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Women’s History Month – Y.S. Lee

Y. S. Lee is the author of the award-winning Agency novels (Walker Books/Candlewick Press), a quartet of mysteries featuring a mixed-race girl detective in Victorian London. After earning a Ph.D. in English literature, Ying realized that her true love was gritty historical detail – something she tries to make the most of in her fiction. She lives with her family in Kingston, Ontario. Visit her at www.yslee.com or on Twitter @yinglee

“I’m stuck.”

Hello, friends. This week, I felt tired. I was easily irritated. I slept poorly, drank too much coffee, and didn’t get enough fresh air. It follows that I also didn’t write as much of my novel as I’d hoped – and not for lack of honest effort.

In the past, I’d have been angry with myself. I’d have decided that I was a slacker and an impostor, and found ways to punish myself. It would not have occurred to me that a) I don’t treat others this way, and 2) I would not tolerate this treatment from someone else.

However, in a small but encouraging sign that change is always possible, I didn’t fall for the own-worst-enemy routine. Instead, I decided to be gentle with myself. I gave myself an hour off. And when that hour was over, I went to my writing shed and happily fixed a scene that had been troubling me for 2 days. It really works, not being a jerk to oneself.

In an effort to step back and protect myself in future rough weeks, I’ve made a checklist called, “I’m stuck/tired/lethargic/don’t feel up to writing, WAAAAAH.” As its name so subtly suggests, I’m aiming to train myself to refer to this list every time I feel stuck, etc.

When I mentioned my checklist on Twitter, I got an immediate response and fell into a really interesting private conversation with another writer, which made me think that I should share my list here. It’s geared to me as a self-employed writer, of course, but I think it’s much more broadly applicable.

So, on days or in moments when I feel stuck, etc., my goal is to step back and consider: why do I feel this way? Is it a) low mood, 2) mental fatigue, 3) physical fatigue, or 4) a combination (or something else entirely)?

Then, I have a list of strategies for each type of problem.

Low mood

Focus on self-care: go for a walk, practise yoga, or make a cup of tea and drink it while looking at the garden.
Do a couple of small tasks that cost little energy and are satisfying to check off on a list (viva the bullet journal!).
Organize something small; choose something that gives positive concrete results.
Think about another aspect of my life that I could change, with satisfying results, and make a plan to take care of it.
After an period of self-care, try slipping into a writing session. Even a couple of hundred words can be a triumph.

Mental fatigue

Take a short break from work.
Focus on something concrete and personal (NOT for the children!).
Maybe do something domestic: garden, bake, tidy.
After a break, turn towards the WIP: where am I in this project? What tweaks do I need to make? Make notes towards the next writing session. Maybe slip into that writing session, or maybe not.

Physical fatigue

Rest, already!
Read (secondary sources or go over the existing WIP).
Think about an aspect of the WIP and where it’s going. Once the brain is humming, slip into a writing session.

If progress on the WIP remains elusive

Work on a secondary project (mine is currently a picture book)
Make a list of scenes, flesh out in the historical detail in the existing WIP
Read secondary sources
Figure out how to start the next writing session with a sense of momentum, inevitability – map out where I need to go

That’s my checklist-in-progress. It’s far from exhaustive, though, and I hope to build on it. What do you do, friends? How do you manage work slumps and protect yourself from your harshest critic?

Today’s post first appeared on Wednesday, May 27th, 2015, at http://yslee.com/2015/05/im-stuck/ It is re-eprinted with the author’s permission.

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