Overload Paralysis

A few years back, when my daughter was still an infant, we lived for a time on the island of Chincoteague, VA. Since I still had commitments back home, I would make the trek up and down the Eastern seaboard twice a month, my car filled to the brim with all the ridiculously large items a tiny baby seems to need.

Almost every time I needed to start packing up, I experienced a strange phenomenon: I couldn’t do anything. I would find myself standing in the middle of the living room, frozen. My mind whirled with the long packing list I had, as well as with all the things I needed to do other than packing—cleaning, bill paying, etc. I had so much to get done that I couldn’t do anything at all. The overload would paralyze me.

I sometimes get that way about writing, too. I end up with so many projects going on at once, that when I do get some free time to work on something, I end up doing something totally unrelated to writing. The overload of work can paralyze my creativity and my motivation. Right now, I am editing 2 novels, polishing up 2 short stories, have 2 blogs due every week, and have to maintain the constant round of social media—Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads… Not to mention reading the dozen or so blogs I follow regularly.

It can be overwhelming enough that I want to hide from it all.

There is a way to break the paralysis. The answer is both easy and hard.

Pick something.

Do it.

That’s the big secret. Do something, anything, on your list, and you can advance into productive work. But what to pick? Hardest thing first? Easiest thing first? It depends on your mood and your personality.

If I have a very long list but most of it is little stuff, I will do the easiest first and work up to the hardest. By doing the easy things first, I get the instant gratification of checking things off my list and seeing the list get shorter quickly. If I have a shorter list but the tasks are more complex and time-consuming, I will usually do the hardest one first. That way I know the most difficult (and often the most time-consuming) one is done and the rest will be easier and usually take less time than that first one. So, sometimes I inch my way up to the top of the hill, and sometimes I start at the top and coast down.

Of course, there are always things that are not on your To-Do list that crop up and need to be done. Those you just have to incorporate based on their necessity. I immediately need to take care of my daughter when she falls off the bed and hits her head, but the crayon drawn on her closet door can wait until I have more time. The phone call from my family needs to be answered, but the one from an unknown number can leave a message.

Do you experience overload paralysis? Do you have a different way of busting out of it? Or do you have a method of organization that bypasses this overwhelmed reaction altogether?

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Reading: Funk-buster Extraordinaire

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I was in something of a writing funk. I just couldn’t get up the energy to dive into my projects. I knew I should. I had time (if I worked to find it). I even knew the scene I wanted to write and what should happen in it. But I couldn’t do it.

I figured out the source of my funk. After all, I had a number of very productive months just prior to my funk. I was merrily juggling all the balls in the air and making progress on all fronts of my life.

Then the holidays hit.

The holidays are enough to knock anyone off their routine. We all know this. But this year something more hit me. I got sick. My daughter got sick—and stayed sick for more than a month. A cousin died. Two days after his funeral we drove 10 hours to my in-laws for Christmas week. We came home. My sick child was still not sleeping well—so neither was I.

Finally, February rolled around and things got back to normal. Except that I couldn’t write. My juggling act had fallen to the ground and I just couldn’t seem to find the coordination or energy to get all the balls back in the air. So I finally decided to just write my way out of the funk.

Except that’s not what happened.

I read my way out of it.

I need to read more in my genre. I need to read more, period (aside from toddler books!). But it was a constant battle between writing time vs. reading time—and reading usually lost. So I decided that since I wasn’t writing anyway, I would read.

I’ve read seven books and counting in the last 2 weeks.

And I am writing again.

Reading did two things for me. It gave me permission to not write, yet still feel I was doing something to work on my writing career. Therefore I didn’t have that panicked frustration of not writing. And it reminded me why I love to write. The books pulled me in and sparked my creative mind with their stories, letting my own story soak up their energy. (Check out what I read on Goodreads.)

Reading recharged my writing battery.

The funk is over.

(As an aside, this is my 100th post!)

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