Geetanjali Mukherjee

Friday, September 5, 2014

When The Work Stops Being Fun

I have been working on a book that I started as a labour of love, and yet lately it has become an object of loathing. I am dragging my feet, unable to make progress, and yet I am stubborn, so I can’t make myself stop working on it, or put it aside and do something else. Additionally, I get panicky at the idea of just leaving it and going to watch a movie, or go for a long walk – I have this idea that by leaving the general vicinity of my desk, I am risking letting go of the moment when suddenly I will want to write, when the words simply flow. I am like a restless animal, pacing around my territory, but unable to settle down.

The book has taken over all my thoughts while I am awake, leaving room for nothing else. I have stopped having ideas, stopped being frivolous and fun, and even just having conversations with people is really draining. In short, the work is no longer fun, and neither am I.
In desperation, I picked up an old favourite, Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write. I love that book, and I have even written a review of it here. I came across a concept that explained to me just what the problem was – I had hit The Wall. The Wall is a block that comes up when we become aware of ‘my thought’, and the fact that it is ‘my book’. I have started to over-identify with the book (something Hillary Rettig warns about in her book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific). As I neared the end of the book, I started going slower and slower, because I secretly got scared. I realised people would read the book, and then I evaluated every section and sentence based on its reception – a terrible way to write if there was one. And by cutting myself off from anything else that I enjoyed, I was making it harder for my heart to engage with the work – I just “wanted to be done”. In fact that’s what I kept telling anyone who asked.
Julia’s solution (yes, I think of her as a wonderful, warm friend I can simply call up on the telephone to receive her spot-on advice) – become humble. Get over the Wall by going under it – leave your ego behind. Be willing to write badly.
The way I interpret it is this – be willing to be different. Be willing to take a risk, and stand out. It is not the end of the world if I don’t write the world’s best introduction, or if the recommendations are a little unorthodox.
This attitude is hard to remember or sustain – I keep falling back under the spell of “what if it’s not perfect?” I don’t want to purposely do something badly, but sometimes the work is subjective. Sure I can ensure that the footnotes are correct and I have spelled every word correctly. But other than that – there are a million decisions that I have made in the course of writing, which if I tried to second-guess, I would be stuck forever. Is there a perfect choice for every decision – how to start the introduction, what word to use in the sub-heading? Perhaps I am overthinking – perhaps it doesn’t matter. These thoughts keep going around in my head – but I try to remember that the goal is to do the best job I can right now, but the goal is also to finish. An unfinished book doesn’t help anyone.
So how do I capture the fun again? Focus on the interesting little bits – usually also the bits where I have to take a risk. Look at this interesting observation I made – where do I include it? What about these recommendations – how should I phrase them? Instead of thinking of them as mistakes waiting to happen, I could think of them as the reward – the quirky bits of my book that makes it unique, which is why I started writing it in the first place.
And it doesn’t hurt to find some external sources of fun either. In my case – I bought a box of cheap oil pastels and some paper – to experiment on. I’m really not very good at art – but I love messing around with colours. The fun I am having just doing something new is slowly seeping into my work as well.

So what do you do when the work stops being fun?

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