What Writing and Surviving a Windstorm Have in Common

October 20, 2018

I went backpacking the other weekend and nearly died in a windstorm. Or at least the prospect of death-by-tree-branch felt uncomfortably close for ten looong hours huddled in my sleeping bag in the dark with my husband and anxious blue heeler as dueling wind gods raged from every direction, shaking our tent like a child shakes a snow globe.

After hours of lying awake, my heart clenching with every howling gust, I finally relinquished control. I accepted that I was powerless to stop the wind or otherwise improve my situation. Sleep finally came.  

The wind didn’t let up with sunrise but the weak morning light filtering through the green nylon assured me we would make it back to the car in one piece. It seemed insane that I'd ever doubted we'd make it through the night.   

An antidote to anxiety and writer’s block

Why is it that things somehow always seem more manageable in the light of day? There’s a weight to the darkness that can amplify our anxiety to a soul crushing level and completely obscure all rational thought. But the light of morning magically lightens the load and clears the heavy fog, revealing our giant problem to be not so giant after all.

This is how I feel about writing. When you’ve been too close to a piece of content for too long, creating an end product that anyone besides your mom will want to read can feel entirely out of reach.

When I get stuck in the soul-crushing darkness (that sounds slightly over-dramatic—soul stifling perhaps?), I step away from my laptop and give the words some space. Sometimes I just need a ten minute break and sometimes I need to sleep on it before the purpose of the piece and what I need to do to get there becomes clear.

You can't force good writing

In an interview with Grammarly my content marketing idol, Ann Handley, also counsels communicators to give their writing some breathing room. “The ideas are often good, but they’re presented poorly. If the writer had set it aside and come back to it later, the piece would be ultimately more successful.”

She’s right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought an article was hopelessly unoriginal or unreadable only to put it to rest for the night, come back in the morning, and realize all it needed was a slight tweak to the intro or conclusion before hitting publish.

When you get stuck, give yourself time to see your writing in a new light. Set the piece aside and do something else instead of trying to force it to work. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do except let go and allow time to give you a fresh perspective. Once you step away from your content and give it some breathing room, you might even strike upon that one brilliant insight that ties the whole thing together.

Preparation helps too (thank god we had securely staked down the tent’s fly before nightfall) but we’ll get into that in another post.

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