By: Christopher G. Fox, Ph.D.
I’ve written many articles for Two Drops of Ink with an optimistic view of the writing process, with ample advice for overcoming the various ways that writers’ block shows up to freeze our progress, to hold us back. I’ve also often advocated for self-compassion. I still believe in all of that — this is no public recanting of what I have written before.
How I (We) Got Here
The world has changed a lot since I last wrote something for this blog. As writers and in our lives at large, we have to contend with a global pandemic and a mood of national crisis in the U.S. I’d like to say otherwise, but I don’t feel much optimism about those situations easing up in the coming months.
I have been fortunate enough to see myself and my family safe and healthy, less harmed than many by the social and economic impacts of COVID-19. However, past a certain point, the world’s pain and chaos make it very difficult to write. Regardless of the safety that providence allows us to maintain within our own four walls, the world creeps in.
One consequence of that safety is the emotional labor we do to feel safe in ourselves and to reassure others and empathize with those in our extended circles who have been less lucky. It wears you down. It takes a toll.
From Inside the Hiatus
For me, paying that toll has meant a hiatus of nearly eight months in writing for any other reason than the professional writing I do for clients. I want to say more about how that hiatus has looked for me.
As a professional writer, I have devoted every quantum of focus and writerly energy to my clients’ needs. Writing for myself, whether for business or creative purposes, ground to a near halt. Out of what should have been 12 posts for my business blog, for example, I managed to write just five. Aside from that, the best place to keep my nose has seemed to be the grindstone.
My journaling habit lost consistency. I would never have thought it possible. For quite some time, consistently and every day, first thing in the morning, I wrote three pages in longhand in a journal. It has provided me essential space for clearing my head and the initial exploration of ideas that I might pursue in other writing.
At first, I stuck with it. Then I began to miss a day here and there. As time passed, my journaling gap grew from once in a while to two- or three-day breaks. I never stopped entirely, but I lost any sense of regularity.
I suppose, in hindsight, I couldn’t ask for more definitive proof that journaling works for me as a process. It’s negative proof in this case. As the habit eroded, so did my writing.
A bunch of other generally bad things crept in as well. I stopped meditating regularly. I stopped working out despite telling myself I could find alternatives to what I used to do in a gym. I ate poorly and felt worse as my energy dissipated further, and the pounds kept adding on.
What Do You Call It?
Over time, my thinking shifted. I could tell I had gone beyond simple procrastination. I had entered something that every part of me, except for my conscious chatter, already recognized as a hiatus. I started to call it that explicitly, naming it for what it was.
Everything I have described as a hiatus sounds a lot like the clinical definition of depression, but I don’t believe in casually pathologizing, so I wouldn’t call it that. Readers can decide if they’re in a diagnostic mood. The name didn’t matter, in any case.
The one thing I did manage to maintain was reading. Book after book, fiction, and non-fiction, from around the world and across the centuries — I think it saved me. That’s right. The power of writing sustained me. Hard work done at hard times by other writers remained my one connection to “the commitment.”
And look, I am talking about my writer’s hiatus in the past tense now. I am able to write what you’re reading now. By declaring it to be a thing and giving it a name, I also granted myself the power of communicating it to be over at some point. Framing it as a situation rather than a diagnosis put me more in control, or, in psychological terms, gave me more of a sense of agency.
I want to explain how writers and creators can emerge from a dry period, whether it's the specific lockdown on creativity that some may have suffered due to COVID-19 or a hiatus imposed by other more personal circumstances. Click To Tweet
Breadcrumbs on the Path
The only problem is that I don’t have any such step-by-step guide to emerging from a hiatus. I just have a before and after, with a few observations about the path outwards. Take these for what they’re worth, a few scattered breadcrumbs that seem to lead back home.
I. I accepted it.
I kept telling myself that the sense of doom would pass. These aren’t the worst times in human history, nor do I need them to be the worst as a way to add justifying drama to my specific experience of the current crises. Even if the horizon for change is blurry and indefinite, this too shall pass.
2. I didn’t beat myself up.
I noticed I was overeating and eating too much of the “wrong” thing, but honestly, so what? I wasn’t getting enough exercise, but I just let that be. And with writing, I simply acknowledged that I wasn’t doing it. While I wanted to honor the commitment, I didn’t experience my hiatus as guilt.
3. I started to spend more time outside.
Social distancing led me to seek out quieter, more isolated places, whether it was a forest, a mountain, an ocean, a sky – all bigger things than I, regardless of what I do or don’t do. They’re all more significant than what we’re dealing with today.
4. I embraced silence more.
When I am home alone, I’m a lot more willing to go without chatter, even internal mental chatter. Even though I’ve been reading more, I also can sit quietly and not do anything. I can take showers without listening to the news. I don’t feel that I have to use the quiet time to think intently through some plan or idea that’s in my head.
I haven’t provided a systematic set of steps to follow. It’s not an exhaustive and mutually exclusive list. Maybe I could add to my collection of breadcrumbs that I have given up the need for that, too. Instead, I can take them for what they are.
What does it matter? I’m writing again.
Christopher G. Fox, Ph. D. is a writer and communications strategist living in Los Angeles. He works with executives and subject matter experts to help them build reputations through messages, conversations, stories, and thought leadership.
His website, Syncresis® is a consultancy focused on thought leadership, patient communication, and content strategy. Its unique virtual operating model means that teams are purpose-built to the needs of a specific client and project.
He is also the creator of Kindness Communication®, which promotes the idea that the worlds we move in can be better places if we make kindness the core of how we operate.