Rejecting Compulsion

Perhaps it is a function of age, but I’ve been slowing down and living with more simplicity over the past few months. It’s surprisingly countercultural, especially when we’ve agreed that being busy = being important, thus slowing down = risking being irrelevant. I’ve written before about simplicity being a guiding value, and this summer I began to explore what that looks like in my life.

I started the summer with a great deal of anger, mainly caused by challenges at work. (The usual challenges libraries face: “But why do we even need a library if everything’s online anyway? We’ll just go ahead and cut more staff & budget.”) In response, I imposed a crazy mandate on myself: write every single day for hours NO MATTER WHAT in order to write AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE before returning to work at the end of the summer.

Not a good formula for quality writing – or for enjoying writing, for that matter. Or life. Following this compulsion only made me angrier.

So I slowed down. I reminded myself that writing is more than just accumulating (and bragging about) word count. I reflected more on the shape of the story. I bought a notebook where I sketched out scenes & chapters & made helpful notes to myself like, “don’t forget about the [illegible script].” I woke up in the morning & asked myself what I wanted to do today.

The great thing was, more often than not, what I wanted to do was write. My anger dissipated and I found joy on the page.

In the end, I didn’t blast through an entire novel rewrite in 10 weeks, as I had foolishly planned, but I somehow produced wrote 8 (really good) chapters. And I enjoyed my summer a heck of a lot more than if I’d forced myself to write.

Writing isn’t as easy now that the semester has begun. There is less time to think, less time to reflect, less time to be still. This hurts my library work, too, as I’d do a better job with more time to think and plan. Slowing down isn’t particularly easy with small children, either, but even on the crazy days I am able to remind myself that stillness & simplicity are indeed virtues – no matter how countercultural.

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