Overcoming creative paralysis

When I started the year, I had every intention of spending a lot of time writing. And I have, but pretty much only for work. Not that I don't love writing for work because I do. It helps that I'm still somewhat ridiculously happy to have the title "writer" in an official capacity instead of being an assumed role. It's not like this is the first time I've ever been paid to write, so it's a little silly that I'm so happy about it. But I am and I'll enjoy it until the shine wears off.

The thing is, I feel so weird about the world right now. My anxiety spikes when I look at the news for very long. So I avoid it. Then I feel guilty for being uninformed. So I go back to looking at the news and I feel scared, sad, disappointed, scared, and anxious. 

Even engaging in conversations with friends about current events feels like a minefield I don't want to go near. Emotions are high. Opinions are strong. People are hurt and scared and so very divided, even where intentions are good.

I have so many thoughts that I'm uncomfortable sharing because of the charged atmosphere we live in today. It took me a while to be okay with that. I think it's important to speak up but if it's going to create even more anxiety than reading the news because of the divisive nature of these discussions then I can't be the one to speak up. And I can live with that. 

Now that I've gotten past the constant tug of war in my head, I feel like I can finally write again. I can't use most of the ideas I've had over the past two months but more will come. Besides, I've had some ideas for bigger projects that I'm excited about in the long-term. The kind of projects that end with many words on many pages surrounded by a cover and secured with binding. 

I need to find and focus on the positive. If I don't, I get blocked and anxious. I love that so many people are speaking up about the wrongs being done, though. We need them. And I appreciate them more than I can say. 

I just can't do what they do.

Three words to define my 2017

I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever picked three words for the year for myself. Yay me! For the uninitiated, here's what the whole picking three words concept is all about.

To be honest, I didn't think that hard about the words for this year. They came to me pretty easily. Then I started second guessing them, so I waited to write about my choices until I was sure they were the right fit. These three words are all about me taking action but in very different ways. The meanings (for me) are also multi-faceted, but you'll see what I mean.

Write.

So, I'm a writer - just in case you weren't aware. That's my actual job title and I was (and still am) pretty excited (read: stupidly giddy) to be able to say that, even if I've been calling myself a writer for years now.

Choosing this word felt like cheating at first - of COURSE, I'm going to write this year and likely every year for the rest of my days on this twirling rock. And, as mentioned above, it's my job. However, in my eagerness to get up to speed at my new job and improve my health, I've let my personal writing projects fall by the wayside. I don't regret this; it was a conscious decision and it was the right decision but only for the short term. The short term is officially over, but I always planned for it to be over with the holidays anyway. I'm right on schedule. :) 

Journaling has been an important part of my life for nearly 30 years. (Oy, 30 years!!! I guess you get to say that phrase more and more often when you hit the year of the big 4-0!) A friend of mine inspired me to get back to the habit of daily journaling over the holidays - or, uh, last week. I had a run of committed daily journaling for several weeks a few months ago, but as I ramped up my self-care, I found it difficult to make time to keep up the amount of journaling I was doing. So, as my coach urged me to do, I'm being kinder to myself by loosening my standards about when and how much I do. I'd rather keep the habit that I find so valuable and do less of it daily than drop it entirely and lose the benefit. 

My fingers have been so restless to fly over my keyboard and get words out on a blank page on the screen. It's the strangest, but most wonderful feeling to have ideas and words piling up in your head so much that your hands practically vibrate with the need to release them. That's a good sign to me that it's time to blog more and spend time writing the books that are in my head. 

Create.

This is closely related to "write" in some ways, but there's a difference. I've got several book ideas that I've been working on at varying stages. There's a lot of creating that needs to happen. The worlds. The characters. But that can only happen as I excavate the story. I need to make time to create these things. It's invigorating. It's not unusual for me to lose massive amounts of sleep when I get deep into the creating process. It's not unlike reading a really good book. 

The other part of this word is an idea that has been germinating for about six months. I don't know if I'm going to take the steps to pursue this idea yet. I only know I have to start taking steps to decide if it addresses a need and if it's the right time to pursue it. I think it could, but I need to know for sure before it starts to move past the idea stage.

Advocate.

The second part of "create"? That idea has a bit to do with this intention. It's going to be up in the air until spring no matter what. 

Generally, advocacy is always going to be important to me. It is for any parent of a child with special needs. But it isn't solely about supporting my son or the charities that support kids with autism. It's also about advocating for myself and my family. It means saying no to the requests that don't move me in the right direction. It means saying yes to those that do when I can make the time. It means considering the whole picture - my family, my work, me, my goals, our goals.

I'm a strong supporter of Ottawa businesswomen in addition to the occasional work I do for autism charities. I love these things and I want to always contribute to them, but my level of commitment will vary over time as my focus changes. This is part of advocating for me and my family and maintaining balance in the work I do for the causes I'm passionate about.

Choosing these words got me excited about 2017 and the possibilities that exist. One of my favorite quotes for the New Year is this from Brad Paisley:

We're down to 361 pages now, but it's never too late to jump in. 

Why do I write?

I think about this question a lot because the answer changes depending on what's happening in my life at any given moment. 

The compulsion to write is often spurred by the desire to work through a situation. The need to chew on the details and digest their meaning. 

I may not share the details here for all the web to see, but the process of working through the thoughts generated by events is important for me. 

When I was ten years old, my mom bought me my first journal. She got my six-year-old brother one as well. That journal was a cheap spiral bound notebook. It had a slate blue plastic cover that I decorated using a silver paint marker.

I still have that notebook - it's buried in a box somewhere in my house. That's where my ten, eleven, twelve-year-old self lives on between plastic covers painted with silver hearts and my name in an effort to keep prying eyes deterred from breaching my privacy.

I don't remember well what I wrote, but I can imagine I described my crushes (I was pretty experienced at crushing since I started at six), some parental angst, likely occasional friendship difficulties, with the odd mention of school, where I spent most of my time.

I'm not sure whether mom really intended to get me interested in journaling or if the purchase of those notebooks were just a whim, but I have had an "active" journal ever since. I've even filled some of them up.

It seems wasteful not to fill them all up, doesn't it?

But I haven't. And I doubt I ever will. 

Too many times I've closed a journal halfway through never to open it again because that part of my life ended. I needed to move on, and buying a new journal was a symbolic way to do so. 

I've gone many months without journaling at all, often because I couldn't find the words. Sometimes I just need to let events of life that have boiled over simmer down and cool off before I can dump my thoughts out onto the page. 

Writing fills a need in me. 

I don't think I knew that need existed back when I was ten and staring at the blank pages of the cheap notebook my mom bought me. But I definitely felt the excitement of the blank pages and the possibility that was waiting for my discovery.

In his book, On Writing (affiliate), Stephen King shares his belief that every story exists before it is found. That stories are like fossils that writers - literary archaeologists - carefully and methodically search for and uncover. Sometimes with great care and concern for preserving the quality of the story. Sometimes with less regard. (I'm adding in a little bit of my own interpretation.) 

This idea resonates with me because I've had the same compulsion to write the stories of the people that live in my imagination as I do when I am working through the process of writing my own story. 

So, why do I write?

Because I need to. 

I don't know how else to answer. Even when I can't find the words, the need doesn't go away. And eventually, the words always come back.