By Alissa Johnson
I have a confession. I didn’t write for most of January, or even in late December. And it was the best decision I could have made for my writing and for me.
First, the context. Just before the holidays, my man and I put our dog down. She was nearly 14. She’d had a lung tumor for over a year and back problems that ended up being the final culprit. But she had this spunky personality till the end, so we never knew if we had a month left with her or if she was gunning for another year.
Either way, I knew I'd be sad. I get VERY attached to animals, and she and I had been constant companions since puppyhood—hers, and in many ways, mine. I was 25 when she joined my life! Yet I didn’t realize that losing her would impact every aspect of my wellbeing, from sleep to eating to writing.
When I sat down to write, I could not summon the energy. I had nothing to give. So I gave myself the month off knowing that sometimes, for the sake of your own wellbeing, you need to take a break.
I have watched some of my clients make the same choice, pausing their writing life for weeks and even months only to return with more vigor and energy than before. But doing it myself, I realized just how happily the inner critic can take up the space left behind.
As January passed and my energy returned, my inner critic pounded me with conflicting messages:
- That rough draft you wrote in December? It’s really bad. I mean, really, really, really bad. You’ll never salvage it.
- Hurry up, will you?! It’s been too long since you published a short story or an essay. If people are going to take you seriously, you had better get another byline—and stat!
You can imagine how things went at the page! Finally, while recording a Writers Lab session for the Inspired Writers Studio, I tuned out the voice of the inner critic and tuned in to what I really needed. It sounded like the opposite of effectiveness: I needed writing to be fun, with zero pressure to produce.
I started with writing prompts (also from the Studio) and went for the zaniest ones. I kicked off February writing about pet peeves, characters that embodied all those pet peeves and waking up to tattoos I didn’t remember getting (this was purely fictional, I swear!).
And then one weekend I found myself thinking about my novel. Wondering how my character might feel about a topic I’d read about. I sat down and wrote about her, and that led to a new scene. The process felt lighthearted and easy, and it was fun to be with my characters again. For once, my inner critic had nothing to say.
As I turned toward typing and revising that new scene, I realized that I could have forced myself to write in January. But it would have left me more depleted and down than I already was. By waiting, I allowed myself room to be human—to once again be more than a writer—and for writing to be a source of fun, lightheartedness and recovery during a time when I really needed it.
Where do you need to ease the pressure in your own writing? How might you benefit from adding a little fun to the process?
Let me know in the comments or over on the Facebook page. I always love to hear from you!