Can the Can’ts: Oust Overwhelm, Part 2

JordanA Writer's Guide to Persistence, Writing. Practice.

I went to summer camp for most of my childhood and I always, always hated the moment at the end of a meal when we had to scrape our plates. Between the gabbing, making eyes at the cute boys, and sparring with our forks, there was never enough time to eat the mashed potatoes, fried chicken AND jello (or variation therein), and inevitably some part of my meal that I’d actually wanted to eat went wastefully into the compost.

In other words, I have never been great at learning to scrape things off my plate. And even less so when that plate is a metaphor for my responsibilities. But enough about me, let’s talk about you:

Have you read the memo? Life is short. Yep. Really, really short in the big cosmic bang of things. And you probably don’t want the pie graph at the end of your life that represents your writing to be one tiny fluorescent green sliver while “responsibility and obligation” gets the big pulsing cherry pie piece.

I’m not saying you are or should be free of actual obligations; I’m familiar with the need to put food and roofs and clothing on one’s table, home, and family, respectively. But did you know there’s a difference between having responsibilities and being overwhelmed? I’m not being snide. I really didn’t understand the difference for a long time.

Responsibilities are just part of the upkeep of your life. Overwhelm is that state where, no matter which area of your life you look into, there’s a blade of “to-do” or “to be for someone else” that presses in at your throat like an assassin’s tool. And I know that it seems like the assassins are all those people with their high expectations of you, but honestly: they’re you. You’re the one holding the knife to your own throat most of the time. At least insofar as you tell yourself you can’t write, there’s not enough time, you just can’t shift anything or the WORLD will spin off its axis and to the doom of all beings.

Something has to give. You can’t do “it all” and you won’t write if you try to carry the weight of a thousand suitcases (I love the graphic attached to this post) on your back. The world will not explode if you stop driving your neighbor’s kid to her music lessons or quit editing the school newspaper; nor if you let your kid watch an hour (or a whole day, frankly) of TV; nor if you stop spit-shining the kitchen every time you step in it.

I know. You think you can’t stop.

The truth is—you won’t, don’t want to, would rather not: deal with the challenges/terrors of change and making space for your writing.

You can. You have to. If your writing matters to you, you will. But you have to choose. Not on January first, or on your birthday or the Solstice. Now. While you’re reading this post. You have to choose to scrape something off your plate and make room for the writing.

Writers who don’t write are generally unhappy, frustrated, repressed, unfulfilled writers who fantasize about getting some writing done like it’s a lover. I’m not talking about your fallow period or after having a baby or during your recovery from a heart attack. But if you aren’t writing, you aren’t writing. Doesn’t your writing deserve more of you? Don’t others who might be moved, validated, touched and entertained deserve it, too?

So here are some tips:

Stop believing your own lie that you can’t make time to write. I believe you’re a good person, don’t get me wrong, and an honest one, too, I know. But if you’re saying “can’t” then somewhere along the way you’ve told yourself a lie, or you’ve set your life up like a series of landmines where if one thing drops, all the rest goes up in smoke, too. You can’t live like that, and you sure as hell won’t get any writing done so long as you tell yourself that nothing can give. Stop saying can’t.

Get the Deets: Sometimes the “can’t” comes from your annoying ego. Your ego is like G.O.B. from the show Arrested Development: a mediocre magician with the conviction that he is Houdini, full of hot air and melodrama. Your ego doesn’t want you to see past its sleight-of-hand, where you might actually realize that “looking responsible” or “being super busy” or “having too much to do” may be excuses to keep you from doing the important writing that calls you. Figure out why you’re afraid to look a little more deeply into why you say you “can’t” give up one of your inevitable tasks. What will fall apart? Who will truly die (in which case, okay, FINE, you’re the only one who gets a free pass)? Who will or won’t be disappointed if you just make time to write?

Scrape something off the plate to make room for your writing. Go for the slimy peas, not the delicious Jello, too. Don’t pick the biggest item on the plate, the thing you will regret or burn bridges over. Pick a minor thing—suck up your pride, or let go of your vanity, give up a distraction in favor of creation. Watching too much TV, drinking too much beer or screwing around online when you should be writing? Be a grownup. Stop that! Writing is awesome. It feels great, and you can give your jerk boss his fictional comeuppance or have your protagonist find the love of his life, who looks and talks suspiciously like your crush, Janet, from accounting. Writing is superior to about 75% of your “should” dos.

I know these things aren’t necessarily easy. And the rest of this week I’ll walk you through other ways to squeeze through the iron bars of your overwhelm if you just insist on sticking to that “can’t.”

Meet me here Wednesday, April 22,  for the first way to reboot your system in the midst of overwhelm.


If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my books: Night Oracle,  Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time and, Forged in Grace. And check out my Plot & Scene Writing Retreat with Martha Alderson at the Mt. Madonna Retreat Center, May 30-June 1, 2014.


JordanCan the Can’ts: Oust Overwhelm, Part 2