Here’s what I mean by a funk:
- I do the same old stuff every day.
- I have nothing new on the horizon.
- The new projects that I might want to work on seem pointless, or pointlessly difficult.
- There are institutional barriers in my way that I can’t seem to break through.
If you look closely at that list you’ll see that, really, all of the items are facets of the same stone. I’m stuck in a place, and I can’t break out.
There are other metaphors for “funk”—some people use the word “rut.” Others use the word “plateau.” You’ve plateaued when you’ve ceased an upward trajectory and leveled out, and now you’re doing the same old stuff over and over again. You can plateau in sports, for example, when you stop getting better at your chosen skill. You can plateau in your writing career, too, when you feel like you’re writing the same things for the same people and nothing new will ever happen to you.
Funk, rut, plateau, whatever you want to call it: If you’ve hit one of those things, it’s a terrible feeling.
I decided I needed a different metaphor for thinking about the writing space I’m in right now, one that’s less negative. I settled on the phrase “pivot point."
A pivot point is the center of any rotational system. In basketball, you plant your pivot foot so you can move while not getting called for a travel. Drawing with an old-fashioned compass, you firmly plant the sharp tip as your pivot point, and then you rotate the clamped pencil around it to create a perfect circle. A train engine on a turntable rotates on a central pivot point, allowing something immensely heavy to change direction. Examples of pivot points abound.
The examples are important because I really want to stop thinking about funks, ruts, and plateaus.
Instead, I’m telling myself that I’m at a pivot point. A pivot point is a point where you stop moving forward—true—but where you also have a multitude of possibilities around you. You pause in your forward progress, and you look around, taking in the different paths, and then pick a new one.
The hardest part of being in a pivot point is accepting that the lack of forward trajectory can be a good thing. A pause to look around, to get your bearings, is a periodic necessity. Am I making the best choices for my writing career? Where do I want to go next? Pivot points allow for these considerations.
So if you’re in a pivot point, what sorts of things should you consider?
(1) Look at your writing output. (As I mentioned in an earlier piece, I mean writing broadly construed.) Are you working on what you want to be working on? Look at the new projects you have on the horizon. Look at the excitement that you feel or don’t feel about what you are doing.
(2) Look at your finances. Are you making enough money? Are there choices that you need to be making with your writing career in order to make more money? Do you need to ask for a raise? (You probably need to ask for a raise.)
(3) Consider new writing ventures. Now is the time to push out of your comfort zone a little bit. You’re safe where you are. You have some stability. So now, reach a little higher with your work. Submit to more highfalutin’ magazines. Heck, just submit to new magazines. Give yourself a challenge: one new submission or query every day for a week. See if you can pull it off. Challenges help you form new good habits.
When you find yourself in a funk, rut, or plateau, reframe your thinking. You’re in a place of possibilities. You’re in a pivot point. Pause. Look around you and take in your situation. Then, once you have your bearings, move forward again.
Read more Pryal Style columns and for tips on making it as a freelance writer!