Writing the sludge out: an experiment in hope and brain fog

September 19, 2013 10:51 AM

Every morning, after I swallow 15 pills and a protein shake, I spend the next X minutes trying to wake up, trying to get my head in gear, trying to clean out the mental sludge so I can write.

X minutes is usually 3 − 4 HOURS.

That’s how long it takes me to get disgusted with my surfing enough to stop. ‘Disgusted’ actually means that the brain is making a decision more major than which link to click next, searching for entertainment. And it means we – brain and I – may be able to write now.

I never allow myself to, say, read a book – that would be giving in to the sludge, admitting that I can’t manage myself, and would lead to me spending the next 12 hours READING that book – and using up an enormous amount of energy, because stopping reading is another decision I can’t make.

I know it’s decision fatigue: until some of those pills hit the bloodstream and do their work, I literally can’t write fiction, any more than I could pick up a boulder with both arms broken.

I try. Regularly.

What I want to do is write fiction, not blog posts, not emails, not comments.

What I haven’t tried, at least not recently, is ‘writing out’ the sludge.

Today, I’m going to try that.

If all I do for the next three hours is whine and moan about not being able to write Scene 12.2 of Pride’s Children, so be it.

I set Freedom for 120 minutes after surfing for the very basics – Dave Hingsburger, The Passive Voice, email, and a quick run through the blogs I visit. Very quick – not more than 20 minutes passed since I brought the shake and morning Diet Coke up to begin my writing day.

I did a tiny bit of stretching – Wednesday night’s yoga always does a bit of damage, somewhere. Even when I’m very careful – as I was last night – not to twist too much so as not to jangle the left sacro-illiac joint. If the pain lasted more than a couple of days, I wouldn’t be going to yoga, but the results – the increased strength and flexibility over the past two years – is worth the weekly couple of days of being a little stiff and sore.

I checked out AIM – my daughter is up and online, but, at this time of day, probably in class.

Lily White LeFevre wrote about not being able to write lately. I know how she feels – it’s been glacial.

Part of that was my fault: I allowed sugar into my life, courtesy of birthday, and it took 8 days of my life to get the sugar back out, 8 days of feeling even worse than usual.

Another part was not knowing how to handle the new bit of energy – and overextending so badly that I crashed. Nice to know I CAN overextend that much – and, really, how was I supposed to find the new limits otherwise? By being slow and cautious? How boring!

It occurred to me (I’m slow – you’d think it was obvious) that I’m not JUST waiting around for my brain to click on, but that the surfing off topic is actively using up the nascent energy that comes from being awake and having loaded some of those pills into the body, that I’m actively wasting it, like when a toilet is running AS the water tries to fill the tank.

Choosing Freedom

After months of the fruitless surfing, I’m willing to admit that this may be true. I’ve been thinking of it for a while, but blocking the surfing (turning on Freedom) is actually a pretty big decision for me, and so I was unable to MAKE that decision until I was ‘awake’ and finally ‘disgusted’ – and able to make the decision.

Round and round we go; where it stops, nobody knows.

I’m not going to whine about having CFS. Or ME/CFS, as I keep getting reminded by my organization to write.

For now, that would be like whining because there is a moon.

I’m not going to whine about feeling like there is sludge in my head. Actually, by all the objective measures, there is LESS sludge in my head than usual.

I’m not going to whine about not FEELING like doing what I want to do with my time in the world – when I have nothing else I can do. That seems to be par for the course. I don’t feel like writing – I want to write. Objectively, it’s different. One is a goal, the other an assessment of my current physical status. And, again objectively, I am far luckier than many people with CFS: I have a goal, and I can move toward it, however slowly.

Risk of failure

This is merely today’s experiment, for my amusement and possibly for someone reading this: is it ‘better’ to sit here NOT entertaining myself, but trying to write out the sludge – and will I get to writing fiction more quickly that way?

Or would it be better to just do my aimless – and interesting, sometimes entertaining – web surfing, storing away all kinds of data in my database.

I believe that beating your head against the goal may bloody the goal, make it less attractive. Would I come to hate this minor effort to write about not being able to write yet?

But I know I haven’t given it a fair trial, because I wasn’t willing to try – AND FAIL.

It was always possible to tell myself: if you just tried writing on topic about getting the sludge out of your head – instead of doing what possibly is ADDING to the sludge in your head, you would find it worked.

For the record: just as sludgy after a half hour of writing about not being able to write.

Will it take three hours of typing about trying to focus and write?

I do know now that I can easily dump a thousand words in a half hour.

What a waste.

And now, to try to actually write on topic. Or at least, as I do, to write AROUND the topic. Honestly, is there anyone else who ends up with a 3000 word scene – and 13,000 words in the file where I write about how I’m going to write the scene?

September 19, 2013 11:45 AM

If getting started for the day is the goal, I have achieved it. I started to write around the topic, to think of how to turn yesterday’s printouts into the scene.

If getting the sludge out is the goal, I have not. But who cares – I rarely write without sludge. At least I don’t feel any worse.


Copyright 2013 Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

5 thoughts on “Writing the sludge out: an experiment in hope and brain fog

  1. naleta

    I’ve actually had a couple weeks with less overtime at work, so now I’m finally getting around to catching up on your writings.

    “And now, to try to actually write on topic. Or at least, as I do, to write AROUND the topic. Honestly, is there anyone else who ends up with a 3000 word scene – and 13,000 words in the file where I write about how I’m going to write the scene?”
    This sounds a lot like what my husband has been saying about his next book. He got his second one up on Amazon (no sales yet [but I have submitted it to PJM Book Plug Friday for the 29th]), and has been sorting through his notes and random scenes. I suspect that a lot of writers (not just ones with CFS brain) go through this sort of thing.
    {{{HUG}}} and now to dive back into my backlog of your blog.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I checked my email one last time before shutting off the internets to get some writing done on the current scene – 13.3 – which is giving me conniption fits because it just HAS to be right… A HUG was just what I needed today.

      And I find encouragement! Thanks for stopping by – and I hope your husband doesn’t drive you crazy with all that writing around the writing. Congratulations to him – getting a second book up is a huge success: everyone wonders, after the first, if it was a fluke. What does he write? What was his first book? Keep encouraging him – it is a weird thing we do, and we don’t seem to be able to stop ourselves.

      As for the notes, I keep telling myself: no one wants them. Once you’re finished writing, they’ve had their say. It’s okay to let them go. Maybe when the book(s) have been out a year or two. I’ll put them in a box labeled: ‘if not opened by,’ date it, and put it in the basement. This while recovering from the mini-flood I found when I went to the basement – the humidifier pump had clogged. Honestly! There are a couple of boxes I will be able to dump without investigating their contents!


      1. naleta

        His first book is a crime novel.

        His second is a fantasy mystery.

        The next one is a sequel to the fantasy. He has told me that he doesn’t want to talk this one to death with me, so right now that’s all I know about it.

        I wish you good writing. 🙂



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