Me Got the Funk

George Clinton photo courtesy of Joe Loong

George Clinton photo courtesy of Joe Loong

I wrote recently about a wonderful day off I had, likening my Day of Shirk to Ferris Bueller’s famous hooky-playing antics. I took that day of leisure in the wake of an insanely busy time of writing, a time right after finishing my novel when I felt both mentally and physically spent. I was also coping with some intense things going on in my personal life (which are still happening, but are looking a bit brighter). It was a needed respite, a recharge, a well-earned rest from the breakneck pace and emotional pressures I’d been wrangling with.

I’m reflecting now on a different phenomenon — we’ll call it “Le Funk.” (Frenchifying the funk makes it somehow more romantic.) I slipped into Le Funk a few weeks ago, with regard to working on edits and rewrites for the novel. And I don’t mean Le Funk in a Parliament-Funkadelic kind of way. Heavens to Murgatroyd, I would be delighted if my funk were of that variety. I think it would be motivational in the extreme if George Clinton turned up in my living room, pointed at my neglected manuscript, and commanded me to “Turn this mother OUT!” That might be just the kick in the bass I need.

But alas, my Le Funk is of the garden variety; a listless, jelly-brained lethargy that makes me open my novel and go, “Oh, hell, no!” And when opening my novel, or even contemplating opening my novel, I am overcome by the sudden and immediate urge to take a nap. It’s the strangest thing. The manuscript slides from my lap, my head grows heavy, and I lose consciousness. It’s like an extremely specific (and far less serious) form of narcolepsy.

So what’s going on with me? Can somebody tell me, please? I’m used to the usual foibles and eccentricities of writing life. I’m used to fighting through what feels like the most crushing inertia to get started writing, especially if it’s something new and I’m beginning with The Blank Page. I’m used to forcing myself to write even when I feel I’ve got nothing to say, and am lacking the tools and talent to say it anyway. But this aversion to working on my own story, already in draft form, is something new.

I used to think all the neurosis, procrastination, and self-doubt was my own bag. But I’ve spent enough time now with other writers, listening to them, reading their blogs and their tweets, to know that these qualities, almost without exception, are the hallmarks of our odd little species. I don’t know if people who write start out like this, or if writing creates people addled with mild psychosis, but either way, discovering I’m not alone is a weirdly comforting revelation.

An aside: Is wrestling with procrastination and insecurity all some of the time unique to writers? Or do people pursuing other endeavors experience these challenges? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

So back to Le Funk. I think what’s happened, with regard to editing and reworking my novel, is that I have spent too much bloody time with it in a very compressed period. This is the third round of editing and rewriting, and so the third time I’ve read it through (not to mention the countless read-throughs while I was writing the first draft). Imagine reading a book five or more times over a couple of months, and then factor in your own insecurities because it’s yours, for better or worse. Yup. You’d want to put that book away and read something else, or even pull the drapes and binge on an Arrested Development marathon. (This is a purely hypothetical example, of course. Ahem.)

So here’s what I’ve been doing to combat Le Funk, with varying degrees of success:

1. Yard work. Summer is here, and fresh air, physical exercise, and an immediate and visible sense of accomplishment work wonders for the old jelly brain. Also, once I’m hot and thirsty enough, covered in scratches, and the weed whacker has spat enough rocks into my face, editing my novel is starting to look pretty good.

2. Work on something else. I’ve gotten this good advice from lots of people, including many fellow writers, and it’s oft repeated for a reason: it works. Switching gears in the brain, thinking about a new story, or writing a blog post (!) can help give me a fresh perspective when I return to edit The Beast.

3. Read something else. This is my favorite, because I love to read. It also requires the least amount of exertion on my lazy part. I can switch gears and swim around in a new story, with zero effort, aside from holding the book in my hands and letting my eyeballs and imagination do the walking. Reading can also be inspiring. I’m not talking plagiarizing, but seeing how good authors spin a mesmerizing yarn (and also how bad authors fail to do so) teaches me a thing or two about my own writing.

4. Suck it up. Writing, editing, rewriting, proofreading: all of it is work. Sadly, writing is not about me (played by Jennifer Lawrence) sipping a cup of Earl Grey as I sit at my Underwood typewriter, while the Muse (played by Jon Hamm), guides my fingers across the keys. Writing is thinking and struggling to put into words the ideas in my head. It’s putting out words even when there is nothing in my head, and then reworking them and reworking them until I’ve got something that, well, works. It’s not being able to sleep because I’m agonizing over some plot point, or (more fun) because the ideas are coming on strong. Writing can leave me feeling refreshed, inspired and proud of my accomplishment — when I’m done for the day. But it is always, with fleeting and glorious moments of exception, hard work.

So ultimately, I think I am going to take the Suck It Up approach tonight. Sometimes you just have to do it, whether you like it or not, whether there is an Arrested Development marathon on TV or not, and whether George Clinton or Jon Hamm materializes to help you along, or (most likely) not.

Though before I get started, I think it might be time for some inspirational music to put me in the mood. Hmmm…how about “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off That Sucker)!” Of course! George Clinton is here in spirit, and he’s advising me in no uncertain terms to give up that funk. Now, where’s my red pen…

Do you sometimes feel less than giddy about doing your work, even when it’s something you love? Do you experience your own version of Le Funk? How do you break through and git ‘er done? I’d love to hear your advice!

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4 thoughts on “Me Got the Funk

  1. Milli Thornton

    Bravo, woman. You somehow manage to make lethargy and lack of motivation into a literary experience. Very entertaining!

    I’ve been going through something similar, after many months of working hard on my burning goals. I theorize that it’s not just over-exposure to your own material. It’s from spending an extended amount of time in that switched-on state where you’re making things happen. There has to come a period where you go splat. And then for a while you don’t have the energy to pick yourself up, except in the most primitive ways. We cannot sustain that heightened state without some alarming dips in energy.

    My solution was to let myself get all hairy and funky and morose. I slept a lot. I tried not to have meaningful conversations (when I did, they seemed to backfire). I indulged in mindless pursuits. Sometimes I just sat around looking comatose, staring out the window. And tried not be hard on myself about it.

    Eventually the juice will return. All we can do is trust in the cycles. (And, yeah, force ourselves to get on it with it when that seems like the thing to do.)

    Thanks for making this seem cool and fun in retrospect. Your Le Funk gives it more cachet. 😀

    Reply
    1. Leigh Lauck Post author

      Very insightful comments as usual, Milli. And I agree with you — being in that “switched on” state without respite for an extended period of time takes its toll. The term “burned out” comes to mind! And I like your remedy…I’ve been doing a good bit of that myself lately. (Funky, morose, thousand mile staring out the window — to the degree that Good Husband was like, “How many days have you been in those pajamas???”)

      I still maintain it sounds cooler when you give it a French name 😀

      I will take a page from your book and Suck It Up when I feel I need to, but also be sympathetic to myself when I just need to take a break.

      Reply
  2. Judith Shaw

    Leigh,

    I think it’s one of those good things that only feel good in retrospect. Congratulations on finishing your draft, and for Heaven’s Sake, TAKE A BREAK!

    Judith

    Reply
    1. Leigh Lauck

      Thanks, Judith! I am taking your advice to take a break when I need to, and to get to it when I think that’s what’s needed. And in the respite, lots of interesting ideas about the book are bubbling to the surface!

      Reply

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