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Surviving Struggle Days: How to get back to writing and why

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Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash

Last week, I had a horrible day. I’m talking a don’t-see-a-point-in-getting-out-of-bed kind of day. An if-I-see-a-truck-coming-at-me-I-may-not-jump-out-of-the-way kind of day. Spoiler alert: the next day, I was fine. And in the spirit of talking about things that are going well, I want to talk a little bit about what helps me when I have a “struggle day”.

On a struggle day, words are a slog. I can’t find the right words to write or to say, not even to explain how I feel. I don’t see the point of what I’m writing. I don’t see a reason for writing at all. I see all the bad stuff and none of the good ones—in my writing and everything else I do. I’m a horrible mother, sister, daughter, and person. I’m vulnerable and easily distracted. It’s usually a high emotions day, and I feel tumultuous, fragile, vulnerable.

This day had come after weeks of good momentum, which made it all the more disappointing. I wanted to keep writing, keep my momentum going, keep feeling like a normal, positive person. That, of course, gives rise to thinking about all the things that are wrong with me and why all these years of therapy haven’t helped even a little bit.

I’ve had days like this before. I’ve had months like this before. So some of what helps is that I know, when I stop to think about it, that this too shall pass. Not in an annoying, toxic positivity kind of way. I learned (with a LOT of therapy) that if you let emotions move through you, eventually they go away.

Luckily for me, my brain doesn’t kick in until after I get out of bed and shower, so my don’t-see-a-point-in-getting-out-of-bed feeling usually strikes when I’m already in my office, and usually takes the shape of this-is-useless-I-may-as-well-go-back-to-bed-and-never-leave. It’s a slight variation, and it’s slightly less debilitating. Because I already got out of bed. I learned to harness that to my advantage over the years (and again, with a LOT of therapy). I tell myself things like, OK, I’ll take a day off once I do my morning pages. Then, I use the pages to convince myself to only do a couple of Pomodoros on my WIP. Then I can take the rest of the day off. Sometimes, that’s enough to get me going.

Last week, it wasn’t. I stared at my WIP, and the only words I could sum up were “fraud”, “cliché”, and “idiot”. I almost gave up. In the past, I tried to read instead, then at least I’m a little more productive. What often happens is that I won’t be able to focus on reading, either, and end up playing some stupid iPad game to distract myself. But I set my goals to be time goals rather than word-count goals precisely for this reason. I can convince myself to sit for 25 minutes and stare at the WIP more easily than I can convince myself to write 25 words on a struggle day.

So I sat and stared until I was bored. Then I started writing how much this is a struggle, and I hate writing, and I don’t know what was the point of all this. Some people use the same document and even count this kind of writing in their word count. I prefer to switch to a different document (I keep one open for that purpose). So, for a while, I just vented about how I don’t know what to write and how I’m writing a scene between a Palestinian father and his adult son, and I have no right to tell their stories and how underqualified and inadequate I feel. Then, without even noticing it, I started writing the dialogue between them. I started writing the scene. I moved that to the WIP document and kept writing for two Pomodoros.

Now comes the part I did last week for the first time. Following a LOT of therapy (really, it’s been years), I have slowly come around to the idea that I should be kind to myself and tend to the little artist girl inside me. So, after I finished my two Pomodoros (and doing one more thing that someone else was waiting for me to do), I actually took the rest of the day off. I kept my promise to that little girl who wanted to go back to bed. I didn’t go back to bed because I’m not there yet. Instead, I decided to bake. Cooking and baking are good choices for this situation for me. Working in the kitchen soothes me. I let my hands work, and my mind is focused enough on what I’m doing that it has no time to wander. I put some music on (Out-of-State Plates by Fountains of Wayne, which I’ve been meaning to listen to for a while) and sink into the work. I take breaks if I need to cry (high emotions, remember?).

Last week, I made rogalach and buns and shakshuka for dinner. It took hours, but it worked. The next day, I felt myself again. I kept my momentum because I managed to convince myself to write a little bit. I even made a little bit of progress. And the things I didn’t get to do because I took half a day off? They’re still waiting for me to finish them, and that’s ok. Because now I can.


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