Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Power of the Holy Slump

I have recently exited a period I have coined as a Holy Slump. It's symptoms include:
  • A sense there's something you should be doing—even want to do—but can't quite muster the energy for;
  • Early bedtimes;
  • Worry that this slump will never end;
  • Heaviness in head and heart;
  • A sense that something good will come from this unproductive season, which helps you cope with the symptoms above.

Martha Beck, a favorite wise woman and author writes, “During the times we think we're being “unproductive,” the seeds of new worlds are germinating within us, and they need peace to grow.” I observed my daily activity from late February through early April. This quote kept coming back to me during those days.

I shared Part One of my novel with a few trusted readers in the days leading up to the Holy Slump. I was shocked, elated, and relieved by the positive feedback. The “I want more” feedback motivated me to keep going at the same time that fear of how to write through my protagonist's undoing froze my fingers on my mechanical keyboard.

And so I did something new. I did not despair. I did not castigate myself. I gave myself permission to not write. At least to not work on my novel. And I didn't even discuss this slump with Dan. What the past few years has taught me, and last year's daily writing habit reinforced, is that my heart's desire is to write. The Holy Slump whispered to me: Trust that not working on your novel for awhile will not diminish your love of writing. I journaled and wrote a lot of letters where I articulated a lot of new insights.

During this time, my characters lived and breathed in my mind. I caught myself staring into space at work and realized that my character's brother, one of the story's narrators, handed me new material to open Part Two of the novel. These beloved characters kept me company on my commutes to and from work. The Holy Slump created space for us to dwell together and to grow.

The Holy Slump also offered a space for me to reassess the dogged productivity of 2015. I examined how it came to be that I set up arbitrary rules to order my life. I began to see that these rules in themselves are not bad things, yet anything in excess can turn into a hindrance. My rules about writing had turned on me.

“I watched you work on that 40/40 list like it was a military operation. You aren't going to like hearing this, but you have control issues, and you exerted control over that list,” said Tammy. She was right on both counts. I didn't like hearing it, and I knew that control HAD played a role in executing my 40th year. The list had been a healthy distraction in the midst of a year where there were a lot of uncertainties that I could not control. Her feedback helped me wrestle with this controlling nature. I saw where these inclinations served me (I accomplished a lot in 2015) and where they did not (I held myself to exacting, unnecessary, and arbitrary expectations.)

I recognized myself in this quote by Danielle LaPorte:

Underneath overzealous motivation can be self-hatred. Underneath a lot of “self-care” can be more self-hatred. We can create new addictions, new obsessions, and it really keeps us on the wheel of “I'm not good enough yet, but I'll get better. Are you trying to improve yourself or are you exploring or expanding your potential? Improvement vs. Potential. They feel different.

After establishing a daily writing habit, that activity now was the newest self-inflicted rule or obsession. Writing everyday became a new criteria by which to judge myself. In my mind, daily writing was another recipe for somehow making me better.  Why did I think I needed to be better? The Holy Slump helped illuminate this as a lie of my controlling nature. It gave me permission to stop judging myself. Nobody cares whether I write every day or not. Neither should I. The Holy Slump gifted me with new perspective and a fresh dose of gentleness. The truth is I write because I love to, not because I have to. Skipping a day won't change that.

Like a spring shower that passes as gently and quickly as it begins, the Holy Slump lifted. I noticed one day that the heaviness I'd been carrying for the past month seemed lighter. Something had shifted. I missed writing my novel more than I was afraid of how to proceed. This felt monumental. All of this came to me one day at work. That evening I draped myself in my favorite robe, brewed a cup of tea, and sat at my writing desk. I puttered a bit to ease into the writing session.

The result during that evening of writing? Two and a quarter pages of brand new material for Part Two. I was relieved. The story was coming to me easier than I had imagined. Those seemingly unproductive days and weeks had been what I needed to rest, regroup, and remember why I love writing.

I refer to this period as holy because the entire time I was moving quietly through, observing my patterns, and giving myself space, I felt supported, buoyed, and encouraged by a force I couldn't see. I sensed that I was in sacred space and that I could trust this time to enrich, strengthen, and prepare me for unknown writing—and life—experiences ahead. 
Only if I let it. And so I did. I let it work on me. I allowed new ideas to germinate within and trusted that new growth would come.

I feel different now. I am at ease about my book's progress and my writing pursuits in general. I am certain that welcoming this Holy Slump into my writing timeline will ultimately allow me to finish my manuscript sooner than if I pushed through instead of taking this pause. Either way, I understand that it really doesn't matter when I finish, and that uncertainty can be holy too.


  1. This was very helpful for me to read Julie. I too have stepped back from some of my writing. As you know, I started a book during NaNoWriMo and I haven't been able to go back to it. I do find myself thinking about it, but I'm not quite ready to start putting those words down again. I know it will come when I'm ready. In the meantime, I've been writing lots of personal essays because that's what my mind wants to write these days. There are times I feel guilty for ignoring my book, but I realize (and this post helps me realize) that I need to give it space and time.

  2. Love this. I too can fall into that Holy Slump.

  3. Holy Slump. Hmm. I've been in an unholy slump! Thinking about this!