Writing: The Process vs. The Paper

If you’ve ever committed yourself to any kind of regular writing, you’ll know that inspiration—a creative force that is for the most part out of your control entirely—ebbs and flows, and is by no means constant. There inevitably comes a time when the well runs dry, and you’re left staring at a blank computer screen, typing and deleting half-sentences, over and over again for as long as you can stand it, before throwing in the creative towel.

For a while, I had a bit of a blogging iron-man streak going. From September 2010 up until last month, I was writing an article a week for my blog at work, which became two articles a week once the folks here asked me to come on board. I was in the blogging zone; inspiration came quickly and spontaneously, and the fact that I very often had no idea what I would be writing about until I sat down to write wasn’t a problem in the slightest. If anything, the last-minute nature of this kind of writing allowed me to write prolifically with a minimum time investment.

And so it was, for quite a while.

Last month, though, something changed. For the first time since I started writing regularly, I genuinely struggled to find inspiration. I felt that the quality of my writing began to suffer, and—perhaps most alarming of all—this thing that I had once found enjoyable started to feel a little bit like a chore, and somewhat stressful. My blog posts at work, usually posted on Fridays, began to appear on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays as I was unable to complete my writing within the time I usually allot myself on Friday mornings. I even missed a couple of weeks writing here (and for that, anonymous faithful readers, I do apologize).

As with many things in life, the reflection required to figure this kind of stuff out often happens after the fact. It was as though I was in some kind of fog, and was devoting whatever faculties I had to simply navigating through it as best I could, without stopping to think about how I got into the fog in the first place. Predictably, I stumbled around for some time until I found a place to stop, rest and think for a while (aka the holiday break).

After giving some thought to the issue, I have come to a few conclusions. The first is that I was probably a bit over-taxed by the time December rolled around—not just in terms of writing commitments, but from life in general. We all experience phases where things seem out of balance (read: midterm season), but I think I failed to recognize this was happening to me at the time. In hindsight, a few strategically placed vacation days down the stretch of last semester may have made a nice difference, not to mention investing more time and effort in my physical health.

My other thought is this: I was over-thinking things. Instead of focusing on writing, I was concentrating on producing content. That may seem like the same thing, but to me the former is very much a process, while the latter is all about an end result. This realization was somewhat of an epiphany, as I’ve long preached the wonders of paying attention to the process. You know those sayings about enjoying the journey, not the destination? This is what they’re referring to.

So there it is. I enjoy the act of writing, which is of course the reason why I started doing more of it in the first place. Ironically, the more I did, the further I drifted from engaging in a creative process, to hammering out a bunch of words on a page just to get it done. Sound familiar? If you’ve written more than a few university level papers, it should.

Papers are not fun. I don’t want to write papers. I just want to write! So, write I will. And come hell or high water, I’ll have fun doing it.

Best of luck to everyone in the new semester!

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