Hey writers– I’m excavating this post from the vault, because I’ve talked to several people in the past week who feel like they’re wandering in a desert of confusion. They’re asking, “What happens next in my plot?” “What the hell am I even writing about?” “Why am I even writing it?” “What was I thinking trying to attempt this impossible thing which I love, but now hate because it seems tricky and impossible?”
When I’m in this desert, I usually freeze. I become physically and emotionally stuck and can’t write. Now, if this was a real desert, I’d start baking, overheat, burn up and stop breathing. But because this desert is only in my mind, I feel all the physical trauma of slowly baking and burning up and not breathing, but am still expected to do the dishes….
One thing that helps me get unstuck is my trusty writer’s survival kit.
After years of tortured thought patterns, bad doubts and trouble, I finally figured out the things I need to be a happy writer. I’m sharing the contents of my writing survival kit in the hope of inspiring you to construct a tool box of your own.
First of all, I imagine that my kit looks a bit like an old battered fishing box, with rusty hinges, and a few dents from being kicked around. Inside, are tiny drawers….
DRAWER #1 contains DISCERNMENT: This drawer is usually the hardest for me to find. It’s buried, towards the bottom, but is my MOST IMPORTANT tool. Discernment is the ability to know when to say no to things that might distract me from writing. Again, for me, this drawer is very difficult to find. It resides under all the excuses and old stories and fear.
DRAWER #2 contains BOOKS. This drawer is easily accessible, right up top. When I doubt the words I’m putting to the page, I read books and remember what I aspire to. There are all kinds of books in my survival kit. Some new and some I’ve read many times. They perk me up.
DRAWER #3 contains NATURE. When confusion strikes, I open this drawer and dive into long walks on the streets around my house. I take in the trees, the wind, the clouds. I try to be present.
DRAWER #4 contains MOVIES. I love watching them, enjoying them, and learning from them. I think about the issues I’m facing in my latest draft, and how I can apply what I’m seeing on the screen to my work. These lessons can help with fiction and memoir as well. Good movies are great story teachers.
DRAWER #5 contains an awesome Faber Castell PENCIL that a client gave me. It has a super secret sharpener in the cap and an eraser that never quits.
DRAWER #6 contains SILENCE. I go there when the world’s noise gets too loud.
DRAWER #7 contains my Saturday night MARTINI. With three olives. Whoo Hoo! I forget all the things that don’t work in my pages.
DRAWER #8 contains my WRITER FRIENDS. My peeps. The precious people in my life who understand what it’s like to navigate not just the page, but the business world beyond the page. Pitches, creating a platform, etc… We commiserate and support each other. Without them, I’m not sure I’d be able to keep plugging forward.
Each drawer has a single thing I need to keep writing. And just identifying what’s inside these drawers has been hugely influential in my ability to continue my work.
Take action! Make a list. What’s in your writer’s survival kit? What are the activities that feed your creativity? What are the things that make you feel good in your body and mind? What are the rituals or foods or sounds or utensils that take you to a place of focus and confidence? Make your list and then imagine what your box looks like. If you really see it as a separate entity filled with all the support you need, you can reach for it when necessary.
Use the treasures inside, click the lock shut when you’re finished, and carry it with you always.
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