Advice Paralysis

How’s your writing going? How’s your quarantine going? How are you doing today? 

I finally identified my current writing problem. Instruction fatigue that leads to paralysis. I’m editing a novel as I try to write more poetry. I’m using search and replace to search and destroy insidious words. Good advice I read somewhere. Normally, I would embrace what I can use, discard the rest. I enjoy helpful advice. 


Since all the writers are stuck at home, advice is gushing out to blogs and writing sites like water from a fire hose. Everyone has the time to advise right now. “Write All The Things!” Advice flies at me every time I open my email or browse to my favorite sites. At first, it seemed good. I gulped the gushing water. Then I tried to apply it to my own work. That’s when I choked. Contradictions rattled in my brain. Do this, not that. Do that, not this. Write, no, write more. Wear a mask. Wear two masks. Wrap duct tape around your face and wear a welding shield. Don’t touch your face. Don’t touch anything. Don’t breathe, it’s safer. But despite that, write. 

Tons of articles appeared on how to use this stay at home time to your advantage, most of them exhorting you to not waste time and get that Great American Novel (or Poem) in the works. Sort of NaNoWriMo, the Pandemic Version. It can guilt-trip people frozen in place by everyday fears—money, food, rent, worry about loved ones. The numbered “C” that has replaced the Big C. Getting through the day seems more important than getting Sylvia out of the murder house and on the run for her life. 

It’s a dystopian novel that sprung to life. Kudos to those who can keep plugging on despite the looming end of the world as we know it. (Too much?) I struggle to do any real editing of my novel, other than nit-picky stuff—eradicating weasel words like “that” and “would”. My poetry has undertones of despair. Even a poem about a flower ends with its death. I’m afraid to edit previous work because of this. I’m trying to pull up my bootstraps and accept writing isn’t coming from a happy place right now.

I don’t want to journal. Meditating is not the answer to all problems. Hurtling an asteroid into Earth seems like a good place to end a sci-fi novel.

Must Not Give In To Annihilating Humanity. 

Find inspiration where you can. Don’t worry if you can’t. 

That’s all I’ve got right now. I venture out the door to my “essential” (sacrificial) job with the public that leaves me fearful I’ve caught coronavirus every time I leave at five. That I’ve brought it home to my family. Writing needs to be a safe space. Not swallowing the fire hose of advice is now refuge from my tendency to beat myself up over not producing more, since I’m stuck in the house when I’m not at work. 

Advice is a sign of the times. It’s a cozy blanket fort offered up as salve to our burning fears. It wants to distract us from the underlying terror that something bad is going to happen and we’re helpless to stop it. I like to be in control of my world and damn it, the world is spinning out of control. I’m embracing the paralysis by easing away from social media and the news. I’m baking bread. Writing ideas in a notebook with my favorite pen. Petting the dog. Reading everything I can get my hands on. Paralysis retreats inch by inch. By the weekend, I’m ready to write again and send my plaintive “How are you doing today?” out into the world once more. 


  1. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

    I love this post!! Yes, yes, yes. All the advice. Thanks, but I’m curling up with a book I got for Christmas that has nothing to do with writing through a pandemic. And drinking wine. From a box because it holds four bottles’ worth.

    • Constance

      I really need to try wine in a box. I found myself skimming over the advice in my feed today. Then I worried I missed something and went back to look. *sigh*
      So, my advice to myself? Just write. Ignore the world.

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