, thinking I need to write every day during our COVID-19 shelter-in-place order for both posterity and my sanity. But, before this, I didn’t write every day. For me, my life is too chaotic, I have too many interests, and my health is unpredictable enough that I am unable to write every day–nor do I want to.
Prior to COVID-19, I committed to writing twice a week and the only goal I set for myself in each of those writing sessions was to write for 15 uninterrupted minutes. I would set a timer and go. I didn’t stop until I hit 15 minutes or finished the topic I was writing, whichever came first.
Unless I was really in a flow or was going to forget what I was writing, I stopped when the timer went off. Otherwise, I’d allow myself five more minutes to complete my train of thought.
This goal and time commitment is small enough that it has been easy for me to maintain, which I’ve done faithfully for seven months…until COVID-19.
2. Write three (3) bullets about what you’ve just finished and what is coming next. This is the biggest tip I can give anyone for how to beat procrastination or writer’s block. It’s also the biggest tip I most often neglect, only to go back to it when I am stuck.
It is difficult for the human brain to transition to new tasks; procrastination can set in. Either our brains are totally wrapped up in the task/project we’ve just finished or we don’t know where to start on the project we’re about to pick up.
This is where three bullet technique works. It’s my amalgamation of what the Bullet Journal creator Ryder Carroll suggests for “rapid logging” & note taking (see his tips on bullet journaling here) and advice from writing coach Cynthia Morris on jotting down three words about one’s experience after each writing session. Here is what it looks like:
- Bullet One: Jot down in three words how the task/project went. This is very important and is what helps you stay motivated to keep going. Writing coach Cynthia Morris teaches all her students to write three (3) words about their experience after they’ve finished writing. This can be what the person feels or what s/he has learned. My three words (picture above) for this blog post are re (lief, confusion, and direction. After starting on this post, I feel both a sense of relief for finally putting a few words to paper and direction for what I need to do next. I also feel somewhat confused because I had to stop in the middle of this post and thoughts are swimming in my head.
- Bullet Two: Jot down the date and brief plan for next time you pick up the project you just finished. For me, I plan to get back to this post after the kiddos start school. I will add pictures, edit, and publish the post. For me, this step is the most helpful because I don’t need to remember where I stopped and what my next step or thought was. This step is also what has allowed me to stay on my writing schedule, as I put an appointment in my calendar for the date and time I wrote down.
- Bullet Three: Jot down the specific next steps you’ll need to complete to start the next project/task. The next project I’m moving on to after completing this blog is working on a birthday video for my oldest daughter. This has turned out to be a daunting project as our pictures and videos are a jumbled mess, stored on various different media. I’ve been dreading this and need a way to get started. So I listed the very simple, immediate things I need to do to get unstuck: 1) Arrange the pictures I’ve found by year, 2) Make sure I have a photo with each family member in it, and 3) Search for pictures and videos for the first two years of our daughter’s life. By breaking the overwhelming project into a few, simple next steps, I am able to quickly get moving and break out of my writer’s block or procrastination.
3. Go back to (or create) a realistic goal. Small, doable steps reap big rewards. I was reminded of this fact when I was doing a color-by-number picture in the Happy Color app (Google Play, App Store) last night. The picture I was coloring contained the phrase “A little progress each day adds up to big results.”
I felt immensely successful when I was writing just 15 minutes, twice a week. I was able to keep to my schedule and could easily reach the goal of writing 30 minutes a week. Writing a little bit at a time like this allowed me to finish the first, very, rough draft of my book in just over six months.
I need to go back to what works for me and remember with very little, dedicated time each week, I was to able complete a draft of my book. If I can do that, I can do anything! I can carve out 15 minutes of uninterrupted time. I just need to shed my false view of perfection (which for me this past month has been to write and publish daily blog posts) and set small goals that make me feel successful.
4. Remember what brings me (you) joy and motivation. Here’s my list: early mornings in a quiet house, my daily devotions, coffee, beautiful music, being in nature, creating art, tennis, cooking great food while listening to music, reading and exercise.
When the weather is bad in Colorado as it has been this past week (and magnified by the shelter-in-place), I tend to forget there are still many things I can do that bring me joy. Poor weather also affects my health, as barometric fluctuations wreak havoc on my migraines. I can tend to fall into a tailspin; the bad weather and claustrophobic shelter-in-place have led to multiiple migraines and feeling lousy, which can often lead to lack of motivation, which can lead to procrastination (and the past few days led to my epic binge play on theHappy Color app), and can ultimately lead to despair. I can then tend to get stuck in this sadness until the weather changes or my migraine subsides.
On the opposite side, when the sun returns or I have an exceptional night sleep, my migraines tend to improve, which often leads to my early rise from bed in the morning, which typically leads to a quiet house, which leads to time and space for me to read, think, and create, which can lead to an explosion in motivation, which can lead to exercise and improved eating, which releases endorphins that can lead to tackling the tasks I’ve been avoiding and breaking through my writer’s block, which ultimately results in a sense of fullness and wellbeing.
So, the grand ole question is, if I know what drags me into the pit of despair, why the heck can’t I stay out of it?
Good question! At least I know the things to do to get out of it, once I recognize I’m there.
#hometogether #hopeinsuffereing #thisiscoronalife