So today marks exactly 4 months since I started writing my book idea. Each month on the 16th, I like to have a little check in (no-pressure!) to see how much I’ve got done. Last time in October, I was really happy with my progress, having reached over 10,000 words. This time, although I said it was supposed to be no pressure, I can’t deny feeling a bit disappointed.
There were a few reasons that made me want to get a lot done this month. Firstly, it’s NaNoWriMo, and while I’m not officially participating, seeing so many other people doing really well at it made me want to join in by getting lots written. I know they say you shouldn’t compare yourself to others, but sometimes it’s impossible not to!
The second, and main reason, is that next month is Christmas time! In my house we are majorly into Christmas, which means tons of shopping, making decorations, cooking buffets, and general merriment. I wanted to have a massive surge of writing in November since I thought I might not have much time between all the Christmas festivities to think about my ideas much. I also wanted to be able to enjoy December without piling pressure on myself to meet that monthly check in. So instead, I piled on the pressure this month, and… It didn’t work out well.
Sometimes it’s really easy to work out where things went wrong. When I first started my blog I wrote about a similar problem, and that time the problem was that I wasn’t sleeping properly. The issue was clear and I got it fixed.
With this though, it wasn’t obvious what was happening. I was aware that there was something wrong, but it wasn’t actually until I started writing this very post that I got a bit of insight. The more I think about it, I’m pretty sure I was doing a few things wrong.
The first issue was an easy one. Mobile phones and the internet. I think at this point everyone has been told how unhealthy phones are, and there’s not much I can really add to the discussion. All I can say, is that I think the addictive nature of scrolling through articles and pages, or playing those apps that try to entice you into beating just one more level, has been majorly detrimental to me. I became aware of how much ‘Angry Birds’ and other games were getting in my way, so I tried to stop using them completely. I kept giving in though, which made me feel rubbish and that in turn prevented me from getting into the creative mood. I used to try and justify it by saying ‘playing these games will free up my mind for ideas’. That was a pretty limp excuse though, and at the end of an hour of app activity, my brain was completely wiped out. I didn’t realise that phone use could cause mental fatigue, but I definitely think so now!
Phones aren’t the only culprit though. I love having a computer to write on, for long stretches, Microsoft Word is far preferable to sore, aching hands from physical writing. However, Google is only one click away, so it becomes just as tempting to get lost in the endless clickbait ‘news’ articles (damn you, The Mirror), as it is seeing your phone waiting right next to you.
It feels like technology has been perfectly designed to help us procrastinate. With access to the internet, it’s impossible to be truly bored, since there’s always one more outrageous story or one more thing that you can google. Boredom is more valuable than it gets credit for. It makes my mind want to wander and create to get rid of the emptiness that comes from not having something to do or see. I sometimes wonder if it was easier to be creative before the invention of computers and phones, or if there was something else that people procrastinated with just as much. I grew up with the internet, so I’ll probably never really know. I do know though, that the next time I get the urge to match on-screen candies, or play virtual colouring in, I’m going to stare out the window instead, and embrace the ennui.
To be honest, I spent 5 full minutes at the window away from all screens (apart from taking the photo) making eye contact with this cat, and it was much more valuable to me than an hour of candy crushing or angry birding.
It kind of looks like the cat wants to say something. I think it’s telling me to get off the phone.
The second mistake I made this month was a combination of two contradicting problems. I mentioned earlier that I heaped all the pressure on myself this month, but I somehow also managed to not push myself hard enough to get anything done. I’m not sure how that’s possible but somehow I managed it. I think that the initial demands I placed were obviously too harsh, and somewhere in me I knew I couldn’t meet them. Between that mindset and the mental fatigue from the excess phone use, I was really not feeling it. So I tried to be lenient with myself, and took a day off. One day off became a few more, then a week more after that, and before I knew it November 16th was fast approaching and my progress was glacial.
It turned into an endless cycle where pressure led to writers block, which led to guilt, and it just kept going. The Lidl shopping trips gave me a nice boost, but I only spend about an hour in the store, and I just wasn’t able to keep that energy going at home this time.
I don’t want to get too down about it though. After all, one of the things I learned this month was that pressuring and berating myself won’t get me anywhere. November hasn’t been all bad, and although it wasn’t a lot, I did still do some writing. My latest goal was to plot out Chapter 4, and hopefully get most of it written. I didn’t make a start on writing it, but I did get a loose outline finished for what will happen, including 7 plot points and a few (almost) fleshed out scenes that I can look forward to completing. So although I didn’t fully meet the goal, I did take a step towards it (a small one, but still!) and that’s what I should focus on.
I hope this post doesn’t come off as too self-indulgent or self-pitying. I’m feeling a lot better now and I didn’t want to go on a rant, but I did want to be honest about the creative drought and the feelings that come along with it. I think I wrote this as a way to work out what went wrong and make peace with it. But also, to say that I’m absolutely not giving up on my book. Things might go a bit wonky, or run off course, but even if progress is slow, I will always keep writing.
4 thoughts on “Embracing Ennui”
Five minutes staring at a cat are never wasted! I love that picture. That cat! The start of a story… perhaps? I know many of us feel pressured in November with NaNoWriMo going on. Everyone seems to be writing a novel and successfully so. Too much pressure is never helpful. A little accountability, however works wonder. I tend to journal and put my daily goal down in the morning. That can be anything, from very little to a lot – depending on what else I’ve got on that day. Your monthly check in is a great idea. And your December snowflakes are awesome!!! I’m experiencing a severe case of snowflake envy here…
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There’s around 16 cats on my street so they often pop into the garden which is nice, they could make a cute story! I think a flexible daily goal like you have might be a good idea, it’s encouraging without being too harsh on yourself. Thanks for reading!
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Your snowflakes are so lovely, very delicate. I remember making them a few years ago.
It sounds as though you did put too m uch pressure on yourself. While it’s good to have targets etc., sometimes life gets in the way (or Angry Birds) and we need to be flexible.
I managed to write around 5,000 words in November, but I too have come to a halt because A. I ran out of scenes I wanted to write and B. I have been playing way too much bass guitar (it’s too much fun!) So… To motivate myself I’ve said I can play bass guitar each day, but after I have edited or wrote something and not before.
Maybe you could have a game of Angry Birds as your reward after writing…
Yes I agree a small reward can be useful but not too much