Life gets in the way: Writing about (not) writing

Writing is something I have not done much lately. Frankly, it’s something I haven’t done much for the last couple years.

I’m in a rut. Burned out. Dispassionate. Lazy. Unimaginative. Too busy. When I feel the need to write something, I put it off until I have more time. However, the desire dissolves quickly. There are some long-term exceptions, especially ideas for blog posts, but I have obviously not gotten around to writing them.

Way back in April (I think), I started another attempt to write a novel. I started strong, but during the summer I wrote myself into a massive hole — a chapter I let go on and on and on — and my enthusiasm fizzled. I think about it every now and then, think about picking up where I left off. But last week I had something akin to an epiphany, or at least remembered a good tip: I need to write what I know. That means starting over — again. (Which is fine. If whatever I do next jells, then starting anew is well worth it. If not, it will be back to the ol’ drawing board.)

Over the past couple years, I have become a writer who doesn’t write.

It is nothing new, though. My love affair with writing has been off-and-on my entire life. I loved writing when I was a kid — as equally as I loved basketball and shooting hoops in the driveway. In fact, I often shot hoops to brainstorm story ideas, to climb out of holes I had written myself into, to figure out what was going to happen next in my latest story. Shooting hoops was my vehicle for meditation. (These days, I run — and have been meaning to write about that again… Though meditative and calming, it is not as helpful for writing as was shooting hoops.) The love affair was definitely on back then, but it turned off for most of my teenage years. It warmed up again at the end of high school and was off for long stretches during college. It has been off-and-on ever since, and has definitely been off for the last year and change.

Generally, my love for writing reignites when I have something I want to write and feel passionate about — and also have time to do so. The love affair turns off when I am unmotivated, distracted, and too busy — like now.

Life has gotten in the way, especially work. There seems to be more and more work all the time, more and more things I need to micromanage in order to keep the journals running smoothly. I am constantly being tugged in different directions. This needs to be done, that needs to be done. This needs attention, that needs attention. And what is this? Another wrinkle to iron out! More queries, more papers, more special issues, more editors. It seems to be a ceaseless upward progression. That’s a good thing in certain ways, but not for my mental state — or my desire to write. After working at my laptop for eight hours every weekday, do you think I want to spend one or two more hours sitting at it, writing, in the evening and night?

Running, walking, and whatever else I sometimes do for physical fitness also get in the way — big time. Trying to stay fit (or at least attempting to become fit) requires quite a time commitment. Since I don’t run or workout in the morning (I just can’t do it), I always do it after work. Including warm-up, stretching, cool-down, more stretching, and then showering, it takes two hours out of my day. Usually, by the time I’m fresh and clean clean, it’s dinner time. (On the days I don’t run or walk after work, I usually have some other personal chore scheduled. Or I read for an hour or so, just to unwind after work.)

After dinner, what do I want to do during the three or four hours I have all to myself before I hit the hay? Force myself to sit at my laptop again? Hell no! Oh, I usually use my laptop to surf the internet during that time, but I don’t feel like doing anything productive. I need a break during the day, and after dinner is when I usually allow myself to take it. I can’t and don’t want to work all day.

That’s another problem. Writing used to be a hobby and passion, but now it’s work. I have developed a bad habit of taking all the fun out of everything I love, and writing — much like reading — has fallen victim to that habit. It probably has a lot to do with the fact I work from home. Though I keep strict work hours, starting at eight in the morning and logging out of everything at four o’clock every afternoon, the need to be productive stays with me. Much like I feel that I jump from one duty to the next when I work, the same applies to my free time. I have to read, I have to run, I have to write, I have to try a new beer and write about it (which I did not do this weekend because I have had a cold). It’s crushing. Even though I only work for eight hours each weekday, there are some days when I feel like I work all day — from the moment I get out of bed to the moment I pull the covers over myself at night. I feel like I jump from one thing I need to do to the next. All day.

Given all that, even if I have something I want to write about (other than a beer review, of course), I don’t feel like writing. Honestly, I would much rather lounge on the couch and channel surf. That was another reason I lost all enthusiasm for writing my novel. Throughout the summer, all I wanted to do in the evening was unwind by watching the Cubs. (It may not have been productive, but it was a hell of a lot more fun than forcing myself to write.)

Back in the day, when I heard about classmates or former reporters who had stopped writing, I wondered, “How could they not keep writing?” Well, now I know why. Sometimes, it is no longer a priority. Other times, there is no time.

Mostly, this post is to rant and ruminate about the woeful state of my writing career, if I can call it that. It’s a good excuse to write, too. (When in doubt, write about writing … or not writing.) As I ponder my post-journal possibilities and opportunities, I need to ask and answer hard questions about writing. When I think of my next job, of something I can do next, freelance writing always pops into my head. Though I have always had a love-hate relationship with reporting, the journalism bug bit me and its venom still courses through my veins. Deadlines have a habit of sticking in the back of my mind, inducing a constant anxiety until it is met or the story is finished, and I hate hate hate it when potential sources don’t return calls or respond to emails. But for some reason I still feel drawn to reporting. Not daily reporting. Oh, God no — I learned the hard way that I’m not well suited for daily reporting. But working at my own pace, easing into it to slowly build experience and connections? That may be worthwhile.

And I would be writing.

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