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There’s Nothing Wrong With You. It’s the Conditions That Suck.

Note: My first draft of this post came out too generic, so I’ve revised it to speak directly to the writer I was ten years ago. Please substitute the specifics of your life as necessary.

You have a study with your own desk. You have mornings off to write. You’ve got no kids. You are trying (and failing) to make headway on your second book. And you’re asking yourself this question:

What is wrong with me that I can’t write under these conditions?

Okay, maybe not in so many words, but the subtext is there.

“What can I do to get more inspired? This draft feels like a lot of work.”

“Why can’t I concentrate? I need to stop getting distracted by the Internet.”

“How can I be more productive? I’ve been at this for months and I’ve only got one chapter.”

You’ve focused down on the creative process so tightly that you won’t let yourself notice anything outside of your manuscript and your writing time.

The answer is simple. There is nothing wrong with you.

The conditions suck are not conducive to creativity.

You’re trying to do complex, demanding work in the artistic equivalent of the salt mines. Your spirit is weary, your imagination is parched, and your intuition is blinded.

Of course you’re uninspired. You work two jobs ~ writing tech manuals is dull and managing a university residence is high-pressure. You’re on duty all the time.

Of course you’re distracted. You don’t get enough sleep and you’re taking everyone else’s problems too personally.

Of course you’re unproductive. You barely have the vitality required to watch TV, let alone write an epic novel with four point-of-view characters and intersecting story lines.

I’m here to give you permission to get those blinders off. Take a look around.

Why are you asking yourself to write when you’re tired and stressed? Why are you judging yourself as a writer when you’re not giving yourself the resources you need to write?

The problem is not working hard, or being busy, or wearing many hats. People write books under all kinds of challenging circumstances.

The problem is working hard on the wrong things, being busy with the wrong stuff, and wearing other people’s hats.

You don’t need to fix your creative process. Just give it a chance to blossom and you’ll be astonished.


Tell me, fellow artists, what questions are you asking about your struggles with the creative process? And what are you not seeing beyond your studio?


{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Abby Kerr March 10, 2011, 10:19 pm

    >The problem is working hard on the wrong things, being busy with the wrong stuff, and wearing other people’s hats.<

    This is SO true. I find that the times I'm most inspired and productive are the times when I've identified what isn’t really important — either in the big scheme of things or to me in particular — and needs to be removed from my To Do list. Especially important to clear out are the things that actually aren’t have-to-dos, but have made their way onto the list out of guilt or false responsibility.

    Loving your fresh direction, Alison. You have so much to say to writers and creatives about getting their important work done. 🙂

  • Carole Jane Treggett March 11, 2011, 5:11 pm

    This post really hit home with me, Alison. So grateful that you wrote it/published it; the timing couldn’t be more ‘dead on’ for me.

    I think we all have to give ourselves permission to really make our creative work a top priority, and make the time/space to discover/develop the full potential we have to give the world and ourselves.

    It shouldn’t be the last thing we ‘get to’ (err..’intend’ to get to) on that long-suffering to-do list.

    Thanks so much for your clarion call!

  • Eve Kotyk March 13, 2011, 4:58 pm

    Ah, but sometimes you do give yourself permission. You’ve found time, you’re focused and ready. Suddenly you are dry, filled with doubt and wondering why you don’t just forget all this tedious preserverance and invest in Desperate Housewives. Joy moves out, doubt moves in and cozies up. Blah, I hate those times.


  • Alison March 13, 2011, 8:18 pm

    @Abby and @Carole Jane ~ So glad to hear this stuff is resonating with you! I agree that giving ourselves permission is a vital first step on the path; in fact, I’m planning a free teleclass on that very topic! Details soon.

    @Eve ~ I hate those times too. And I believe that, in the context of a truly art-committed life, they rarely show up. Permission for a few hours is one thing ~ permission for a lifetime is another. I’m going to be writing about this tomorrow, so check back.

  • gk February 18, 2013, 9:28 pm

    A bunch of what’s here resonates with me, and then there’s a team of ‘but what about’ questions that ring in my brain. I have all the time in the world, the space, and the resources I need, but I have an incredibly difficult time facing creative time. I make my (meager) living doing this, and so it becomes really threatening when this happens! I wonder how ‘permission’ could be tied up in this, and why the pressure has capsized the flow. It used to be right here and strong! Ack. I appreciate your site, and your various blog posts. Going to read a bit more before signing off, thanks for your insights : )

  • sue December 16, 2016, 6:47 am

    I really enjoy reading your articles, they are insightful and hit close to home. But I feel frustrated and a confused by this statement “The problem is working hard on the wrong things, being busy with the wrong stuff, and wearing other people’s hats.” What if the wrong things that we work hard on and that keep us busy are also things we HAVE to do. For example, I work full time at a job I tolerate in order to pay bills and have money to buy my art supplies. By the time I get home at night, shower, eat, maybe try to get some exercise (because I’ve been sitting all day), I have no creative energy or even the desire to do anything artistic such as painting or jewelry. I get frustrated with myself and my situation, but can’t find a solution. On top of this I am dealing with a mental illness, also not helpful for being creative. What are your thoughts on this? Thanks:-)

    • Patricia May 11, 2018, 12:11 pm

      Sue, I agree. I struggle with distractions that are major life realities: work that pays bills (and drains my brain because it also involves writing), pets, household work that must be done because there is no one else to share in it.

      I thought I would get a handle on my creative writing time by doing a month-long self-imposed sort of boot camp. I decided I would get up early, give up alcohol (and I love my nightly glass of wine with dinner), devote the first few hours of the day to creative writing while I was still fresh, and ignore distractions like social media and word puzzles.

      By the end of week 1, I had already given up:

      * I had agreed to take care of my neighbors’ horses and dogs for a week; she booked a 16-day ticket and since leaving has created endless drama with another neighbor who is also helping with the animals. Did I mention the horses broke through their electric fence, so I’m managing fence repairs as well?

      * My car broke down, and I’ve had to add raising my credit score and car shopping to my to-do list, plus figure out how to get errands done in the meantime.

      * My biggest client hasn’t been paying without my begging him to tend to his invoices. I’ve had to devote countless hours to tracking him down, putting off the landlady, and getting advice on renegotiating our contract. Plus, if he goes belly up because he’s having financial problems (a possibility), I have to find new clients to fill in that income.

      * My Internet went out for the day when I finally got a free day to work.

      * I found I had an infestation of fire ants in my living room.

      I have walking depression from nearly 10 years of horrible struggle that has left with me mild PTSD and chronic pain/fatigue. I get little support from my family, who think I should “just” this and “just” that. “Just exercise, and your pain will go away. Just be more positive; you have nothing to complain about.”

      I find I get particularly down when money issues come into play. With enough money, I can buy time and energy by paying people to do things for me. When money is short, not only can I not do that, but I waste precious time trying to figure out how I’m going to support my basic existence. You can’t bring your best artistic self forward (at least I can’t) when the wolf is at the door.

      Best of luck to you.

  • anna March 9, 2017, 12:05 am

    I stumbled across your page.I don’t know how but it’s the firest thing I’ve read in ages that makes sense.
    The walking depressed
    I lover it!
    It’s the perfect description of my life right now .

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