The Immersion Conundrum

This post is aimed at those of my readers who are also writers.

Do you have a good way to overcome your psychological need for immersion in work? What I mean by this is, I struggle to find large blocks of time (like hours of time) in my life to focus on writing. But when I sit down knowing I have only 30 minutes or something, I often find working impossible.

For various reasons that seem impossible to change right now, my life is fragmented. I won’t have entire Saturdays to just write for the forseeable ever.  I have been opening docs and staring at them in confusion, trying to orient myself in a story, focused mostly on the fact that I have a finite amount of work time, and getting nothing done. Or at best a handful of sentences that get written over the next day because they were useless.

Part of this is just life stress. Work has been stupid lately, and hubs and I are about to take a trip out of the country so I am stressing out about making sure everything is ready for us to be gone, caught up at my desk at the job so someone else can step in for a couple weeks, etc., and one of my ghostwriting gigs has changed so it’s not a comfortable column anymore but articles I am really struggling to start, much less finish. I feel like my brain is flying in a hundred directions and about to explode at all times, and it has been getting more and more frenetic, wound tighter and tighter, by the day. I haven’t been able to focus on words either at night after work or even first thing in the mornings–it’s like English is Klingon. The words just don’t fucking make sense.

And this is killing me. I feel neutered or bound in a straightjacket or something. I want to cry when I think about what I want to be doing (writing) and how for whatever reason I just can’t do it right now. I hate that I can’t just pick up a story and write a few words and let them add up. Instead it’s this stupid “If I can’t have too many bon-bons then I will have none” mentality, only by bon-bons I mean hours to just simply focus on my story.

Part of the problem, undoubtedly, is that I am having to imagine all the current scenes from any project I could pick up as I write them. In fact maybe the primary problem is that my brain is so focused on other things–work, while I’m there, and getting ready for this trip while I’m home–that I haven’t been free to just imagine anything lately, and that’s really what’s upsetting me.

I don’t know. I just need a way to stop myself from dwelling on the fact that I only have a finite amount of work time and instead just do the work.

I’m the same way when it comes to sewing projects, so I know this is not just a matter of writer’s block or something like that. It’s something in my psyche. Maybe it’s a subconsious acknowledgment of my ability to hyperfocus away the usual ADD, which is a process that takes me out of my own mind for hours.

The sticking point is, if I am in the regular routine of working and in touch with the characters daily, I don’t need to have the hyperfocus to get to work…but right now because I don’t have the time to do a hyperfocus writing marathon, I am not able to work even in small doses. I am banging my head against a wall.

In the past when I have had this, the problem solves itself when I have a day that words just come pouring out in a flood, and then I’m back in the groove and all is gravy. But I don’t have that day right now. It won’t happen for at least 3 weeks. And I can’t deal with waiting three entire weeks to write something.

I should probably just say, “I am not writing again till we get home,” but I want to cry at the very thought. I am just in despair and making writing a source of stress for myself at a time when I need less stress, not more, but the fact is that I tend to define bad in terms of whether I got anything done. If I have a shit day at work and my husband is away and none of my friends will come out of their caves to see me and even the cat won’t talk to me, it’s still not a bad day if I got good words down. I have had a lot of bad days (in all ways) lately, and I could really, really use the balm of at least writing well to make them better.

So, anyone else struggle with this? What do you do?

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “The Immersion Conundrum

  1. I struggle with the time problem (having my time chopped up just kills productivity), and I struggle with similar feeling of frustration and, yes, even actual worthlessness when I can’t write. And I can’t write if my mental focus is elsewhere–which is what happens when life gets too crazy–even if I do actually have the time.

    Basically I think most good, serious writers are perfectionists. And being a perfectionist is a double-edged sword: You produce good product, you hold yourself accountable, but you also drive yourself crazy in situations where it is absolutely of no use to you. (Right now, for example, it might actually serve you better to focus on getting the life crap more under control so that you will be able to write in the future.) And if you beat yourself up too much about, say, not being able to write when life is blowing up on you, you’ll freak yourself out to a point where you can’t write at all.

    Dean Wesley Smith has written good stuff about avoiding the perils of perfectionism, including this post (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=8367):

    Chances are you will not remember [his suggestions for maintaining productivity]. Sadly. You will be buried in a life crisis and then when that clears you will be mad at yourself for not doing the impossible and protecting your writing time and meeting your weekly goals. And you will be swirling in the failure instead of just focusing on being successful the following week.

    Wow, was that easy for me to type and so hard for any of us to do.

    The real key to having a successful year writing fiction is that when you get stopped, and you will, to start back up as soon as you can.

    • Mary, thank you for the lengthy and encouraging response! This was exactly what I needed to hear – that I’m not the only one who struggles to find big time blocks or gets driven crazy when production stops.

      I decided that since this was stressing me out so much, and I felt like I really WANTED to be writing (which is different, when I want to and don’t have time, from hypothetically wanting to but really making excuses not to because I don’t really want to be writing), that I would just MAKE the time today to write. Sit down, arse in chair, hands on keys, as the saying goes, and just frakking DO IT. Not worry about needing to clean the house before we leave, not worry about making dinner, not worry about the ghost-work or packing or any of the rest of it. I got a decent word count in but most importantly I got through the hard bridge section that I knew would require utter focus to finish, so now hopefully fragments of time will be productive again.

      I really enjoyed the DWS post, I always like his take on writing and the process, and that was an article that really hit home for me.

  2. Wow. I saved this to come back and answer, but it looks like Mary is my new hero and I don’t need to answer. Much.

    Mary said: And if you beat yourself up too much about, say, not being able to write when life is blowing up on you, you’ll freak yourself out to a point where you can’t write at all.

    I have done this. Like right now. Spring is always hectic for me. This year my MS has developed some sort of plague and unless I can spend hours working on it, I can’t go near it. I see an hour as a band-aid when the thing needs chemo, which means all day, and quiet, and several hours even before that just to sink back into its world again because I’ve forgotten what it feels like.

    Thanks for the link, Mary, and thanks Lily for bringing it up and showing me I’m not a complete freak. Yet. There’s always tomorrow.

  3. “unless I can spend hours working on it, I can’t go near it. I see an hour as a band-aid when the thing needs chemo, which means all day, and quiet, and several hours even before that just to sink back into its world again because I’ve forgotten what it feels like.”

    that? that was EXACTLY what I was feeling like. i don’t know if it means you’re not crazy or that i’m just hearing the voices, too, but…hey, two’s a picknic, right? 🙂

    Hope you either get your hours or find a way to plow through in drips and drabs! I would say “word by word,” but what do you do when the words don’t make any sense? Go build a koi pond and meditate. That’s what.

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