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A 1,000 Piece Puzzle, With No Corners or Edges

I knew it before I graduated. I even talked about it in my graduating seminar presentation.

The post-MFA writing life is difficult. As I sat on the porch with a cup of coffee and my daily free writing notebook, I wrote these words.

“Too many choices. That’s where I am. Too many options without urgency to focus on any one thing. So much on my mind, it’s like a 1,000 piece puzzle with no corner pieces, no edges, no picture on the box to reference.”

I am a bit overwhelmed and unmoored. There are stories to write, stories to edit, stories to revise. One novel in progress. One non-fiction book about the post-MFA writing life to pursue. Research and feedback I could collect. Blog posts. Daily free writing. Ideas and parts of ideas and good sentences I don’t want to let slip away.

There is so much freedom, now, and in this case, unbounded freedom can be a hinderance. It can cause a sort of paralysis. Especially if I’m not vigilant.

And so, every day I’ve been “taking stock” and tracking where I am, and where I want to be. It’s been a slow process, and not terribly productive, thus far. But, I refuse to just let it die. My productivity has been a 2 or 3 on a scale of 10, but that is still better than a zero, and it leaves me plenty of room to improve.

All of this tracking and self-evaluation is meant to help me see the “picture on the puzzle’s box-top” and give me some reference point as I sort and fit the puzzle pieces together. On the days when I am completely unproductive, it does make me feel bad to look at my tracking sheet and see just exactly how little I’ve accomplished. It also gives me some hope (“Hey,” I say, “At least I did SOMETHING with my day.”) and it gives me motivation to not feel this way tomorrow.

It would be so easy to slip into a creative coma. It happens to a lot of post-MFA writers. Actively guarding against it is something that takes a lot of effort and a great deal of planning. For most of us, writing consistently (daily, three times a week, every weekend) is hard work. When the only person we have to be accountable to is ourself, that work feels even harder.

If you are a writer, looking for a “check-in partner” who you can talk to on a regular basis about your work and your progress, drop me a line (comment below or send an email) and we’ll try to get some things set up to provides accountability and encouragement for your writing life.

Make it a great day. Happy Writing.

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