When I was a girl, my parents took me to visit some friends of theirs. It was the height of summer, clear and hot, when we arrived at their place in Wisconsin on Lake Michigan.
Our hosts took us to the lake, and its rocky edge. I went wading to cool off. Then the strangest thing happened. After I took one step with each foot, I was immobilized.
Gasping from the shock of the icy waters, I could not move my legs. Ordinarily, walking was not a problem for me, but nothing happened when I sent the usual message to my feet.
After considering for a moment, I figured it out: the water of Lake Michigan, carved out by ancient glaciers, was cold enough, even in August, to override my intention to move my legs.
Very deliberately, and with considerable help from my arms, I dragged myself back to dry land, first one leg and then the other. I got a towel to rub on my bluish legs until they recovered.
Sometimes it takes brute force to retreat from a writing situation, too. Sometimes you need to use your whole concerted efforts to pull yourself back, to regroup and rethink. Sometimes, pushing through is not going to work at all.
Just like my legs were temporarily paralyzed by the shocking cold, a creative project can hit a total standstill. And sometimes the only way out is a complete retreat.
Can you recognize when things have gotten to this point? When the best course is a reversal? It happens only occasionally. Usually, I find, with my clients and my own writing, that things don’t look so bad after a smaller shift in attitude, an exercise break, a coaching session, or some time away from the project. However, once in a while, you have to face it: this project won’t work, as is.
By the way
By the way, I lived to walk another day. And a project that requires a reversal is not doomed either. There are many ways to revise and reframe a piece of writing so that it can succeed.
This is excerpted from Anne Carley’s forthcoming book, FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers. #becomingunstuck