how do you get out of a rut?

It’s disturbingly easy for me to fall into a rut and take for granted that what I’m doing is working so long as is it’s not *not* working.

During those times, I like plenty of quiet time to just think.

Not Stella’s puppy but a puppy nonetheless

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been examining my writing career and where I want it to go. I’ve realized that I’ve let some goals slip away while focusing simply on making a living.

Through my quiet time, I’ve been re-energized and re-inspired to pursue things that I had kind of forgotten even existed . . . like completing the novel I started a few years ago, or even the other one I started in November with NaNoWriMo, or goodness didn’t I start yet another nearly 10 years ago?

My personal way of organization has a lot to do with lists. When I’m making them, it means I’m in a good place.

I’m happy to report that lately I’ve been making lists and crossing things off like crazy–and I’ve finally realized that something rather interesting happens when I look at a list with lines through many of the items:

I feel like accomplishing even more.

Walking with the big boys on Flickr

I know it’s good for me to stop and recharge like this every now and again, to refocus and realign my priorities with my actions, but sometimes I forget. I get caught up in the daily grind and end up rather uninspired, unprepared to push myself and take risks. And I don’t like that.

I much prefer feeling ready to take on the big, bad world.

Finished business at the comune on Flickr

What do you do when you need to recharge?

P.S. Be sure to check out Judith’s Unraised Doughnuts at Think on It!
for this week’s La Buona Cucina Americana recipe.

P.P.S. Click on the photos to see them larger (advised!) and no, this is not one of Stella’s puppies, but he is a cutie, no?

Buon weekend!

40 Beans of Wisdom to “how do you get out of a rut?”
  1. Gil

    I used to get recharged when the bills came or the due dates were rapidly approaching. You sound like the kind of person that is very well organized and drive yourself pretty hard. I’m sure that you will get down to business soon.

    Bills are always a good motivator indeed, Gil; I’m doing OK now that I realized I was kind of in a rut…half the battle is recognizing it!

  2. 05.16.2008

    I love lists, too. Lately I haven’t been making them the way I should. Another way I recharge is to go for a walk before bed. This way I have quiet alone time to get my thinking done (happens so rarely the rest of the day with little people demanding my attention at all times). If I don’t do this, I tend to lie awake at night thinking or I get stressed the rest of the day because I can’t sort my head out with all that’s going on around me.

    Erin’s last blog post..We now interrupt this blahhhness for a funny moment…

    The walking thing works for me too Erin–for me more in the morning. And I’m lucky to have two dogs who will always be willing to accompany me 🙂

  3. 05.16.2008

    I find myself in ruts all the time. I work my way through them differently each time though. It all depends on the rut I’m in. I really treasure my ‘alone’ time, when hubby is at work and the kids are in school. Once they come home, sometimes, it’s like a circus! So, I really, really look forward to time to myself to just think. 🙂

    I love how the puppy “finished his business at the comune!” 😉

    Giulia’s last blog post..Charlie Bit Me

    Can’t imagine how little time you have to just have some quiet…I hope you make the most of it 🙂

  4. 05.16.2008

    I know the land of RUT very well. I spend long periods of time there, letting whole days go by without blinking. I accomplish things, just everyday things, but the stuff that makes me whole? It is left behind… I think creative people need specific goals, a timeline, a routine… that is what works for me.

    Beatriz’s last blog post..I shouldn’t blog about this

    Thanks for sharing what works for you Beatriz. It’s so important that we all find something, anything that works for us.

  5. 05.16.2008

    You can’t beat a run in the woods for recharging. Follow this with cooking a nice meal then eating said meal with your family and a glass of wine.

    running42k’s last blog post..Friday various

    Sounds fabulous 🙂

  6. 05.16.2008

    I know how you feel. May has started off a bit…well…off. I’ve been feeling really out of sorts. My friend has been feeling the same way (must be something in the air). We treated ourselves to mani-pedi’s and then drove north of the city to just get away from the clutter. Sometimes we forget to just stop!

    I’m definitely a list person as well. I need to get it out of my head and onto paper so I can actually SEE what I need/want to do and and then hash out the master plan to get it done.

    I hope you find the inspiration/motivation to finish one of your novels.

    LuLu’s last blog post..Does that look a little slanted to you?

    Thanks LuLu…I’m working on it!

  7. 05.16.2008

    I am a list-maker also. LOTS of lists after a while. And… I love the beach. Seriously LOVE it. That is when I get inspired. I get this empty *longing* feeling when its been a long while since we’ve been there. I know it’s probably NOT wise to *wait* for those moments to prioritize my life … but… I tend to let my lists of things pile up and run amok during the rest of the year. When I get to sit in the sand and stare at the horizon – those are the moments it all becomes clear to me. What to do first, what is priority and what is a waste of time/effort.
    We leave for the beach two weeks from today. Hopefully I will return with some clarity and direction.

    I’m rooting for clarity and direction for you Dory! The beach can also do wonders for me…so long as there aren’t a ton of people around 😉

  8. Sally

    I’m a list person also and find it very therapeutic when I can cross ‘stuff’ off.

    Not nearly as bad as a friend, though, who once showed me the list of things she had to do the following day. All neatly written and numbered the first thing on her list was: 1) Get up.

    Hah! That’s hilarious! I think I need to revise…..

  9. 05.16.2008

    I’m such a fan of making lists. Although, I will admit that sometimes I get so involved with my lists, that I don’t always get through the list, let alone to it. I know what you mean about the rut, though. Sometimes I just feel like all I do is get up early, put myself together, go to work, get home, eat dinner, veg on couch, go to sleep…just to do it all over again every day. Yes, I have a few free hours at night before bed, but after working so many hours during the day, my brain is too exhausted to be put to a creative use. But, it’s during times like these that I need to force myself to break that repeated scenario, but doing something to help me become centered again…visit a day spa, keep the tv turned off at night (to deflect that vegetative state), exercise, go straight to bed and just read all evening before sleep, etc. Anything that will change it.

    Christina Arbini’s last blog post..A Little Taste Of Summer Contest

    Oh girl I’m liking that spa idea….

    I find I have really vivid dreams when I read quite a bit before bed, and that always gets my day started in a most interesting way 😉

  10. 05.16.2008

    I feel the same way about the list making…..the more you see crossed off and the more active you are, the more active you want to become!

    Goodluck with everything!

    P.S. i want that puppy, sooooo cute!

    Eryn’s last blog post..The Big Day (aka The Big Amalgamation)

    Thanks Eryn! He is a cutie, isn’t he?!

  11. 05.16.2008

    I actually read writing like yours when I’m in a rut. Really. I loved this post. Don’t we all feel this way?
    Reading other people’s minds helps me understand my own a bit more, and sometimes make me feel not quite so crazy! I guess we’re all in this together…

    jennifer’s last blog post..a gift and a curse

    Wow, what a compliment Jennifer–thanks 🙂

    It is so very comforting to read others’ thoughts on this…I’m so glad I asked.

  12. 05.16.2008

    I organize and de-clutter and honestly, as crazy as it may sound, it puts everything into perspective for me and helps me see things a lot clearer when I’m done. Just this morning I was getting frustrated with not having enough space for certain things and so I went through and am going by the thrift shop this afternoon to donate clothes that I haven’t worn (and will never fit again)!

    Lisa’s last blog post..Games we play

    Oh I do that too Lisa! When I’m stuck on something in my writing, I tend to clean up the place…somehow it seems to clean up my mind too 🙂

    Congrats on this morning’s purge!

  13. Except for my Hawai’i sojourn, I’ve never been anywhere long enough to really GET into a rut. I guess my method for rut-abatement is staying in constant motion, like a shark.

    There’s probably a better metaphor I could have used there…

    Paul, Paolo, l’altro P’s last blog post..“Always should be someone you really love…”

    Che squalo.

  14. 05.16.2008

    I can’t remember what I do…
    no wonder I don’t feel charged-up lately.

    Planting things is good, and listening to music, and reading. Things that make me feel awake, and alive, and inspired, then I can take that energy and those ideas and pour them into something.

    Sometimes just working on a project generates more energy and ideas, and it sort of carries itself along. But lately whenever I stop, each time I start, it is like starting all over again, the engine is cold, and I am not sure I’ll be able to turn her over and get her working, and then if I do, by the time she is really humming along, time is up, and I have to turn her off again.

    Oh losing momentum is a whole other animal. I find I do that more easily lately as well, but I have to believe the momentum is running along smoothly as long as it’s meant to do so….

  15. k

    have you seen this? it’s the ‘time management’ lecture by randy pausch. excellent excellent excellent! i tried the four quadrant to-do list and it’s the most brilliant thing ever.

    its over an hour long, but trust me, it’s worth it!

    I’ll definitely put it on my to-do list K! 🙂

  16. k

    oops, here’s the link

    Thanks K!

  17. 05.16.2008

    I try to find a quite place in nature somewhere and just sit for a long while and let thoughts flow…and when I’m not able to get away to do that…I find the time to create, and that usually puts me in a very productive and exciting place and lets ideas flow as I’m concentrating.

    sadira’s last blog post..I’ve Got Moxie…

    Sounds so lovely sadira….

  18. 05.16.2008

    I like the de-clutter suggestion! I need to do that! Writing lists and crossing things off works for me, too. Last year, though, I took some DRASTIC measures and started jogging. It has really made a world of difference for me. I had no idea that I could run, and really, I still don’t see myself as a “real” runner. But in any case, even though running can’t fix the big problems in my life, it makes them all more manageable. It is sometimes torture to get up when it is still dark out, or sacrifice a Saturday to do a long run, but the payback is far greater than the effort involved — for me, anyway. 🙂

    Waiting for Zufan’s last blog post..The countdown to San Diego is on!

    Good for you! Yet another runner….

  19. 05.16.2008

    I make lists and then can’t find them… mostly because my daughter and husband will grab it when they need to write something down thinking it’s scrap paper. lol Love your b&w pictures!

    Sandra Ree’s last blog your needlework worth $12,000?

    Too funny! And most unhelpful of your family 😉

  20. 05.16.2008

    Ruts. I know them well. It happens when I focus so closely on the day to day, that I forget the big picture. Sometimes I let the little details take up so much time, that I forget to do things that take me where I really want to be in life. Focusing on the daily grind details, instead of the big goals, is a hard habit to break though!

    kacey’s last blog post..The Decision is Made

    Exactly Kacey! It’s *so* important to keep the big picture in mind…details can be nasty for progress 😉

  21. 05.17.2008

    I’m a lousy list person. First I list the tiny incremental steps as single items, even though they’re all part of one chore so it looks like I’ve done more than I really have. Then I’ll only put things on the list that I feel like doing as I’m doing them and immediately cross them out. I really can’t trust myself.

    I find the only way to get out of a rut is to get out of the house. As a nester, I tend to want to putter and putter and putter and never really get anything major accomplished, especially writing. I need to be aired out now and again. Otherwise, I start to turn…

    sisiggy’s last blog post..Rainy days and Fridays always get me down

    There are *so* many potential procrastination techniques lingering around the house, I agree…change of scenery, even just for some air, always helps me too.

  22. 05.17.2008

    I take a walk through the city, just me and myself. I wander. I let myself slow down. I look. Sometimes I stop in a cafe and I read a short story. Then I go out and walk some more. When I’m in a writing rut this helps more than anything—I must keep myself moving. Some days, the worst thing I can do for my writing is stay still.

    nova’s last blog post..My Civic Duty and How It Involves Dim Sum

    That last line is so very true for me as well, nova. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  23. 05.17.2008

    I understand the feeling of frustration when the urgent starts threatening the important. 🙁

    To recharge, I spend time with my brothers, or read a good book, or read good blogs like yours!

    Tarie’s last blog post..Author Interview: Cherry Cheva

    Ooh, so happy to be part of the recharge Tarie 🙂

  24. 05.17.2008

    I am so glad you did that! I haven’t spent “quality time” with myself lately, but I have been through a spiritual reformation, rediscovering Christianity, so that put some things that have been haunting me into perspective.
    What “does it” for me is Yoga and meditation, journaling including lists that I’d love to put up on a wall (but I don’t because of privacy considerations), and collage/mood board (that I haven’t done in ages, but I have been feeling the urge to do).
    Wishing you the very best!

    Irene’s last blog post..Photo Hunt #1-Candy

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences Irene, and congratulations on your reformation. You write about it beautifully on your blog indeed 🙂

  25. 05.17.2008

    This is so ironic! I was grappling with the same thing last week. I think I’m un-rutted (so to speak) now. One of the issues with writing is that it’s a solitary profession and it’s very easy to fall into patterns, especially if you enjoy domesticity, etc.

    I’m glad you’re crossing many things off lists. I’m in that process myself.

    Buon Weekend!

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..Farmers Market Saturday – May 17, 2008

    So true about writing as a profession Jen…and the traps of domesticity! Glad you’re crossing things off too 🙂

  26. 05.17.2008

    Hi Michelle, I found your blog by chance and I immediately loved it, I started to read about you and the story about how you ended up here in Italy and you know what? Your words about our same way to tell “hello” and “goodbye” really touched me 🙂
    I’ll add your blog to my blogroll, I hope you agree, and I’ll visit you again to know you more and to follow your experiences.
    Greetings from Bologna!!

    Desi’s last blog post..Are Italians really against foreign expats?

    So happy you’ve found me Desi; I’m honored to be honored to your blogroll 🙂 Hope all is well in Bologna!

  27. 05.17.2008

    Thanks for the push. I sat in my yard this morning and wrote 800 words of a short story I’ve been thinking about for a while.

    JimD’s last blog post..Saturday Musings

    Awesome JimD! Keep going!

  28. 05.18.2008

    I ‘ve found this blog reading things bout Heath Ledger’s death. I saw Brokeback Mountain no more than one month ago, and when he died I didn’t give too much attention to the thing. Honestly, I couldn’t even remember his name. But after watching the mouvie I’ve read a lot about him, discovering he was really a genuine person.
    The reason I’m leaving this comment is that not only I’m italian (and living in Italy) but I’m from Calabria too :))
    After the sadness of the post on Heath Ledger, I ‘m still laughing about your post about Paris Hilton on our ads and your description of ciobar! Unfortunately in Italy we’ve got an idea of who she really is….!!!
    I’m from reggio calabria, but I live close to brescia, in the north.
    Nice to meet you here on the web
    ps.hope my english wasn’t too bad :)))

    Stai scherzando? Your English is fantastic!

    I’m sorry you had to find me in such a sad context, but I’m glad you have been enjoying your time here. Some friends and I are talking about a little trip down to Reggio soon–I’ve seen the Bronzes once, but I need to go again and take photos this time! I love the shopping there too 🙂

  29. 05.18.2008

    These black and white shots are stunning, you are really cranking up the photography lately. That’s another great thing you’ve accomplished.

    I love a good list and often get teased for making so many of them. It’s interesting to me that if I find an old list of mine from years gone by it’s almost like reading a journal entry, they recall so vividly a time and place. It’s fascinating to read other peoples lists too.

    How do I recharge, I run.

    amanda’s last blog post..Shameless

    Thanks so much Amanda for the photography compliments…I should probably add that this is a new way for me to recharge these days–long walks with the camera 🙂

    I *love* finding old lists! You’re so right; I really can put myself right back in that time so easily. I wonder if there’s a website full of other people’s lists to read….

  30. 05.18.2008

    I don’t know. I like being in a rut. I crave a rut (and I don’t mean that, um, biologically, so nobody get any ideas). In my experience, though, all I have to do to get out of any given beloved rut is just live another day. Something always happens.

    But then I kind of have a soap opera life. (sigh) And that’s its own kind of tiresome.

    You know what I want? I want a life so boring to other people that when I talk about it they either beg me to stop or pass out while I’m speaking. I want my days to be like Shire days, pretty much all the same shape, with seasons, yes, and the occasional birthday party or special fruit coming into season, but no major excitement. That would be lovely. That would be heaven. I would not want to leave that rut for anything.

    Ah one woman’s rut is another’s paradise. Excellent point Sara.

  31. 05.18.2008

    Hi Sognatrice. I make lists too, in my head, all the time. Like you, the more I accomplish the more I want to accomplish. When I want to recharge it depends how low my batteries are. If they’re not too low I like baking, cooking, creating. Generally something frivolous and not essential to daily living. I like the sense of pride and pleasure I get from looking at a plate of fresh lavender shortbread or from stripping down and re-covering an antique chair. I’ve done something! When my batteries are really empty, I retreat to the sofa or bed and read. This is my do not disturb me, ask me to wash clothes, hoover floors or clean the kitchen time. Do not talk to me, ask for my opinion on the television programme you are watching, or ask me what I am reading. It is all irrelevant. I simply want to escape into another world. And that always reminds me of how important writing is. I am often muzzled by the feeling that there is nothing new and different in what I have to say, so why bother. But we all know that the perfect confluence of time, state of mind and a piece of writing that resonates with you can happen to anyone, at any time. So go on, finish that novel (or 3). You don’t yet know what it will mean to someone at some point in the future.

    xx Inge

    P.S. That puppy is nearly as cute as Stella, and your pictures are beautiful. I love the black and white.

    african vanielje’s last blog post..Wild about Ramsons

    Ah what inspiring words! And I, too, love a frivolous pursuit to really get myself back on track…sometimes that truly creative expression is just what I need to pull me out a rut. Other times, I have to do a few frivolous things first 😉

    Thank you for the compliments on the photos (and Stella) 😉

  32. 05.18.2008

    So sorry that I have been away for some time. You know my story – but I’m coming back, slowly.

    I struggle too, with recharging. The only thing that seems to work for me is to get away from my “normal” life. It may not mean physically away, but away from the same routine and ideally away from responsibilities. I give myself permission to take a mental vacation and do what my gut tells me to do. I definitely don’t do chores, desk work or cooking (unless it is for a creative outlet). Reading and walking usually factors into my re-charge routine, as does writing. Sometimes I find dancing is a great way to literally shake things up.

    Big hugs to you bella!

    Ciao Jeni, nice to see you working your way back 🙂

    I think getting away from “normal” life is a great idea–especially the part about listening to your gut. Hugs right back 🙂

  33. 05.18.2008

    honestly (& sadly) when i feel the rut coming on, i tend to withdraw. i don’t call upon friends. i don’t read much. most of my writing falls to the side (though, depending on the rut’s issues, poetry might just spice up a bit). i do just what i must each day & not much more. D. says he can detect my ruts…they are directly proportional to TV viewing (rut = increased TV time). & in this past year i have found that my blogging & blog visiting fall off with a rut. like i said…sad.

    i am right there with you in this…right now. may is not my month for ’08. & so i will go brew a cup of tea & find blankie for my sunday afternoon state of rutdom! but i will keep in mind what scarlett said…tomorrow is another day!

    qualcosa di bello’s last blog post..the perks of being Little Man’s driver…

    Oh Qualcosa, I hear you. I can drop into a kind of mild depression when I feel like I’m not getting anything done…and the TV becomes a crutch for me as well. I always find it *so* sad when not even books can snap me out of it….

    But yes, and like Vasco Rossi says, “Domani è un altro giorno…arriverà…ormai è qua!”

  34. 05.19.2008

    Sometimes a rut is a good thing, it can mean you’re settled, or efficient or in a groove. Yes, I am a list fanatic, too, but if you’re in a bad rut, you need reflection on what is missing in your life not a list of tasks unless the tasks will take you where you want to go. (The list item #1 – Get Up- I’m going to start putting that on my list, it reminds me of what a co-worker said once. He put an x on each day of the calendar. The first “leg” of the x was put on in the morning because he came to work and that was the hardest part of the day! The second “leg” of the x was put on near the end of the day to finish it. Maybe for Sally’s friend, getting up is the same.

    Homebody at Heart’s last blog post..Arezzo

    Interesting “X” idea…and yes, I agree about a “rut” sometimes being a good sign. I *love* grooves!

  35. 05.19.2008

    Ruts are tough. But it feels great to break out of them, doesn’t it? Motivation is a wonderful feeling.

    Daisy’s last blog post..Drain the swamp. Drain the swamp.

    *Definitely feels great Daisy! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  36. 05.19.2008

    Sometimes, when whole weeks slip by, it takes me a while to realize I’m not accomplishing anything! I think I’m still in transition from working a full time job for 25 years (where even if I didn’t accomplish a lot in a given day, I still got paid) to not working and living in small town Italy.

    Well, to answer your question, I have found an “Action Board” very helpful, especially when juggling several projects. I have a small (2′ x 3′) bulletin board onto which I tack index cards. I title the top of each column with the project name, then divide it into steps, which I list, each on an index card, below the title. That way I can work a little on one, a little on another and keep moving forward, even when I only have a snippet of free time. It’s visual, organized and helps when I feel confused or forgetful about what to do next, and so wind up doing nothing!

    Diane’s last blog post..Seeing red…

    Wow Diane, *that* is a system! Might work for me too considering I’m quite visual myself….

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  37. 05.19.2008

    I like lists a lot as well…but I need to often remind myself that it’s ok to take a night off, to read a book (rather than try and write one), to get a massage (which I sorely need at the moment), to sleep in and/or to just enjoy the beauty of being outside, or being with my children — inside or out. Sometimes it’s so hard because there is so much I want to do for me, but you have to take a step back now and then.

    Congrats on your lists and writing, too! I know how hard it is to get back into the swing of things AFTER taking that break 😉

    Susan’s last blog post..One small step for mankind, one giant leap for me

    *So* true Susan. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel guilty taking time to read or enjoy something else not on the list because, well, there’s just so much list left! But it’s essential. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  38. 05.19.2008

    Nice to know I’m not the only one. . .I appreciated how you manage to unravel and regroup. I have to grab the time and I also do lists because they help me ‘see’ everything. Be encouraged & thanks for the encouragement.
    Love the photos too!

    nonizamboni’s last blog post..Soul in the updraft

    Glad you enjoyed, and thanks for sharing your list fascination as well 🙂

  39. 05.20.2008

    I love lists. Sometimes I write things on them that I’ve already done, just so I can scratch them off. (Come on; I’m totally not the only one who does that, right??) 🙂

    Stefanie’s last blog post..More rambling about what my house looks like, plus a fun experiment to try at your next party

    I *definitely* do that too Stefanie…otherwise what’s the point of even doing things? 😉

  40. 05.21.2008

    It is good to take stock once in a while and recenter ourselves in our goals and plans. I’m glad you’re having success with crossing things off lists, that always feels good. I’m a list person myself.

    I love the photos in this post, and how they totally went right along telling the story with you. Great!

    Karina’s last blog post..Trip to NYC and Meeting the Blog Queen

    Woohoo for lists! Glad you liked the photos 🙂

Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

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