When to Write and When to Call It a Day

I’ve been sick too much this year, and thought it worth revisiting one of my favorite articles from 2013 on “when to write and when to call it a day.” Here’s an updated version for you:

During a live coaching call for my Circle, a writer once asked about how to know when to push through and write if you’re not feeling well versus how to know when to focus on regaining your well-being.

In my opinion, the answer depends a bit on the circumstances, so let’s look at some specific scenarios.

1. You’ve just come down with a wicked cold or flu.

Assuming you have a solid, regular habit in place, when you get really sick or you’re just those early stages of wretchedness, it’s okay to take a few days off from writing, knowing that you’ll get back to it as quickly as you can.

When I’m feverish, wiped out, or worse, I know the most important thing I can do for my body is to rest and heal.

I have found myself writing even while sick at times — because I felt truly drawn to work on my piece — but in this case my focus is very much about listening to my body.

This is very much like being an athlete, and knowing whether or if to train when you’re sick or injured, and when to take a day off.

I also trust myself enough deep down, after months of regular writing, to know that I’ll re-establish my habit as soon as I am able, usually within 2 to 3 days. The longer you’re away from your habit, the harder it is to get going again, so it will behoove you to pay attention to starting again quickly, even if you start small, such as in 15 minutes a day.

2. You’re going through a rough patch in your life, you’re generally tired or run down, maybe you’re not sleeping very well, or maybe you’re mildly sick.

On the other hand, if the chips are down and you’re having a rough time in your life, maybe you aren’t sleeping well, or maybe you’re getting better from that wicked cold or flu, I’m inclined to recommend that you simply ease up on your writing time a bit, but still keep writing. When I’ve gone through particularly difficult phases in my personal life, I’ve made a point NOT to stop writing, but to carry on at my “rock bottom minimum” level of writing.

As a writer, it’s worth knowing what that minimal level of involvement is with your work for you — the amount of writing that will keep you engaged and connected to the work. For me, it’s a minimum of 15 minutes of writing a day, even if it’s morning pages just to keep writing flowing, though ideally it’s on my main project. For another writer, it might be 5 minutes or 60 minutes. It varies between individuals, but the point is, know what YOU need to do to sustain your connection to the work even during a challenging phase.

I gained tremendous confidence and strength from seeing myself commit to and show up for doing the work every day, no matter what.

In concert with easing back to your minimum, when you’re going through a phase like this, make a point to ramp up your self-care. Put sleep, healthy food, good hydration, fresh air, and exercise at the top of your list and get yourself back into balance. But do stay connected to the work.

3. You’re in a bad mood or someone said something terrible to you and your confidence is shaken.

A common refrain among writers — particularly those of us who are more sensitive and easily affected by other people and experiences — is “I’m just not in the right mood to write today.” This can particularly come up if you’ve lost confidence because of something someone said about your writing or if you’ve been hooked by the Comparison Monster (“Everyone else is doing so much better at this than I am!”), or even if you’re just in a crummy mood.

Hear this now: As one of my Circle coaches once said, “There’s a difference between self-care and mood.”

Being in a bad mood is NOT a good reason not to write.

Let’s face it, you wouldn’t be here, right now reading this, if writing was easy to do.

As Steven Pressfield says, “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

Don’t let a bad mood or a rough day become an excuse not to write.

There are far too many reasons to resist and procrastinate about writing, and if anything, I think we need to err on the side of writing more regularly and consistently than not.

As Brian Johnson says (via Jack Canfield), “99% is a bitch. 100% is a breeze.” So hang in there, do the work, and make it easier on yourself. (A side note: A weekdays-only practice at 100% works.)

You’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised that your level of productivity and your ability to create are not at all related to your mood.

In fact, you may find — as many of our Circle members do — that your mood may well shift when you write anyway, and if even if it doesn’t, you’ll still have demonstrated your commitment to yourself, which is deeply affirming and happiness-building.

(See also my post called “You Can Change Your Life in a Split Second.”)

4. You’re going through a painful period of loss, grief, or personal anguish.

At another end of the spectrum is experiencing an extreme loss — like a death of a loved one. When my grandmother died in 2012, I felt as though I was in another world — approaching the veil of life and death on some level — and I found it very difficult to write fiction in yet an entirely different world. So I choose to take a few days off from “real” writing, though I did do a tiny bit of tinkering with my script one day.

On the other hand, Steven Pressfield recommends writing even during times of “personal anguish” in his excellent post of the same title.

He says, “I’m not saying pain is good. I’m not advocating screwing up our lives for the sake of art. I’m just making the observation that our genius is not us. It can’t be hurt like we can. Its heart can’t be broken. It’s going to send the next trolley down the track whether we like it or not.”

My experience is that those few brief days of being between worlds while in grief are the only spans of time in which I have felt truly unable to write, and then, just as I’ve said above, I still get back to writing as quickly as possible.

5. You need to refill your creative well.

All this said, I am a firm believer in taking big “put my feet up” days off. I love to pick out a day on my calendar when I can feel the need building up, that I block off “just for me.” I take my son to school, and then proceed to do whatever I feel like doing, which usually involves some combination of a fantastic herbal or decaf beverage, a movie in bed, a nap, maybe a meal at a favorite restaurant. It might also involve going shopping at a beloved and inspiring store, like an art store or museum shop. Whatever it is that feels inspiring and uplifting.

On these days, I fully, completely enjoy my Not Writing time, and I know I’m replenishing and rebuilding to dive back in the next day.

Your Turn

The bottom line, for me, is that each one of us needs to experiment, listen to our own bodies and inner selves, and find what works best for us. And, like I said, given the massive opportunities for resistance, fear, avoidance, procrastination, and self-doubt, my strong recommendation is to find a way to stick to your work as regularly and consistently as possible. What do you think? What works for you? Leave me a note in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

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This article was originally published in January 2013 and has now been republished with revisions.

 

The Power Of Showing Up To Write

View More: http://olimbphotography.pass.us/girl-power-for-goodNote from Jenna: This guest post is from Terri Fedonczak, a parenting coach, author, and Writer’s Circle coach.

I’ve loved working with Terri through the Circle over the last few years, first as a participant, then as a coach. She knocked our socks off by finishing the first draft of her parenting book in just three 28-day sessions of the Writer’s Circle in 15 minute increments of time – after having had the book “brewing” in her for over 15 years. Amazing!

Just Show Up

by Terri Fedonczak

When I joined the Writer’s Circle in 2012, I knew that I wanted to finally get my book out of my head and into my computer. I had been “writing” this parenting book for 15 years, as I knew that I needed to get one kid through adolescence before I could have any street cred with other parents. I put writing in quotations, because the book was mostly on tape. The little bit of writing that I did have was on sticky notes and spread across a dozen journals.

In my first session with the Circle, I thought I would just get organized. My goals were very small: only 15 minutes a day 6 to 7 days a week. Much to my surprise, I finished the rough draft in just three sessions. “Rough” is an understatement as a descriptor for that first draft. It was a 30-page booklet of disjointed ideas. I told myself that I wanted to keep it short, because parents were too busy to read a long book. That was a nice justification for keeping the real story to myself.

When I sent my booklet to my chosen editor, she immediately outed me. She said, “I will edit this book the way it is, but it wants to be so much more. There’s no heart and soul in it. YOU aren’t in your book. There’s nothing about your breast cancer, no struggle, no life coaching journey . . . there’s no mess here. Parenting is messy. You need to show other parents your mess.” She was right. And that started an 18 month journey of re-writes and edits.

Let Go of Expectations

One thing I’ve learned in the Writer’s Circle is that writing is both infinitely easier and more challenging than I ever expected. It’s more helpful if you flush your expectations of how long it will take or who will like it and just keep showing up to the page every day.

As a coach, I see brilliant writers spending lots of time and energy worrying about what other people will think of their writing, or fretting about how long it will take (or is taking). All this worry keeps us in ours heads. Good writing doesn’t come from the head – it comes from the heart. Meaningful writing grabs the reader with its simplicity and elegance and just won’t let go.

As readers, we don’t care about how long the writing took or how smart the author is, we want to care about what we’re reading. You can’t fake that or wordsmith your way around it. All you can do is show up to the page and show us your mess.

From Dream to Reality

Field Guide to Plugged In ParentingMy book went from a dream to a reality. It’s now on Amazon* and Barnes and Noble online, and it was endorsed by the Washington Post as a “must read” in their February Parenting Book Round Up.

But more importantly, I have parents tell me how much the book has changed their parenting for the better. That makes it all worthwhile. 

This Is What Success Looks Like

So, 15 years of vomiting ideas onto paper or tape, one month to a rough draft, and 18 months to re-write and publish. This is what success looks like; it’s not quick and it’s not easy. But with the support of other writers, a dogged determination to show up to the page every day, even just for 5 minutes, and the courage to show us your mess, you will arrive at your own version of success.

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terriTerri Fedonczak wants to live in a world where girls recognize their own power and choose to use it for good. On a trip to South Africa, Terri saw the power of the lioness and how they support their pride; it was a lightning bolt of realization that her mission is to bring the power of the pride to girls and their parents. Terri was a commercial real estate agent for 16 years until a bout with breast cancer transformed her life in 2010. She realized that trading money and status for time with her four girls and patient husband was not quite the deal she thought it once was. She left sales to become a certified life coach and embark upon a journey of spreading the message of girl power far and wide.

Terri is a featured speaker at the Costa Leadership Institute, helping adults balance their lives, and she takes the girl power message into high schools, talking to 9th grade girls about how to thrive in high school. Her first book, Field Guide to Plugged-in Parenting, Even If You Were Raised by Wolves, debuted in 2013. When she’s not speaking, coaching or blogging, you can find her paddle boarding on the sparkling waters of Boggy Bayou, knitting to the consternation of her children, who are buried in scarves and hats, or dancing in her kitchen to Motown.

You can discover your own inner lioness and feel the power of the pride at www.girlpowerforgood.com.

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Thanks for reading!

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

 

 

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