Or, that other extreme of writer's block
Most writers are familiar with writer’s block, when you have the time and desire to write something down, but can’t seem to do so anyway. When I tell people I have the opposite extreme, and it’s a problem, nobody believes me. As if it’s a kind of humble-brag, not debilitating in its own right.
I’m pretty prolific, with three novels in progress and essays each month. I also do a fair bit of writing and storytelling at work, which means that my mind is racing 24/7. Some nights it’s a miracle if I can get to sleep by 2 AM.
This is what my mind is like right now, even as I attempt to concentrate on just getting this Substack post done. Stream of consciousness follows:
Oh, next time on Substack I should do an analysis of the beats in a romance novel, and why it doesn’t destroy your enjoyment of a story even if you know what’s coming next. But first I need to change the dress-shopping scene in Chapter 3 of HSN, and put in Caroline’s edits. So hard not to put her advice in practice and edit the following chapters knowing what I know now, but if I do I’ll end up having to deal with a painful merge conflict when she gets her edits in. Speaking of merge conflicts, I need to figure out how to blend [two slide decks] into a coherent narrative for the July meeting, tell a story about rebounding and resilience for the keynote next week in Barcelona, write three more query letters, and write the synopsis for Book 3. I also need to get the About page on my website done, but first that synopsis for Book 3 has the same beats as The King, so I need to analyze… no wait, I have that essay for [magazine] due Monday.
And that’s just the writing piece. There’s a completely parallelized stream of consciousness around the various errands, social events, travel and family things I’m supposed to be doing when I’m not at work.
Here’s how I’ve been coping with it so far:
Adjust work hours so I don’t have to be awake before noon. Since I can’t guarantee I’ll be asleep by 2 AM, I can’t be at work in the morning.
Make TODO lists. Sometimes, just putting down all the things I have to do on paper so I can scratch them off when they’re done makes all the difference. It removes the cognitive load of remembering things, and scratching things out is very satisfying.
Ready access to drafts and notes. Any time an idea strikes, I have to be ready to write it down. Immediately. I have notebooks and pens in every room of the house. Otherwise I have to carry it in my head, and it adds to the mania.
Have a mantra and actually use it. Multi-tasking is a myth. When things get particularly hectic in my head, I mutter-sing this to myself under my breath. One by one, one by one; that’s how things get done.
Have understanding friends and family. Some writers feel awkward about refusing social events, but they do cut into writing time. I have a budget of 1 social event per week. Any more than that and my answer is no. I can’t be a good friend to people when my head is in my books anyway.
Trust your instincts; avoid perfectionism. I’m a strong believer in gut instinct. I recently took the UK residency test. On every practice test, my score was inversely correlated with my speed. The more I (over)thought my answers, the worse I did. The same is true for most of the storytelling I do at work, where I know that less effort makes me better as a storyteller, more instinctive, intuitive and present. That leaves my perfectionist side free to focus on my fiction, where I can spend a week finding the perfect word.
Calm your senses, however works for you. I can’t meditate, but I can drink hot chocolate, and I do, every night, so I can sleep.
With that, I bid y’all adieu to go scratch a few more things off the old list.