Step Back to Move Forward

June 2020 was a super-productive writing month for me. I logged over 10,000 words on my novel manuscript. Feeling energized by the progress, I made an even higher word count goal for July–a crazy big number. I planned to plow ahead and write a further 12,000 words.

Then I hit a brick wall.

Oddly, the impact of having written so much on a single project sapped my creative energy. I doubted the direction of my novel and fretted over the edits it needed. In short, too much time in my own story wasn’t a good thing.

Writing fatigue, coupled with looming worries about what is going on in the world took their toll. Although the school year ended in June, July ushered in questions and concerns about September. My husband and I teach high school, so I worry about going back before it’s safe to do so.

It’s not easy for me to turn off my brain. I’d become obsessed with following news about COVID and the New Jersey governor’s updates about education. Too much time reading news wasn’t a good thing either.

Hyper-fixating on anything for too long corrupts the present. It robs me of the joy of the moment. My motivation to write or do household projects was almost nonexistent. Instead, I found myself feverishly scrolling through social media, the news, and a group text from fellow English teachers. Instead of tackling the pile of summer reading I’d planned on or completing home projects, I was gobbling up content that increased my stress.

I needed to take a step back to move forward.

Knowing I couldn’t allow the rest of my summer to be ruined by things I can’t control, I took action. A friend of mine, also an English teacher, told me earlier in the week that she also felt overly fixated on all the bad news and speculation about school in September. I offered her a deal–let’s avoid social media and the news for the whole weekend. An information detox of sorts. She agreed.

I started by deleting Facebook from my phone, mainly because it is too easy to get sucked into the vortex of information and opinion. The next step was to purposely leave my phone across the room or in another room. Repeatedly checking my phone prevented me from reading, writing, and getting other things done at home. Plus, it made me feel frustrated and stressed out.

The only regret I have about making the decision to distance myself from social media and detox from the news is that I didn’t do it sooner. While I do think it is important to be in touch with world events, there is something to that old saying–Ignorance is bliss.

Even if it’s only for a little while, stepping back from the barrage of information and commentary is freeing. I’m actually going to extend the break and change my online habits because I like the results.

I feel more present and centered because I stepped back.

As soon as the distraction of public opinion and world events was out of the way, my desire to get things done returned. It felt like magic. My attention turned back to things that brought me joy.

Rather than working on one writing project, I dabbled in a few and felt invigorated. I took care of a few overdue tasks around the house. The visible improvement of my home encouraged me. Things suddenly felt more peaceful and positive.

Sometimes taking a step back is the absolute best move we can make in order to move forward. Pausing to reset is invaluable in helping us recalibrate so we can feel good and accomplish goals. I encourage you to find what causes your “emotional hotspots” and take a purposeful pause. Moving forward can’t happen without it.

With Love and Gratitude,

Tracy is a New Jersey writer who loves Earl Grey tea, spending time outside, and painting. She lives with her husband and children in a home where birdsong and rainstorms provide the soundtrack for her creative life.

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