Updated: Jul 27, 2021
First of all, let me explain that title. No, I don’t mean that you should quit writing just because you’re facing an obstacle. I also did not just give you a license to check out of your work in progress and #netflixandchill for the rest of the day. (Not that there isn’t something to be said for flipping on Netflix when you’re frustrated, but that’s for another blog post, perhaps).
But I do mean that sometimes, the best thing to do when frustration sets in is to just do something else. In particular, something that has nothing to do with writing. Or reading. Or stories in general. That does mean no Netflix, no movies, no theatre, etc. I know that it’s hard to leave the sphere of storytelling because it’s so central to who we are.
But for me, it’s only when I leave that world that I’m able to solve my problems. My husband once made the colossal mistake of referring to my writing as a “hobby.” It’s not his fault—up until we got married, the storytelling universe was a place he only really visited to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation or play Halo or read the books based on it (I love both of these things, just FYI).
But as you well know, writing isn’t merely a hobby. Maybe for some people it is. But for those of us who have chosen this path, it’s a lifestyle, a profession, even a compulsion. It’s not glamorous, it doesn’t pay well, and unless your name is Stephen King, nobody is going to be camped outside your house screaming it. No sane person chooses this life. It chooses you. Flannery O’Connor (the subject of last week’s post) famously said, “Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.” That’s why you need to get away from it.
That’s why you need something that isn’t writing where you can go when it just gets to be too much or you feel too stuck. Even if writing isn’t a hobby, you still need one. My own need for a non-writing hobby hit home big time last year when things were still completely shut down due to COVID. I was working from home and because there was no longer any boundary between my work and personal life, I had to find ways to create them.
So I started playing guitar. I first learned when I was thirteen and have revisited it on various occasions throughout my life.
But last year, it became and still remains a very poignant source of comfort and creativity when I need to get away from my computer screen. I highly recommend that all writers learn a musical instrument. You don’t have to perform for anyone. You don’t even have to be good.
The point is that you are using your creativity in a different way than you’re used to, which ultimately benefits your writing.
I know exactly eight chords, which is all I need to learn the majority of country, folk, singer/songwriter, and worship songs. I don’t want to be the next Dolly Parton; I just want something to do that doesn’t involve composing stuff with words.
The other thing I do to combat frustration with writing is ride my bike. My bicycle, that is—I’m stunned by how many people picture me on a Harley barreling down the highway wearing a bandana. I started cycling in 2007 after I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I’m okay now—but at the time, it was pretty scary, and there weren’t many things that helped with the discomfort.
Oddly enough, riding a bike trainer (a device that turns the same bike you ride outdoors into an indoor bike) was one of the few things that helped. Once the weather got warm, I graduated to riding on bike trails and then to the road. Eventually, riding my bike became an essential part of my writing process.
I try to bike for a minimum of one hour every day—often longer when it’s nice out. I put on my AirPods, cue up my favorite playlist, and head out on the road.
I enjoy nature, rock out to the music, and take in the incredible feeling of using my body’s own energy reserve to power the bike.
I usually don’t think about writing. I think that’s why I’ve had some of my best ideas while out on a ride. Playing music and exercising are my hobbies, but you’re likely gifted in other ways. Maybe you like to quilt or sew or cook. Maybe you are a painter or like working with pottery, glass, or some other medium. Maybe you like working on cars, or maybe your bike is a motorcycle. Either way…find your thing. Then, when you get frustrated, stop writing. You can always go back to it later.
If your frustration seems to be persisting, though, you can also take advantage of some free resources I’ve cooked up for writers. Inkling Creative Strategies is proud to offer workbooks and revision tools to guide your writing process and come up with new ideas.
You can also schedule a complimentary Zoom call to talk to me directly about your work. If you’re anything like me, talking your idea out with others is one of the most helpful things you can do, and I’m more than happy to be that person for you. Sound good? Click here to explore all the resources I have in store for you.