The Evening Ramble

I’ve recently undergone a tiny bit of upheaval in my life, a.k.a. The Great Move, and I’m still adjusting. In the process, I’ve discovered/rediscovered/mulled over something interesting: I like tangible results. I like being able to see the results of my work at the end of the day, and when I can’t, I lose productivity in all areas of life. And, weirdly, writing doesn’t count. Or at the very least, it doesn’t count as much as other tasks like mucking stalls. Even washing dishes by hand gives a more tangible result, something that I can look at and say, “That looked like X and now, because of my effort, it looks like Y.”

This isn’t exactly new to me. I lived in Ireland for a semester during college, and found that I had a sudden burst of energy shortly before sunset every day. Sounds odd, right? But I realized that I’d trained myself to expect a bout of hard physical labor at that time of day, in the form of mucking horse stalls and feeding the critters (not just horses; my parents also kept chickens and beef cattle). Since I’d been doing this since the age of six or seven, it was a deeply ingrained habit, and I couldn’t set it aside just because I happened to live in a city. And before you ask, I went to a land grant university in the US and worked in their horse barn, so some of the habits of home carried over.

This round of change hasn’t been quite so drastic, so the effects are different. I’m less isolated, and the weather is better (never visit Ireland in January; I did, and in doing so, figured out why the locals drink so much. It’s because they’re fighting depression caused by the crappy weather and lack of daylight), so I’ve just been mopey, not really depressed.

Anyway. The point is that I’ve found myself at loose ends recently, even though I’ve been writing (with moderate success. I have a few projects at various stages of completion). But I haven’t been able to settle down and finish anything, and it’s probably because I’m in a feedback loop of intangible results (and laziness, but that’s another issue). I can’t see the results of my work, because one page of writing looks somewhat like all the rest for me, possibly because I write scenes in no particular order, so I end up saying, “I didn’t do a damn thing all day,” even when I’ve written quite a bit. And then I start wondering, “What’s the use of trying?” because I’m not obviously accomplishing anything.

I suspect this phenomenon is common to anyone who grew up doing hard physical labor, and quite a few people who didn’t. We’re humans (most of us, anyway) and we like to look back and say, “I made XYZ happen. See? Isn’t that cool?” And we get depressed when we have no opportunity to see the difference in our surroundings, differences that we caused by our effort and ingenuity. Maybe that’s why so many people are taking psych drugs (how’s that for a completely unsubstantiated theory?)

Luckily, there are ways to cure the malady. Like finishing this post. Putting ‘the end’ on a piece, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, is somewhat helpful. I’ve also offered to help my hosts in laying down floorboards, but that project is still in the future, and I need something NOW. Maybe I’ll offer to help clean the house, which should terrify anybody, but at least it’d be an accomplishment.

We all have our own threshold of accomplishment, and everyone takes satisfaction in different things. But based on my experiences, I advise the following: Even if you’re wrapped up in the writing, try to make time for a tangible task every day. Every week, at minimum, complete a project or a part of a project that won’t be undone by the passage of time. By that, I mean, plant flowers, finish a woodworking project, paint the bathroom. Laundry doesn’t count in this instance, even though it produces a tangible result, because you’ll make more dirty clothes as a fact of life. That can be an excellent daily accomplishment, but it’s not exactly a project.

The jobs don’t have to be large or time consuming, and they can be as quirky as you like. I used to get a kick out of putting away clean dishes, because they’d been drying on the countertop and by putting them away, I created a nice little clear space on the otherwise rather crowded counter. From there, I could move on to other jobs, some of which required actual creativity. And yes, it was ridiculous, to take pride in such a silly thing, but who cares? It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else, just you. Because getting stuck in a downward spiral of non-productivity is awful, and I don’t recommend it to anyone.

Your turn- what circumstances kill your productivity, and how do you bring yourself out of the black pit of non-writing?

19 thoughts on “The Evening Ramble

  1. I don’t recall the name of the admiral. He addressed graduates, advising them to make their own bed first thing. It seemed to .him that having that tangible accomplishment set the tone for the day.

  2. That may go a long way toward explaining my crafting habit. Not only does it keep my hands busy while I’m trying to think, it’s something I can see my progress on at a glance.

    1. Exactly. I started making quilts because I got tired of spending all day, every day, ruining perfectly good pieces of paper by putting words all over them.

      With the computer revolution it got even worse — you can’t exactly look at a pile of pixels every evening and take satisfaction in a job well done.

  3. Way back when, an Air Force survival instructor told my training flight whenever we found ourselves in a survival situation – and that could be anything from being lost in the woods because your plane went down to just feeling homesick or somesuch in your dorm room at school – you should always make at least one improvement, no matter how small, to your surroundings everyday. What you want to try to do is maintain, or establish, forward momentum.

  4. The follows through with people’s fascination for games where you level and acquire improved equipment. Killing monsters and finding you’ve gone from level 1 to level 10 feels like you’ve achieved something.

  5. Just finished a move this month myself. Biggest sense of accomplishment was setting up my book case and loading it with books. Now I am in the puttering house husband role while things get a little more settled and me and the fiancee get settled into a routine. Will definitely be looking for things to do with the Squire in tow though. Making a list of “honey-do” projects to make the place better. Writing is still slow now and looking forward to it picking back up again.

  6. I find that writing itself gives me that sense of accomplishment. I have to meet a word count goal, but that takes care of me. And cooking. Cooking does it, too.

    1. Same. I can do various sorts of housework all day long and still feel like I’ve accomplished nothing that matters. But if I’ve managed my word count, then I’ve done something! 😀

  7. That’s one thing I don’t like about software development: There is no tangible output and it’s never “done” (I guess that’s two things). It’s why I do most home improvement projects myself: I get to see a result and point it out to others: Despite the bad drywall mudding, I did that!

    Although, I have to admit that I find it baffling that a door I hung is starting to stick. I built the wall it’s in between the ceiling joists and the concrete basement floor – both of which are 100 years old and long done with their settling. The wall hasn’t moved, but the door sticks. Grrr. And it’s Denver; I can’t blame humidity. Inspiration strikes: Perhaps the screws in the hinges. Gotta go check. Bye.

    1. Well. That’s something I didn’t expect from reading this blog. Door fixed. Something concrete accomplished. I guess I can relax for the rest of the day 😉

      1. *makes note* Has a room door that won’t latch … Not the hinges in the doors. *makes another note* Explore all other options…

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