1. Bake. Anything and everything. In the movie about Sylvia Plath, there’s a scene in which the counter is covered with pies and tarts and breads. But the page is empty. EMPTY, I tell you. It’s kind of like that, except maybe without the major despair, usually.
2. Clean out a junk drawer. Why yes, I do need a tiny little jar in which to keep those paper clips. And it is a great idea to alphabetize my purses by color. All four of them.
3. Read old journals. Which is almost always a mistake because I invariably remember something I was better off forgetting. Usually involving a boy. Or a man. Or at worst, as my friend Leah likes to say, a manchild.
4. Troll Facebook for inspiration. Oh, internets, how you torture and delight. Usually when I go looking for inspiration, I don’t find it. I end up getting distressed, offended, overwhelmed, or watching so many TED talks that I find I can only communicate in twenty-minute motivational increments. And then I remember that inspiration is like a wild animal. It doesn’t seem to come out when I’m stalking it; it comes out when I’m living my life, or walking towards the kitchen to
5. Make popcorn. With black truffle oil. Which is DELICIOUS. And which I actually make sometimes when I’m not avoiding writing. This often leads to me choosing to
6. Watch one of my favorite movies. Moonstruck. Rushmore. When Harry Met Sally. Or if I’m really needing an escape, the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Which definitely requires more of number 5.
7. Shred stuff. Usually paper. Sometimes with a shredder and sometimes, if I’m feeling rowdy, MY BARE HANDS.
8. Do sit-ups. Honestly, I’ve found fewer excellent motivations for me to actually do sit-ups than avoiding writing. And yes, I know there are lots of other good motivations to exercise.
9. Make lists. Some about why I’m not writing. Some of names for my plants—Elizabeth. Richard Simmons. Greeny. Some of the reasons dark roasted coffee beans are superior to other beans.
10. Berate myself for not writing. And I know I’m not the only one. I heard this from friends, colleagues, clients, old classmates, all of the time. We all might as well get hair shirts and meet in a big auditorium to compare horror stories. Which is not the same as a writers’ conference. Okay, maybe sometimes.
The thing is, perhaps with the exception of number ten, all of this is actually okay. It’s just fine. Because, and here’s a shocker, being a writer doesn’t mean having super-strength or a higher bar to reach than anyone else on the planet. Go, go, gadget writer arms!
It can feel like that—at least for me—like I must be masterpiece-writing every single time I put a word to the page, or I’ve failed. But that’s bullshit. Bullying, bullheaded, bullshit.
And as the wise leader of the A-Team once said, I ain’t got no time for that jibber jabber.
I am a writer, but first I’m a human being. Yes I need discipline and commitment to finish writing projects. And occasionally, wait for it, I’m not disciplined. But I’ve decided that’s just fine, for me and for you.
Sometimes it’s okay to bake to remind myself that unlike novels, some delicious things can be thoroughly concocted in the course of one evening. Sometimes it’s okay to clear out a cluttered drawer, because if I’m really a writer then I know the power of metaphor, that when I make room in my physical space, I also might just be making room in my creative space.
Sometimes it’s okay to exercise, because it’s good for me. And man alive, does a strong core ever help with that low back pain from sitting at the computer all day.
Sometimes it’s okay to make popcorn, because I’m hungry. Or watch a movie because I need some vicarious story juice. Or let myself get so frustrated by so much time on Facebook that I’m able to break a cycle of stuckness. Whatever. I’m human. You’re human. We write. And sometimes we don’t.
When we do write, how we do it is a choice—kicking and screaming, like a lamb to the slaughter, happily with no slaughter or screaming involved, like a beagle off leash at the beach for the first time, with calm tears. And the best part is, none of those choices are the wrong one. They’re simply choices.
We breathe. We bake. We clean. We write. Task by task, word by word, bird by bird. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.