Fighting the Flounder

Confession: I’ve been floundering lately.

There are a few factors I credit/blame:

  • After working my arse off to rewrite my script for Bluecat’s Fellini resubmission, I ended up with a version of it that I knew was, once again, not would I felt it could be.
  • Literally the very same evening I submitted that, I had to dive straight into Round 2 of the Cyberspace Open.
  • The very next week, I attempted to start looking over another script for a quick polish before the Nicholl deadline.
  • My calendar tends to work in mysterious ways, being crammed full of events for about a week and a half straight followed by a completely dead three- or four-week period. Guess which phase it was in during all this.

These elements combined to induce the following behaviors/emotions:

  • I began to hate the script I was reading, despite the fact that it’s actually my favorite thing I’ve ever written.
  • The idea of going back to the script I submitted for Fellini actually made me feel a little physically ill.
  • Because of those two things, I essentially stopped working — I just couldn’t bring myself to do it — instead choosing to watch episode after episode after episode of Sex & the City.  I think I’ve watched four seasons in the past two weeks.
  • I began suffering some pretty severe mood swings, going from feeling very happy to extremely low. I’m generally a pretty even-keeled person (the Golden Mean has long been my motto, sometimes infuriatingly so), and it distresses me when I’m not — especially if I can’t pinpoint why.  Which of course does not help matters in the least.

Last week I finally hit a breaking point that can best be envisioned as me shouting to the heavens, “What the hell is going on with me?”

So I did what any normal* person would do. I started tracking my mood and any factors I thought might affect it in a spreadsheet.

As part of that endeavor, because I know I feel crazier when I’m not writing, I challenged myself to write 500 words a day 5 days a week.  They could be on anything at all — blog posts, journal-style pieces, travel memoir, fiction, whatever — but I needed to get back into writing in a pressure-free but consistent way.

In a week I’d written 6,321 words, and on Sunday I suddenly felt compelled to pick up my script again.  I cannot tell you how relieved I was to find I didn’t hate it anymore.  On the contrary, I feel positive about it**, and with maybe an hour of polishing, I’ll still manage to have it ready to submit to Nicholl this week.

And I’m beginning to see some patterns emerge regarding my mood that will help me going forward.  I’ll know more as the weeks pass into a month or two.  The one thing I’ve learned without a doubt, though, is this:  If I neglect to give myself a break, I will break.

This all may seem a little nutty (I’ve never denied my nuttiness and could never hope to), but I’ve found no greater tool for life than self-awareness.  Learning what makes you tick and what knocks you over is integral to creating an atmosphere in which to do your best work and to live your fullest life.  Not everyone needs a spreadsheet to do this (though I’m hoping I’m not the only person in the world who resorts to such methods), but if you, too, ever find yourself floundering, take some time to step back and examine yourself.

This can be kind of a scary thing to do, because it involves acknowledging all your feelings — uncomfortable ones included and perhaps even highlighted — along with your shortcomings.  But in doing so, you get the opportunity to figure out how to work around or even use those things to your advantage in the future.

* “Normal” here can be defined as “extremely Type A to the nth degree.”
** Also of note, Justine Musk wrote an excellent and thematically related post on “moving through the creative gap.” Check it out.
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8 thoughts on “Fighting the Flounder

  1. Stuart says:

    “If I neglect to give myself a break, I will break” is a really important thing a lot of writers don’t realise, or they view taking a break as a weakness, because if you’re not working, how can you be working towards your goals, right?

    I think the writer mind tends to get clogged. I think you’re like me, in that you carry a notebook with you, observing the world or ready to catch flashes of inspiration; current projects are always on your mind; and you’re constantly on the lookout for future ones. So both of us write a *lot* of stuff, but writing is such an intense thing sometimes – sitting there at the keyboard, locked into that world – that things gets hard to shake. When I’ve had these intense periods without a break, my brain gets filled up with remnants of the projects I’m either working on, or wanting to get to next, and it’s all floating around in there all the time, like the characters and plots were partying away like animals, and I never cleared up the next morning, so I’m tripping over filthy ashtrays and dead hookers while trying to compose whatever new thing I’m working on now.

    Taking a break from that, even if it’s a few days where you tell yourself you’ll just lazily burn through a box set and not touch a pen, gives your brain a chance to reboot, like the way that sleep after a busy day pushes all that chatter out of your mind and wipes it all clean when you open your eyes the next morning.

    Burnout, I’ve learned, is a very real thing, and when your brain gets clogged like that, with all the leftover detritus of old worlds, it’s not condusive to good writing anyway. The clearer the headspace, the better you’ll do. Plus, if you really are like me, a few days away from the keyboard/notepad, and you’re like a bulldog in an old cartoon, chain at full stretch and ready to attack those keys with something you *really* want to say.

    • Elizabeth Ditty says:

      You always have the most delightfully inappropriate metaphors. 🙂 And yes, everything you’re saying there is accurate, I think.

      I have a hard time because my neuroticism flag really starts to fly if I’m not writing for more than a few days, which I’ve always taken as a sign that I need to be working on a project. But especially after this last bout of floundering, I’ve rediscovered the huge benefit of writing just for writing’s sake, or to process life, or whatever, without a true end game for the writing.

      It’s something I often neglect, I think, and I would suspect I’m not alone among writers pursuing a career in the field. But doing that sort of free writing is what allows the brain to get creative again, which is obviously a rather important thing for an artist.

      • Stuart says:

        I’ve been in a constant battle with that ‘writing without an end game’ mindset for a while now, because every passing year has been another year where I haven’t made it yet. Blogging is my happy medium to that. No pressure, it keeps my creative juices bubbling, but if something from that should catch, it highlights my other stuff that’s out there.

        And mildly less crazy is okay, but keep a little back. All writers need *some* crazy :p

  2. Gerry Hayes says:

    A spreadsheet? You’re tracking neuroses with a spreadsheet? You are the nerdiest mentally ill person I know.

    Apart, maybe, from me.

    Just kidding. You’re way nerdier than me.

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