For several years a group of friends and I rented a cottage on Lake Michigan for a weekend writers retreat. We’d take our journals out to the beach or plug laptops into outlets in the dining area. We’d sit in the screened porch to read or daydream while lounging in lawn chairs.
All while being utterly disconnected from the outside world.
That cottage was in a cell phone dead zone and wasn’t wired for Wi-Fi. No matter where I went on that property, I couldn’t manage to check Facebook or Twitter or my email. No one could text me or message me or even call.
Can I tell you; it was glorious.
Well, that was until I needed to look up a bit of research. Or when I wanted to check in with things back at home. Or when I took a picture of a gorgeous sunset and wanted to share it on Instagram.
It was glorious until it wasn’t. Then it was maddening.
Being in a dead zone can be such a frustration.
For a little over a year I’ve felt as though I’ve hit more than a few creative dead zones. I’ve struggled to focus and to get my thoughts organized and onto the page. I’ve spent days feeling completely paralyzed, unable to think clearly enough to work. All while the deadlines inch closer and closer.
And at the end of those days I feel guilty, frustrated, and anxious. I worry that I’d never be able to write again like I used to.
On those days I feel despair creeping up along the margins. And on those days I feel isolated and ashamed.
But recently I read an article that said that what I’ve been experiencing is normal. That living though a pandemic alters our ability to function, to focus, to produce. I read Tweets from writer friends, many saying that they’re experiencing the same fog as I am.
This dead zone is hampering a lot of us.
But knowing that it’s not just me gives me a lot of hope. Hope that, together, we’ll make it through. This isn’t going to last forever.
In the meantime, though, I need to practice compassion.
I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to have compassion for others. What’s hard is having it for myself.
And so, I’m going to make a habit of the following self-compassion practices. Please, feel free to join me and to add your own. I’d love to hear what might work for you!
First, I have to release the expectation of perfection. There is no way that I’m always going to write the perfect scene, chapter, or even sentence. So, I just need to get over it. My task is to do the best I can in the moment. What I have in front of me is a draft that can be edited — and edited again — later on. It will be okay.
Second, I resolve to be as kind to myself as I would be to a friend. There can be no more tearing myself down or beating myself up. If I wouldn’t say it to a cherished friend, I won’t say it — or think it — about me.
Third, I acknowledge that I absolutely cannot survive the dead zone days alone. And in order to have support, I need to be honest about my struggles. I am a fortunate woman to have a handful of trusted friends — my sweet husband among them — to check in on me. But it’s not enough for me to take support and mercy from them. I need to be willing to give it lavishly as well. And in doing so, I contribute to diminishing the fog that hangs over both of us.
The past few months I’ve had more clear headed days than foggy. I’ve felt more life in the work than drudgery. It gives me hope. It keeps me going.
Outside my window is the full growth of a coming summer. And I get back to writing.
Susie Finkbeiner is the CBA bestselling author of All Manner of Things, which was selected as a 2020 Michigan Notable Book, and Stories That Bind Us, as well as A Cup of Dust, A Trail of Crumbs, and A Song of Home. She serves on the Fiction Readers Summit planning committee, volunteers her time at Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and speaks at retreats and women’s events across the
country. Susie and her husband have three children and live in West Michigan.