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?