My lack of steady progress in my current writing project, Walls Ascending, has been a source of consternation of the last two months. But to be clear, it hasn’t been the book itself that has been frustrating. I’ve written the first twenty-five percent, and I think it’s a compelling story so far, and a good tie-in to its predecessor, Vulcan Rising (link). Something else has been at the root of inconsistency for me. It just took me a while to sort out what that was.
The rate of my progress has been quite stilted, which stands in stark contrast to how I wrote Vulcan Rising — almost daily writing for fourteen weeks from start to finish. But Walls Ascending has been an unexpectedly different experience.
January was a pretty good month, in which I wrote for sixteen days in Walls Ascending. There were other days I had to work on other projects or didn’t do any writing. Then came February, when I wrote eleven out of the first fourteen days. I was making steady progress. But then everything fell off a cliff. After Valentine’s day, I didn’t write again until March 23. While I had spent about a week of in March doing the final pass at Vulcan Rising, the great majority of the month saw no creative work being done.
So a few days ago, when I got frustrated about the resistance I was feeling in getting back into the story, I tried to figure out what was going on. What was at the root of my inconsistency?
Digging in to Find the Root of Inconsistency
When I dug in, I realized it wasn’t the story that was problematic. It wasn’t that I had some sort of writer’s block. What has been happening is that I have had an extraordinarily stressful last couple of months at work. I’ve had two jury trials to prepare for, neither of which ended up trying for various reasons. There have been countless other hearings I’ve had to argue and briefs I’ve written. And I’ve been working between 50-60 hours per week for the last six weeks or more.
So when it came time to sit down and write creatively, my brain gave be a “hard pass.” It was taxed. It had no extraneous decision making left to give me, because work has been requiring so much.
There are times when I can work more than hours per week consistently, and it’s not overly stressful. But that is entirely dependent on the nature of the work being done. It’s almost like a pitcher’s pitch count in baseball. Not all pitch counts are created equal.
A pitcher might be in the seventh inning, having thrown 105 pitches, but his team has been in the lead the whole game. He’s still feeling good with plenty of life left in his arm. But another night, he might have racked up 80 pitches by the fourth inning. He’s had runners on the bases all night. His team isn’t producing runs. It’s been one stressful situation after another, and he’s already gassed.
That second scenario has been the first three months of 2021 for me. Stressful days and weeks stacking onto of each other, compounding their effects. The result is that when it’s time for my brain to write witty banter between two characters, it tugs at its ball cap to tell the manager it needs a meeting on the mound.
Do Some Self-Assessment When You Hit an Inconsistent Patch
At some point, you’re going to find that a confluence of life events has conspired against you to prevent your creative work from being done. You may not at first recognize the source of the problem. I know I didn’t.
But once you realize there’s a problem, don’t freak out. The Muse hasn’t abandoned you forever. You haven’t lost your ability to do your creative work. You haven’t encountered an immovable writer’s block.
It may be that your brain is just saying, “I can’t do this right now. Could we instead have some rest? That would do me a lot of good.”
Of course, you may be like me and not be very good at resting. That can be its own source of stress. But dwelling too much on that may derail this particular train. Once you’ve searched out the root of inconsistency and discerned whether it’s something that is present for a reason or a season, allow yourself time to recover before digging back into your creative work.
For me, I took a couple of mornings to write this article, rather than attempting to force my way back into Chapter 10 of Walls Ascending. I was supposed to be in trial this week, but on Monday morning, we were informed that the trial won’t be going forward. But all that pent-up energy, anxiety, and stress doesn’t dissipate like air from a popped balloon. It’s bleeds off slowly like a tire with a small leak.
Now that I’ve become cognizant of the problem, I’m trying to give my mind ample opportunity to get itself right. I’ve got a few relatively non-stressful weeks ahead of me. So I want to be in a proper head space to take advantage of them by pounding out the next few chapters of Walls Ascending.