Monday, April 13, 2020

The Creative Rut of Isolation

Before college, one of my best days at work was the first day working with our company's marketing research database of 9,000 entries stored on dBase IV. I had a dedicated desk! A computer exclusively for my use and a personal chair! One of my worst days at work, however, was the fiftieth day working with our company's marketing research database kept on the new dBase IV. My desk was still my desk, my computer was still my computer, my chair was still my chair... and the database was now 19,000 entries and growing. My big change would be hitting 20,000 entries... then 21,000... 22,000... 23,000...

For an assistant in marketing, this sounds like a rut. It was. Most occupations have their own version of them, and no matter how exotic they sound, there's someone doing that task right now who is just shaking their head and wondering how much of their life that task will consume. A task once exciting now feels dreary and uninspired. Later, during my life as an economist, my excitement would wane and I would have days of thinking, "Oh boy, another assessment of the foreign debt of OPEC countries..." or "Great, write another article about the strains on the Chinese economy..." Sounds great, right? Not always. Such a thought once considered exciting made me want to fall asleep at my desk (not that I did that).

At some point, our enthusiasm wanes, if only for a bit, and this is particularly true with writers. We take on more ennui than usual. Our passion for the written word fails us. We don't see it as a gift or a challenge to reach new creative heights, but a chore or a burden. The way I heard it described (and applied to the above) is, "Some days our descriptions end with exclamation points; other times the end with ellipses..."

Nowadays, with a number of my fellow writers sequestered away from their jobs, classes, families, etc., their creative candle is burning low. They took this opportunity to write, sketch, or otherwise create, but in the broader sense the midday lull has hit like a caffeine crash, only there's no taking a nap under the desk for a few weeks to ride it out (not that I ever did that).

I do not want to call this Writer's Block. I consider that a different monster altogether, and one that some people insist does not exist. No, this is that time where repetition and limited options wears one out the where they want to sit in that nook between the filing cabinet and their desk just outside of the view of the senior economist and nap (not that I did that oddly specific task either).

On these creatively draining days/weeks, I found the total reroute would help. I would set aside my commentary on China and do something with spreadsheets, or data modeling. Damn the words, let's do the number thing! These days, I set aside the pen and - yes - watch a show on Netflix. I binge the hell out of things, but only to a point. What point? Glad you asked.

At some point in my mindless binge of a show I have seen tons of times, I will catch myself thinking, "Ahh, by having that character tell the story in flashback rather than showing the experience, the story gives us the character's present state of mind in relation to the event." At that point, I realize my creative mind wants a seat at the table again. I need to create good things. The typing must commence, because I have an idea!

And just like that, the exclamation points are back in my life. I hope they never leave yours, but if they do, give yourself permission to head another direction, and take the occasional nap in the economic research library closet (not that I did that).


  1. Hopefully not too many exclamation points...

    1. Well, there is too much of a good thing (see previous post on drinking)