The Avoidance Trap

Sisters_SelfieI just returned home after spending almost a week in upstate New York, seeing family. It was a strange sort of visit because 1) it was just me visiting, and 2) I visited just one household. I left my husband, kids, and dogs behind, rather than packing up the whole gang for our usual cross-country expedition; and although I got to see lots of different family members, I didn’t try to see everyone, the way I usually would.

I also didn’t try to keep up with work, write a daily word or page count, or even pop into social media (except the occasional Facebook “like” when my sister posted about what we were doing!) I was there to see people–to talk to them, hang out with them, be part of their lives for a while, and generally get to know them and find out what’s going on in their lives.

Workaholic, Much?

This type of visit might not sound that earth-shattering to some of you, but the truth is that I might be just a teensy bit of a workaholic. (I’m not admitting that I am a workaholic, mind you–just admitting that it’s a distinct possibility….) Setting aside work for almost a week–not just “work” work, but also child-wrangling, laundry, scheduling, emails, and all the other day-to-day minutia of modern life–was a new concept for me. It felt kinda weird.

And uncomfortable.

There’s something safe and familiar about staying busy, ya know? It gives me an easy exit if conversations get too intense (“I really have to spend some time working…”). It makes me feel valuable, maybe ever-so-slightly self-important (Look, mom, the world can’t really keep on ticking if I don’t check my emails and get back to my Important Clients and do my Important Work and other Important Stuff…) Staying busy makes it easier to stay a safe distance from worries because you can just straight to solutions, bypassing those pesky emotions altogether. (Yes, yes, stop talking about feelings, let’s FIX THINGS, okay? That makes me feel in control again….)

Not that I do these things. Much. At least, not once I realize what I’m doing.

Avoiding Discomfort

I’ve been doing a lot of “realizing” over the years. It’s let me see my need to work-work-work for what it is. Usually, it’s a way to escape something: doubts, worries, dealing with emotions, dealing with laundry (although laundry avoidance is a PERFECTLY VALID desire…just sayin’…)

Once I realized what I was doing, I began to realize something else: avoidance doesn’t work. The more I try to avoid fears, doubts, worries, discomfort, the more power I end up giving those things.

But I’m not actually here to give you a Psych 101 lecture–I’m actually here to talk about writing. Strangely enough, although I love writing, although I claim that the one thing I want more than anything else is time to write, writing seems one of the main things I avoid.

Not consciously, of course. There’s always a Very Good Reason.

I’m too busy with paying projects, I told myself in March.

Then, in June, I’ll write as soon as this crisis is over.

In July, I just have to finish this presentation. 

August:  I need to focus on getting my son ready for college.

September: Now I need to concentrate on preparing for the SCBWI fall conference. 

And, It’s been too long since I looked at my work-in-progress. I need a big chunk of time to get back into it. I can’t possibly fit this in right now!!!

What Are You Avoiding?

Does this sound at all familiar?

From talking to writing friends, I don’t *think* I’m the only one who does this. (Please, tell me I’m not alone!!) 

Writing can get…hard. It can be scary to put yourself out there on the page, where others can see and criticize. It requires a certain amount of bravery to delve into the depths of the human psyche, which is where the really powerful parts of a story tend to hide. Writing requires us examine the inner workings of our minds, emotions, relationships.

Writing requires analysis of the juicy, the ugly, the intense in our lives.


…and that can be uncomfortable.

So what do we do about avoidance – besides just…you know…not. Besides simply “stopping it.”

The first step? Recognize what’s going on! Identifying avoidance is the key to conquering it.

Identify your writing priority–and ask yourself if you’re moving forward. If you are, yay! If not, are you treading water? Are you putting in work but not getting anywhere? Or are you moving sideways–finding other things to steal your attention whenever “writing time” arises?

Are you sitting down with your work-in-progress on a regular basis? If not–why not? What signals tell you that you are actively avoiding writing, not just going through a “dry spell”? Please share in the comments!

I’ll be writing about ways to deal with avoidance next week. I hope you come back then! :-) Cheryl


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