There I was, all excited that I actually won NaNoWriMo and geared up to write an epic post about it. Instead, I was silent.
I immediately embarked on the next step in my business plan and joined two blog mentoring programs, offered by two people that I’ve followed and respected for a very long time (Mary Jaksch and Jeff Goins). Their programs have not disappointed. They’re as awesome as I expected them to be. But, I remained silent.
The plans were all in place and I was following through. December lay before me like a fresh, blank page. And the silence continued.
So I went out with friends and family. I engaged with new connections in the mentoring programs. I did all the things that I’d been putting off in November for NaNoWriMo. The silence was palpable.
Time grew heavier and heavier with each passing day and the date of my last post flashed at me like an alarm.
Despite the most common piece of advice — write every day — I hadn’t written since I won NaNoWriMo. All of that momentum — gone.
The panic and dread started. My sleep abandoned me. The question that was wreaking havoc in my head like a madman: How can I ever expect to get better, to find my success, if I’m not writing?!
When You’re Empty Don’t Cap Your Well
“I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
Clearly, I’m not silent today, and that’s thanks to Hemingway’s quote landing in my inbox, courtesy of Advice to Writers.
It’s good to stop. I didn’t. Not in the true sense of it anyway. My computer broke down and my blog developed mysterious bugs. I worked feverishly on all of that and kept trying to write. I fussed. I worried. And then I did what I’ve been programmed to do: I judged myself because I wasn’t being ‘productive’ enough.
What is productive? Doing something that’s measurable, presentable in a weekly staff meeting or a classroom. It’s no wonder I flourished in NaNoWriMo; they give you a graph to measure your performance — you even have to report in each day.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to have measurable goals, but they have their place. Because, given the freedom to run amok, they can be your ruin. They get bossy and manipulative. They ‘cap your well’ with guilt, anxiety, and self-doubt, blocking inspiration from giving you a refill. (Unless, of course, you’re perfect and you meet every expectation. )
Doing Nothing Isn’t Doing Nothing Anymore
“The difficulty of always feeling that you ought to be doing something is that you tend to undervalue the times when you’re apparently doing nothing, and those are very important times. It’s the equivalent of the dream time, times when things get sorted out and reshuffled.” ~ Brian Eno, musician and producer (U2, Talking Heads, Roxy Music)
Not only did I not stop, I didn’t create any room for doing nothing.
It’s a big challenge in the transformation from employee to creative entrepreneur. The boss in my head is still demanding that I produce. Not that I didn’t have creative moments at the office, but if you’ve ever had a boss catch you while you’re ‘doing nothing’, well, you likely had some explaining to do.
The new way — the creative entrepreneur way — is what I’ve always longed for, but it includes this guilty pleasure of ‘doing nothing’. Who knew?
See the problem, though? There’s that word: ‘guilty’. I almost edited it out, but I stopped myself to show how easy it is to ‘cap the well’. We have to drop that nasty word (and just leave the pleasure).
“To sleep, perchance to dream”
Both Eno and Hemingway mention how sleep and dreams feed the work. That’s the clue to the new ‘doing nothing’. It’s about learning to step aside and shut off your inner boss.
Looking out my window, I see a beautiful December morning. The sky is cloudless, the air is still and quiet. When I was working in a cubicle, the best I could do was look for a window. Studies have shown that exercise gets the creative juices flowing. Today, I think I’ll take a long walk.
I bought an adult coloring book a couple of weeks ago. It’s full of mandalas waiting for me to make them vibrant. I loved coloring as a kid. Now it seems that psychologists have determined that coloring is a great way to reduce stress and pump up creativity. Today, I think I’ll sit down and color.
There’s a novel sitting on the living room coffee table. It’s a good one. Normally, I’d have it finished in two, maybe three days max. But it’s been sitting while I run on empty, stare at the television and drift off into pseudo-sleep. Researchers say that reading literary fiction helps your creativity. Today, I think I’ll pick up that book, and if I fall into a little nap, that’s okay too.
While telling you what I’m going to do today, I felt the guilt bubbling up and getting caught in my throat. (I know that’s why I referenced the studies, to justify my choices.) There’s a part of me that doesn’t even want to post this.
But I’m doing it for two reasons. First, if you’re out there feeling the same guilt for doing what your creativity is begging you to do, then you’ll know you’re not alone in the struggle.
And second, I would love to hear about your struggles with ‘the boss’. Have you found it as difficult as I have to shift into a creative life, guilt free? Do you have a boss that has to be ditched?