Discover more from Ijeoma Oluo: Behind the Book
UGH. But I don't WANT TO
Behind the Book: Dealing with lack of motivation.
So….I’m a bit late on newsletters for a few reasons. I’ve had covid, dental stuff, a funeral, and more - which I will update y’all on in an upcoming post. But the main reason why I haven’t been writing here, or anywhere to be honest, is because I’m kinda burned the fuck out.
I just finished pretty much all of my major book work in, drafts done, copyedits reviewed. I’m so proud of this book and can’t wait for y’all to read it. But after 3 years of work on it, with the last 8 months or so being hella intense, I kind of feel like I never want to write ever again??
But I am a writer. It is my job, it pays my bills. This newsletter is really important to my writing craft as well as my family’s financial health. Also, I do love writing - even now - I’m pretty sure I do. I have to write even when sometimes I don’t want to. So here, in my attempt to break through this stalemate that I’m currently in with my desire to just watch murder mysteries and eat Swedish Fish - excuse me, I mean Scandinavian Swimmers - all day, is my list of ways in which I have kept writing when I’m burned out, or unmotivated, or facing writer’s block.
Take a Break: Ok, so I know this sounds like the opposite of the goal here, but the truth is, you can’t always immediately power through all the time, especially when you’re facing burnout. As my therapist keeps reminding me over and over and over, it’s “not healthy” or something. Take a break if you can, and make it a real break. Refuse to feel guilty about it. Refuse to make excuses for it. Just rest a while. Know that your writing really will be waiting for you when you’re more rested.
Do something writing adjacent: You really don’t want to write today. Ok, well, can you outline? Can you plan your writing calendar? Can you research? Can you brainstorm? Sometimes writing adjacent work can get you back in the writing mood, and even if it doesn’t, you still got work done that your writing needs. Just be sure to set a time limit on this work. You can research for years in order to avoid writing and somehow your book doesn’t get magically written in that time period - ASK ME HOW I KNOW.
Write about why you don’t want to write: Do you hate something about this writing project? Write about that. Do you want to be watching people in a picturesque British small town murder each other with alarming frequency? Write about why your favorite episodes of quirky white-on-white crime are more fun than writing whatever you’re supposed to write. Are you struggling with a particular paragraph or chapter? Write those struggles out. This is a really great way to start to break through writing walls, and it’s also a practice in being kind to yourself for not wanting to do things that you don’t want to do (which my therapist keeps reminding me is also apparently totally normal and not a reason to call myself a big lazy baby??).
Talk to your Idea Partner: What is an “Idea Partner” you ask? An idea partner is someone in your life who believes in you and your writing, and is willing to sit with you and act excited while you bounce ideas off of them. Ask this person if they have a few minutes, and just ramble off writing ideas - any and all ideas - no matter how zany they may seem. My idea partner is my spouse (oh how convenient) and I can’t count how many times in writing my book I interrupted whatever he was doing to so that I could dump my ideas out in front of him. Kind of like when you forget to pull your clothes out of the dryer for days and you forget what’s in there but you are out of clean clothes so you toss the giant, wrinkled pile on your bed and hold each item up to see if there’s anything you can wear. Sometimes you find underwear (score!). Sometimes you find a dress worth throwing back in the dryer for a few minutes in order to uncrumple it. Sometimes you realize that this load was only socks and towels and maybe you aren’t going to leave the house today. Is this a really bad analogy for what I’m talking about? A really good analogy for everything except what I’m talking about? Am I currently working through a backlog of laundry? Yes? Yes? Yes.
Read: When I’m too busy writing to sit down and read a book, my writing really starts to suffer. The reason why I wanted to become a writer in the first place is because of the work of other writers. Other writers inspire and challenge me. They remind me of why I love the written word. But when I’m really busy with writing work, reading is one of the first activities that I toss out the window. If too much time passes, I find that my writing becomes very mechanical and loses it’s flow and it’s beauty. And then, surprise surprise, I’m not really enjoying it anymore.
Try writing by hand: I’ve given this advice many times, and I will give it many times more. Sometimes it’s not the writing, it’s the screen. The screen is full of distractions. The internet lives there. It’s where we spend so much of our time already. And sometimes the last thing you want to do is spend more time looking at a screen or typing on a keyboard. So get out a pen and paper for a bit. Write an an outline or a paragraph or two. It will stimulate your brain in a different way and can really help with screen fatigue. All of my notes and outlines for my books, articles, and speeches are handwritten and have been for years.
Get an accountability partner: Do you have a friend who is also avoiding necessary tasks? Ask them if you can be accountability partners! Come up with a short-term deliverable (like, I’m going to send you 500 words by the end of the week) and promise it to them. Check in with each other (lightly, don’t make it annoying) to see how things are going, and then be sure to ask your partner for their deliverable on the due date if they haven’t already sent it to you. My partner used an accountability partner when working on his upcoming album (hey, you should preorder it now) and the result was the best album of his career so far. I, on the other hand am so “you aren’t the boss of me” that I use virtual co-working instead and it works great for me a lot of the time.
Ok y’all, I hope this helps! Writing this all out was certainly helpful to me - not only did I get a newsletter done, it reminded me that I have a lot of really valuable tools at my disposal.
What do you do to break through your creative blocks? Leave your tips in the comments.