How can a mind be empty and full at the same time?
This is the problem I have been struggling with this past week. Uninspired, unable to put pen to paper, my brain has battled with an army of niggling worries instead. Each time I’ve attempted to sit at the keyboard, my focus has disappeared and my head has felt it will burst from the pressure of unhelpful thoughts building behind my eyes.
This week was going to be the start. My son was off to college, I would finally have time to get on with my writing. Every day I would work on my novel, chipping away at the chapters. I have failed. The words have not flowed, the ideas have deserted me. Even re-reading and editing has been beyond my capabilities.
I can’t put my finger on exactly what is wrong. Yes, there is anxiety. Will my son be happy in this new phase? Will my daughter be safe on her travels in the US? Will I be able to get my novel written? Yes, there is anticipation. Won’t it be great when my daughter gets home next week? Won’t it be a relief when the barn is rebuilt? Will anyone want to read my novel? Yes, there is concern. Should I get a job? Will my daughter settle happily at university? Will I be able to get my novel published?
So, I abandon my desk and escape outside. I breath in the cool air, let the rain freshen my face and the wild wind tangle my hair. My shoulders relax as I walk in the garden. The swallow family are preparing to leave us; the young swoop joyfully above me, chattering like monkeys. The bracken is turning from bright green to shades of copper and gold. A wood pigeon flutters in the hedge, greedily gobbling up elderberries. My goats bleat, happy in my company. I feel a sense of joy to be in the open. Under the wide grey sky, my thoughts settle. Here in this moment, I am composed.
Perhaps I’ve piled on too much expectation. Writing isn’t about having the time. Writing is a state of being. We must feel the need or desire to write. If we lose the compulsion, then it is time to withdraw, take a break. I must give myself some space to calm my mind and recharge my imagination. Tomorrow is another day and I will try again. Writing is about doing the hard work too. A professional writer gets down to the task. I will not panic. I will listen to some useful writing advice:
“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.” — Hilary Mantel
“Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.” — Barbara Kingsolver
What do you do when unable to focus on writing?