Writing Aversion Disorder

I am currently suffering from writer’s block—or, to use a term more descriptive of how it actually feels on the rare instances when it seizes me, Writing Aversion Disorder (WAD), an ailment of much more serious proportions than mere blockage. Pointless No Entry sigh--James YardleyIt’s not just that I can’t think of anything to say or don’t like what I do say or even that the words are there but just won’t emerge from my brain or fingers onto the virtual page. Rather, I’m incapable of even approaching my computer. The thought of writing nauseates me.

As such, I’m late posting this month, which has surely not endeared me to the tireless and underappreciated editors of this blog. We’re supposed to set our posts two weeks early to give them time to look our writing over before letting it loose into the blogosphere. I feel bad about my sloth. I can’t help it, though. I’m in a bad way.

It should be good writing time for me. As a professor, I have summers off, and, with both daughters occupied with faraway internships, I’ve had big writerly plans this summer. I’m right in the middle—the most exciting part, where all the narrative strands start coming together—of a novel-in-progress, and my goal, before WAS set in, was to get ’er drafted by summer’s end.

Now my goal is to do anything but write. Read. Relearn “Minuet in G Minor” and “Für Elise” from my year of piano lessons as a child. String beads from stashes I found in my daughters’ rooms to make gaudy bracelets for myself and them. Play Spider Solitaire on my new phone. (My brother recently clued me in on how to Control-Z back to a game’s beginning to avoid wrecking my win-percentage.) Clean my deceased mother-in-law’s house down the road. (I’m not joking: I spent all day yesterday there, sorting, tossing, soaping, scrubbing.) Weed my garden out in the hot sun.

Raised bed--photo by SrlI was thinking about this problem as I crouched, hands in the dirt, today, and it occurred to me that, while I usually love working in the garden, even weeding, I’m also overcome on occasion by Gardening Aversion Disorder (GAD)—surely related to WAD. So, with no other blog post in view, I decided to examine what triggered my GAD episodes for anything that might illuminate and, ideally, solve my current dilemma.

Here’s what I came up with: I suffer from GAD when tasks or trips have taken me away from the garden for bit and, upon my return, everything has gotten out of control. Vegetables need harvesting, many having overgrown their tastiness. Itchy weeds carpet the gravel paths between the beds. Sand fleas have made lace of my eggplant leaves; my bean vines are encrusted in ants; my tomato plants are speckled with big black beetles. I know I have to regain control but don’t know where to start.

The answer to my own question—where to start—is to not ask it in the first place. Don’t look, I tell myself. Just leap! Whatever task I choose, my gardening soul has learned to believe, will be more productive, more creative, than wallowing in indecision.

Maybe I don’t want to write, I speculated, because I’ve lost control and uncertain where to start in reclaiming it. And, indeed, as soon as I thought these words, I knew them to be true. That little lightbulb of insight was all I needed.

Perhaps, I thought—or hoped, or both—I need to quit trying to figure what part to work on next and just do whatever comes to hand.

And somehow, having just that much—that little—of a plan sent me back to my desk to dash off this post and then leap back into story.

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This entry was posted in Encouragement, Fiction, Writer's Life, Writing and tagged , , , , by patty kirk. Bookmark the permalink.

About patty kirk

Patty Kirk is the author of The Easy Burden of Pleasing God (IVP 2013), two spiritual memoirs, a food memoir, and a collection of essays entitled The Gospel of Christmas. Raised in California and Connecticut, she lives on a farm in Oklahoma and teaches writing just across the Arkansas state-line at John Brown University, where she is Writer in Residence and Associate Professor of English. She and her husband, Kris, have two college-aged daughters, Charlotte and Lulu. In addition to writing and teaching writing, Patty's passions are cooking, gardening, watching birds, and running on the back roads.

23 thoughts on “Writing Aversion Disorder

  1. This is such great advice! Sometimes we just need to take a step, even if we’re not sure it’s the right step to take.

    • I always liked the story of Peter stepping out of his boat onto the water to get to Jesus. I like how, without his really thinking about what he was doing but just responding to Jesus’ presence, this amazing thing happened: the sea became like dirt under his feet, and away he went. It was only when he started to think about what he was doing and notice the wind and the waves that he started sinking. And even then Jesus wrenched him back up.

  2. I love to write and I love to garden, so this post speaks to me on both levels. That said, I can relate to WAD all too well. Thank you for showing that the fear of starting is the worst part.

  3. Oh yes. WAD and GAD are definitely related. Not the same as writer’s block. I rarely get a real writer’s block. My problem is the weeds growing where they aren’t supposed to and the difficulty finding the story under them after long bouts away.

    • Yup. Or even short bouts away. I’m always telling my writing students not to look back, to just plunge ahead and worry about those weeds later, in the revision process. And when they do this, they always tell me it works. I have trouble following my own advice though, it seems.

  4. Your comment about doing what comes to hand is one of my favorite points about vocation – “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might”…Ecclesiastes 9:10. Whenever I focus on doing what is in front of me with all my attention, amazing things are accomplished – and this guideline has pulled me through many a dry writing spell when I’ve felt overwhelmed at the entirety of writing a whole book. Tackling just pieces at a time does the trick. Nice post!

    • Yes, sound writing advice from Ecclesiastes—though I have to say I generally find that book’s advice as pertains to the life I’m currently living, while always familiar and true sounding, a bit challenging. Whenever I read it, I come away thinking, what’s the point of anything at all one does under the sun? Every wise nugget offered seems undone by the Teacher’s sour commentary on it. Like, in the verses preceding the one you quote, “Enjoy life with your [spouse], whom you love…”—surely good counsel, but then the sentence goes on—”…all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.” And I’m thinking, hm. Similarly, the “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” verse continues “…for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” Taking both halves of the directive together, I guess Ecclesiastes’ message would be, “Jump in, write with all your might, ’cause you’re not going to be writing in the next life.” Which gives me pause, as I suppose it’s supposed to, given the book’s concluding sentiments: “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd.”

      But, as I say, from a purely writerly standpoint, it’s terrific advice to just take on what comes to hand and do it with all one’s might—anything to tame, as you say, the enormity of “writing a whole book”!

  5. Control z – not a bad idea. I haven’t figured out a good way to play Spider solitaire on my apple laptop – probably a good idea or I’ll never get anything done. It is not fun to drag and drop with a keypad. I’ve had a break from editing my MS – not wanted – but moving nine years of blog posts over from Xanga to WordPress – and now I’m redoing the links and cleaning up old posts a bit. I hope you enjoy your summer. Bracelets is a good idea.

    • I envy you. I wish I were in the editing phase of my current project. I love revising.

      (Apropos stretchy bracelets, in case you really are interested, I just made the happy discovery that you don’t need to use a needle with stretch cord—I use .5 mm Stretch Magic—which is good since even the tiniest big eye needles won’t go through most of the beads I’m using and even when they do the force of pulling them through cuts the cord. You can just kind of push the stretch cord through, as though it were a needle itself. So exciting.)

      • Waxed cord works well too. What I have a problem with is knotting so the beads don’t come off. Stretch Magic doesn’t stay tied. I have a big editing job because I’m learning as I go.

      • I make three square knots–the first one is hardest to do without somehow getting beads in the way–and stretch each knot really hard, like to the point of feeling like I’m surely going to break the cord. Then I put a spot of jewelry cement on it.

        As for editing, we all learn as we go, I think. I teach writing and have for many years and before that I studied writing. Still, every time I work on a new writing project, I have something new, often something really major, to learn about writing.

  6. Love your post, Patty, along with all the other comments. 🙂 If I didn’t know better would have believed you were leaning against the door frame of my study and speaking these words aloud. For. Me. Today. Good stuff!

  7. As I care for my father-in-law after his brain tumor surgery, I totally relate to your post, Patty. When I read the part about cleaning out your mother-in-law’s house it hit home. Emotional grief is debilitating on its own, but when you add the extra responsibilities that come with caring for someone who’s ill or has passed on, there doesn’t seem to be much energy left for anything else. Especially when we love them so much.

    I’m pushing through, but it’s hard. There are moments when it seems like all spark is sapped from my body, and I can’t pin-point why. I pine for the seconds, minutes, hours, and days I’ve lost to grief and clean-up. I realize I’m overwhelmed. I try to talk myself through doing one tiny little thing. Like conning myself into writing an itsy, bitsy sentence, and letting the sense of accomplishment wash over me. Most often, it’s enough to motivate me to do more, but sometimes I fail even at that.

    It’s then, I remember I am human, and I need God to do this. I am so thankful I am a Christian author, because I have no idea how I’d accomplish anything without Christ who gives me strength. I’m sure you understand. Grateful for your raw post.

    • Oh, Anita, my heart goes out to you. Having in the past year attended first my mother-in-law through Alzheimer’s and then my dad through lung cancer, I feel I know where you are. I will pray for a sure sense of God’s company for you in these days.

  8. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with honesty. I’ve been experiencing the same. Having heard, ” A writer can not, not write.” I was beginning to question. Now, with this comment I will start again!

    • I wish I could say this was my own garden, but it’s not–just something I got from Wikimedia Commons. My own garden is, weeds aside, much skimpier looking, sad to say. My haul this morning was an eggplant, a pimiento, and four Italian green beans. (Can’t figure what’s up with my beans this year: lush plants with flowers but no beans.) Yesterday, though, I discovered that last year’s arugula had reseeded itself. That cheers me.

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