These Unproductive Winter Days

unproductivity

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been this last couple of weeks, the answer is: Here. Slogging through January.

Sometimes it seems absurd to me, how complete my amnesia is when it comes to winter and my seasonal affective disorder and the reality of the work of book writing in January. I remember that it’s hard, but I remember in that foggy, distant way that you remember childbirth being “hard.” It’s not until you’re back in the middle of it that the hazy memory is replaced with the shock of reality: Oh right. Not “hard.” Brutal, actually. BRUTAL.

January came this year like it always does for me – in a whirlwind of celebration and resolutions and plans and hope. Something about the beginning of a New Year brings out the Type A list-maker in me, and so as 2016 rounded into 2017, I reflected and pondered. I thought about what I’d like to accomplish in the next year and about what things I might try to feed my soul… but I made word-count goals and penciled in draft deadlines

I checked out books from the library on “finding your work groove” and on “deep work” and figured that I might just be able to educate myself into success. I bought a new planner and a new journal and a new package of black Pilot pens.

And then it was time to actually get to work. And all of my big goals and plans ground to a snowy, slogging stop.

It’s been a year since the last bleak January, more than a year since I was actively working on my book, and in the interim, I have somehow forgotten how completely unproductive the creative process actually is.

You sit and stare at the screen. You write a few words and it feels like your fingers are concrete-weighted. You can’t see where it is you’re going, and the only way to get there is to keep casting words one by one into the water.

It could be a waste. It could be a wonder. There’s no way of knowing which it will be until you’ve past the point of no return.

Now, I’m standing here in the shock of reality that is mid-January in Minnesota, sufficiently humbled and a little bit paralyzed. Everything is slower, harder, slippery-er here in the actual work of the new year.

*

In the mornings, though, I am reading the Bible again.

It is the first time in a while that I’ve done this regularly, as my relationship with the Bible and with “devotions” or “quiet times” or whatever is fraught with its own pile of baggage and angst.

But my Sacred Ordinary Days planner tells me where to turn – Psalm 26, Isaiah 44, Ephesians 4 – and I feel grateful for the guidance, for the compass of the daily liturgical readings pointing me to the next destination.

In the columns of my Spiritual Formation Bible, there are lots of calls toward silence and imagination. Toward the slow work of soul-searching and listening. The whole process is inefficient and ambling, and that God that I am meeting in these pages and words and stories seems pretty unconcerned with “productivity.”

This is a God who lets people wander and wait. Who cultivates beauty and life and growth in the silent emptiness of a prison cell or a desert or a lifetime of infertility. This is a God who seems to be working on an entirely different understanding of time, who moves in an infinite abundance of days and moments and seasons.

And there is something important and lovely about those first blank days of January when I am inspired to think and remember. To set plans and intentions, hopes and goals.

But there is also, maybe, something important, something good, about these dark, heavy January days when I can’t seem to move nearly as quickly as I planned.

These are the days when I remember that so much of what matters comes slow. Art. Love. Meaning. God, who cannot be wrangled into a neat, goal-sized box. The faith journey itself, which twists and stalls, rushes and idles…and changes us slowly, imperceptibly, completely.

So, it’s January. I’m still here. I’m trying to write, and I’m trying to survive. I’m trying to keep stepping forward in my life and in my work even though it feels like I am moving in slow motion.

I am threadbare and tired and annoyed that I can only seem to manage three meager steps, a few hundred mediocre words. It frustrates me to spend a whole day slogging through a freelancing project and getting nowhere, a whole day researching a new idea and coming up empty.

It’s January. I’m tripping through the snow, through my goals, through my life.

I am getting nowhere.

And maybe, it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.

18 thoughts on “These Unproductive Winter Days

  1. Oh Addie, as I sit in the quiet darkness of an early North Idaho morning your words are so true and comforting to hear. I too charged forward with big goals and plans in my shiny new planner and then just stalled out. Feels like my feet are stuck in mud or right now, 2 feet of snow.

    My sweet mom passed away from cancer last March, and after 9 months of grieving and hibernating, I thought 2017 was the time to move forward, get back into a “productive ” life, but maybe God’s plans for me aren’t connected to the pages of my calendar. Reading your words was such a comfort, knowing I’m not the only one off to a slow start.

    We are having a heavy winter here, and have had at least 2 feet of snow on the ground since early December, and although everything is harder, slower I have never noticed the beauty of winter as much as I have this year. I do feel that God is saying…this is what I have for you right now….look and enjoy….

    Maybe that is enough right now…

    Thanks again Addie for your words, they really are special….

    Kelly

    1. So sorry to hear about your Mama Kelly. I could so relate to this line: ” I thought 2017 was the time to move forward, get back into a “productive ” life, but maybe God’s plans for me aren’t connected to the pages of my calendar.” Thanks so much for commenting here.

  2. Addie,
    I’m sitting outside in 70 degree weather in Alabama, but the trees are bare and it’s SUPPOSED to be winter and all nature seems confused here- and how do you dress in January when this happens? I love your post today for many reasons, but primarily because of the word SLOW. For a number of years, I’ve asked for a word to begin the year, kind of a theme of what God is doing in my life. (It’s an interesting list!) This year my word is SLOW. Your blog was my gift this morning – thank you !
    This line:
    These are the days when I remember that so much of what matters comes slow. Art. Love. Meaning. God, who cannot be wrangled into a neat, goal-sized box. The faith journey itself, which twists and stalls, rushes and idles…and changes us slowly, imperceptibly, completely.
    Yes and Amen! I’ve spent way too much of my life measuring my own worth by my productivity. I’ve prided myself on accomplishment and efficiency. God is SLOWLY changing that, but it is so hard to deconstruct an identity you’ve lived in so long.
    Like you, I”m a calendar, list maker girl -and the SOD planner has been a gift to me, pointing me where to go – as you say. I also read the Spiritual Formation Bible. I’ve also got lots of baggage from growing up in a Southern evangelical culture – though a little before your time. So much in your writing resonates with me.
    Thank you again for reminding me that beating myself up over productivity is not the work of God in my life – Your post was the voice of the Spirit to me this morning. Blessings to you. Keep writing!

    1. Thanks so much for this note. I love that you use the SOD planner and the Spiritual Formation Bible. Both have been such a grace to me this month.

  3. Well you and Kelly at least have snow as a reason for winter quiet and slow times. Only a dusting here a week ago, but the ordinary days hang heavy. It helps to know it is not just me, and your words bring much comfort in that. I am still fighting a back and shoulder injury from just prior to Thanksgiving, and started 2017 with PT, thinking Now, I will get back to myself and start new things! Only the PT is meh and I am like you, frustrated, tired and annoyed. It is time for me to try and resume my long habit of reading scripture in the morning, a habit I left in the last year. Hang in there, I think there are an awfully lot of us wandering around out in the cold winter trying to find our way back to hope. On the brighter side, the days are getting longer, only seconds each day, but spring is on the way!

    1. I hate it when moving forward feels “meh.” I totally get it. Grace to you in the PT and the rotten, frustrating, important work of getting well. xo

  4. You know what amazes me about this post? I know the lessons your describe. I have known them for years. And yet barely a day goes by without my needing a complete reminder. I look at my “progress” toward “really learning” this stuff and wondering how I could be stuck at zero for so long. And on my good days, I’m amazed at how OK this is. What a tangle.

  5. Once again you’ve eloquently spoken my thoughts, always so comforting to know that we are not alone in our struggles! Thank you for reminding me that it is okay to just “Be” right here in January.

  6. Dear Addie, I love, love, love these lines:

    “It could be a waste. It could be a wonder. There’s no way of knowing which it will be until you’ve past the point of no return.”

    This is EXACTLY what writing a book is like. Thank you for saying it so honestly and beautifully.

    This post also reassures me that sometimes when I feel like I’m slogging and getting “nothing” accomplished … it doesn’t mean it’s a failure. It just means that it’s a different season.

    But I trust that when the time is right, your words will flow again. And until then I will look forward to reading them! 🙂

    1. “it doesn’t mean it’s a failure. It just means that it’s a different season.” — yes. Thanks friend.

  7. I so appreciate your sentiment about the creative process being unproductive. Last summer and fall were all about the intense work of edits on my next novel, and I’ve been casting about since then.

    Yes, I’ve tinkered with a few shorter works but each attempt at approaching my next novel have left me absolutely blank. I’ve decided I’m not going to force it. I’ll put my focus on the writing before me and let the new idea sit at the back of my mind. There is no deadline to worry about. I have the freedom for it to take a bit more shape before I pull it out and examine it again.

    This is absolutely counter to the way I normally operate. But it’s what I need — unproductive, inefficient creativity.

    Thank you for this.

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