An Antidote for Avoidance

Maybe there are other antidotes for avoidance. There’s no cure. Avoidance is persistent: it keeps coming back. That’s not your fault; recurrence is just part of its logic. Avoidance will keep trying to shut you down. It will prompt you to defensively close. A regular writing habit must begin in kindness and become a matter of course.

There will always be something more urgent to do. We all have pressures, demands, long to-do lists. We have obligations to family, students, and colleagues; we have errands to run, dinners to make, dishes to do—not to mention grading, course prep, lectures to plan, students to meet with and mentor, conference papers to draft, committee meetings to attend, bureaucratic gods to appease with form-filling. Children to feed, clean, ferry about, and care for. Dogs to walk. For those who have nine-to-five jobs, time can be even scarcer. Those who are adjuncting or precariously employed have to worry constantly about the next job, whether a side gig’s worth doing, how to do financial planning when next month’s income is a question mark. 

We all feel harried and hurried. How can we do what we love? 

How can we not? 

Writing itself has to become a daily task of care: indispensable and ordinary, just a bit at a time—not binge-y, high-pressured, high stakes, all-or-nothing. That’s the way grad school and do-or-die deadlines taught us all to write, and it doesn’t help in carrying out the work over the long haul. 

Avoidance of writing takes many forms; procrastination is only the most familiar one. Some of us put off writing by writing social media posts instead—others of us put off writing by always finding just that one more thing we need to research, read, cite, understand in order to finish the piece at hand. (Not that all of those things aren’t necessary for feeding your writing—they are.) The mind is so tricky that even writing itself can become a way of avoiding the next step—usually the scary step of sharing that piece with readers or sending it out to a journal. 

With our animal motion, we dash around, feeling like we’re getting everything done. Make like a tree, as the pun has it, and leave—just by staying in one place and looking around. Weiler-Leopold Nature Preserve, west-central Indiana. Photo by Liz Vine, July 2019.

If kindness is an antidote for avoidance, the kind thing to do is show up. That’s why it’s the first principle in my opening post. Show up at your writing time, at the appointment you’ve made with yourself to face the tasks that are most essential and most difficult. Show up to do the thinking work that’s at the core of what you’re moving toward saying. Show up even if it’s just for 20 minutes a day—in fact, it’s essential to start small. (It’s like exercise: if you overdo it you’ll skip the next work session and won’t develop the habit.) 

As an antidote, kindness is counterintuitive. I’ve worked with writers who insist that the only way forward is to push themselves harder, and I often insist the same to myself. But beating yourself up doesn’t work. You just get into a self-flagellating loop. You might be in constant, frenetic motion, but if you’re still running from what you don’t want to face, you’ll swirl around without moving forward. Eventually the result is a complete stopping or collapse, which might even be good if it breaks you out of the spin-cycle of self-recrimination. 

Kindness involves slowing down and looking around. It must begin with being kind to yourself—forgiving yourself for where you are now, where the writing project that’s been sitting on your head too long is now, what the next steps are. Taking an honest look at those things, without self-inflation or self-shaming. And it must become just what you do. Not what you long to do and beat yourself up for not doing. Just what you do. 

It must begin in kindness and become a matter of course. (Take out the ‘must,’ Michelle.) 

It begins in kindness and becomes a matter of course.