At this very moment, I have twenty-seven essays in a writing folder in varying stages of completion. Some contain only a few hundred words and lack any structure or form. They are more-so thoughts I’ve jotted down so as not to lose the epiphany. Some are nearer completion, but require intensive revision for which I simply cannot seem to summon the energy or creativity.
This state of affairs is not uncommon for me as I typically work simultaneously on several essays at once. When it’s time to write, I open my document folder to scan through what I’ve got thus far until one piece engages my attention. Occasionally, I write from start to finish in one go, but more often, it’s piecemeal.
I love writing! Creating images with words is joyous. Selecting metaphors that help me better understand the abstract is satisfying. Writing gives me a high unlike any other. It makes me feel excited and accomplished and understood. It helps me to understand myself. It feels important and meaningful.
Writing is so good for me. I know this. But for months, I have been avoiding writing. Why, you ask? I wish I knew.
If something feels good and it’s good for us, why the avoidance?
Though I’m using writing as a real-time example from my life, this state of mind truly relates to everything. Exercise. Creativity. Relationships. Spiritual life. Art. Anything. Everything.
For me, at the moment, I’m pretty sure my paralyzed creativity is related to an undisciplined mind.
My mind feels distracted. As I re-read incomplete essays, I’ll add an idea here and there, but then suddenly, I’m ordering dog treats from Amazon or checking to see what’s been newly posted on Instagram since I last looked four minutes ago. To be honest, the distraction isn’t only showing up in my ability to write. I notice it during my morning routine. Where I would typically pour my coffee and then spend time reflecting in my journal and meditating, lately, I’ve been drinking coffee, looking at my list of things to do, checking the weather, and other useful, but counter-contemplative activities.
When I’m busy and distracted—perhaps because I’m ignoring, running from, or avoiding something—my deeper thinking is affected. And when my deeper thinking is shut down, it feels like I have nothing of value to say or write. Though the ideas are there, it’s as though I cannot crack below the surface. The thoughts remain underdeveloped and superficial…which I despise. I don’t do fluffy very well. I don’t like it in other people and I don’t like it in myself. So, if I have nothing of depth to write, then I’m not writing.
Another way that an undisciplined mind has affected me is that I haven’t been thinking about what I’m thinking about. When we stop paying attention to our own inner voice, purposefully deciding what gets to speak and what doesn’t, we can find ourselves affected and directed by all kinds of unwanted influencers. For me, the sinister voice of the critic has, once again, been penetrating my thoughts; that familiar old voice that says things like “why are you doing this?…no one is even reading…all of your essays sound the same…you produce drivel…you’re not a real writer!”
And then there are the moments when my mind begins ascribing faulty meaning to the avoidance and distraction; where, in the case of writing, I try to make it mean that this writing gig has run its course. I excuse myself from disciplined writing behaviour because my days are very, very full with work and people and real life. And then I try to convince myself that essay-writing was for a season and that maybe now it’s time to lay it aside.
Except that I can’t. It’s as though a creative pressure builds up inside of me that only finds release through words. I can only outrun the hound for a time. The inner rolling and rumbling becomes thunderous to the point that it can no longer be ignored.
And so, it’s time to pay loving attention to my mind.
The distraction is the fault of an uncontrolled mind. I’ve allowed my thoughts to run rampant, following the path of least resistance. Instead of disciplining my mind through centring prayer, meditation and the like, I’ve simply wasted time. This is something that I can fix. Regaining control of my thoughts will allow me to write again.
As for the critic, an undisciplined mind all but invites it in for coffee. When I am paying attention—when I’m thinking about what I’m thinking about—I can quickly recognize and shut down the voice of the critic. This is also something that I can fix, simply by becoming aware.
As for interpreting my avoidance as a ‘sign’ that my writing time is over, perhaps what I need is to extend grace to myself in terms of the amount of personal pressure I apply. Early on, I established a rhythm of two essays per month. I maintained this for more than two years, but when I began a new job last year, I recognized that bi-weekly would no longer be sustainable. In my mind, I determined to write regularly, but post monthly. Which I have mostly done. Except for these six- and eight-week gaps that have been happening of late. Which no one notices but me.
You see, I don’t need other people to put pressure on me. I do that all by myself. My internal pushers urge me to produce, perform, be efficient, be effective with my time, be meaningful, achieve, show up, make the most of this one life. There is no one asking me to write these essays (except maybe God and the occasional magazine). Other than infrequent articles that I publish, there is no one imposing deadlines on me. My body and my brain tell me when it’s time to produce. And I can be a hard task-master.
My goal for this season—whether related to writing or any other endeavour—is to wrangle my thoughts. I’m going to show loving kindness to myself by thinking about what I’m thinking about. Sometimes my mind needs a good butt-kicking to push back against distracted, undisciplined thoughts. At other times, it requires the freedom to rest and wander and wonder.
Fingers crossed, this reestablished balance will coax creativity back from the periphery.
Much love to all of you.