All my life, I have wanted to be a writer. Lately, I have been very fortunate to see my writing career begin to take off. I have my first paying commissioned work as a ghostwriter. I’ve written two well-received novels. I’ve started a side business helping other authors rework their blurbs or back-copy for their books. I even get paid to read – basically a dream come true for a bookworm like me. All of my hard work and dedication is starting to pay off. I haven’t quit my day job, but I no longer need my day job to support my writing. I make enough with my writing to support it on its own. I am in the very midst of an exhilarating and terrifying transition from a hobby writer to a professional writer.
My mindset needed to change when I made the commitment to make a living out of my hobby. Suddenly the activities I used to relax were the source of my stress. The need to produce weighed heavily on me. I filled every moment of my conscious life with business. I wrote blog posts while sitting in the pews at church. I read all night long. I wrote and wrote and wrote instead of basically everything else. I began to resent the moments of silence and stillness when I just couldn’t produce anymore. If I wasn’t reading or writing or researching, I was wasting time.
In reality, I wasting myself away.
I was burning out. Fast. I still had a full-time day job which required a great deal of creativity and energy. Then I would get home from that job and lock myself in my office and try to churn out even more creativity and energy. I was working myself into a frenzy that was making me physically, emotionally, and creatively ill.
And for all the time I spent stressing out about work and my writing, I actually wasn’t being very productive. How could I be? I was too stressed! My lack of productivity would then cause me even more stress. It was a vicious cycle. I felt like I had to be creating at all times or else I was betraying my dreams. Every waking moment was focused on writing or my day job. Even in the shower and on the drive to work, my mind was whirring away with endless to-do lists. Work was consuming me. Instead of fulfilling me and raising me to a higher plane of existence, I found myself developing grudges against the work I loved. Both my beloved day job and my writing became insurmountable obstacles.
My husband was worried about me. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t helping around the house. He knew I was stretched too thin, but his attempts to steer me back to sanity were met with emotional backlash. I was falling apart.
One day, I rushed through the door and dropped my purse on the table. I hurried into my office and powered up my computer. I was exhausted and hungry. I should have gone to the gym. But going to the gym meant sacrificing an hour of time I could have spent writing. My husband wouldn’t be home for another hour. This was the perfect time to hammer out more of those precious words that would become my next book. My readers were getting antsy for the next sequel. If I wanted to make a living like some of the other indie authors I knew, I needed to write and publish way faster.
I opened my word processor, placed my cursor on the page –
I froze. My mind turned off like someone had flipped a light switch. This wasn’t writer’s block. This wasn’t my mind wandering. This wasn’t me getting lost on the internet again. This was complete and total nothingness. Like, I couldn’t even remember my name. I just stared at the blinking cursor in a stupor.
I need to write. My mind finally kicked back in. But that was it. No inspiration, no words. Just my mostly-empty mind on repeat: I need to write. I need to write.
I broke down. I yelled so loud the neighbors must have heard me. I slammed my fists on the keyboard. I kicked my desk. I wanted to be able to produce. I needed this. I was finally taking off, finally confident that I could make writing into a career. I couldn’t just bottom out like this. I knew I would have to work hard to produce books I would be proud of. I knew that. But I had never considered that I could work myself to the breaking point. I never considered that my mind could just shut down on me like this. I felt betrayed by my own mind, my own muse.
In classic L.C. style, I thought: If I’m not writing, what else can I be doing? I pulled up my mental to-do list. I was too mad and too … blank? uninspired? … to stay at my computer. So I decided I would get up and do the dishes.
Normally, I would load up a podcast or a youtube video while I was doing chores. But today I was mad and decided to put my computer in time out. I went out into the quiet kitchen and started unloading the dishwasher. As usual, I tried to force my mind to focus on the business of writing, on perfecting the prioritization of my to-do list, on making up for the lost time since I apparently couldn’t write when I needed to. Immediately I felt exhausted, frustrated, and mad. I felt my chest grow tight with tension. I wanted to throw a dish across the room just to hear it shatter. I was about to have a panic attack in the middle of my kitchen.
I took a deep breath and decided just to focus on the act of emptying the dishwasher. Simple enough, right? Simple and boring. Boring was exactly what I needed. My mind took off as it does everytime I do a boring, repetitive activity. But this time, I didn’t try to force myself to focus on any certain thing. I just let my mind go. It was like letting an antsy 2nd-grader out to recess on a beautiful day. My mind went on a trip. I wandered from thought to thought until I was dancing around the kitchen, acting out a scene I had never considered for my current project. A scene that was just right. I was actually having fun again.
And that’s when it hit me: I needed the stillness.
My imagination needed the chance to roam. My mind couldn’t handle the strict regimen I had forced myself to endure. My imagination was the reason I wanted to be a writer in the first place. Yet, as soon as I started making money on my writing, I turned around and handcuffed my imagination. Then I wondered why it wasn’t working.
As a teenager, I wrote prolifically. I wrote all the time. But I also spent a lot of time daydreaming. In between classes (and sometimes during), in the car, on walks, in my room, doing chores. I loved the stillness, the time my imagination took its walks. That was when I cultivated some of my best ideas. That was also when I recharged the energy I needed to focus on work and writing. I didn’t realize it at the time because it was natural to me. Daydreaming in the stillness was just part of who I was. I had always been a dreamer, lost in my thoughts. But as an adult, I attempted to re-program myself to always be alert, always be focused, always be producing. I was trying to automate my passion. I just couldn’t do it.
I personally believe that my mind blanked on me in a final act of self-defense. I was caught up in a destructive spiral of exhaustion and frenzy. I know if I had kept it up much longer something would have snapped. I needed to remind myself to love the stillness, to let my thoughts lead me instead of trying to force creativity to happen.
And just like that, I could write again. I could ignore the word count and just let myself tell a good story. Which was all I really wanted, anyway. My muse hadn’t abandoned me. I had chased it away.
I needed to remember to love the stillness.