Sometimes progress toward a goal comes to a complete standstill, or seems that way. Even worse, you might feel you are actually losing ground, losing the momentum. You feel stuck.
I am focusing on my health these days— dropping some weight (again). Each time I’ve committed to this goal, I am reminded by my morning visit to the bathroom scales that there is no steady daily decline in losing weight. It is a series of incremental successes interrupted by plateaus. And those plateaus seem to last forever. Nothing is happening when I am on a plateau, and my weight stubbornly stays relatively constant. Worse, ounces seem to find their way back on the scale with me occasionally without warning. Plateaus frustrate me. It is on those plateaus that I want to give up and turn back— concede defeat..
Plateaus are part of the pattern in goal achievement, though. Eventually if I stick with my weight-loss plan, the weight will begin to drop again. In the case of losing weight, plateaus are my body’s effort to maintain and/or adjust to changes it senses. The plateau is a time for the body to check on things before continuing to cooperate with the program. It is part of the process.
So, what does that have to do with writing? I am beginning to notice plateaus in other areas of my life and, yes, in my writing. For a while I go full steam and produce some very fine, satisfying work and then… flat. Zip! Nothing! Nada! It doesn’t seem to matter what I do to kick-start my imagination. Attempts to regain the advantage just produce more frustration. Some might liken this to writer’s block. That doesn’t mean I stop producing during those dry spells. I face my computer regularly and write a few uninspiring lines or edit some previous work. It is important that I stay in the game, to keep believing in the process. So, I keep fumbling with words, ideas, first lines, character sketches and more. I stay linked to the goal, even though all I can see in front of me is a dusty patch of writing desert.
Here’s the good news,: plateaus are just that. They are not dead ends. The overall trend of growth is always progress if each day there is determined effort. Any effort. Roy Bennet wrote: “Don't be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.” The fear I face in a plateau experience (and maybe you do as well) is that the goal I set is now unapproachable, too lofty, beyond my ability. And predictably the fear begins to replace the goal. But, here’s the way forward and what to remember when traveling across a plateau: I will lose more weight if I put forth daily effort than if I quit. And there will be more books written if I keep putting words on a page—any words, any page— than if I stop. Plateus are an adjustment time.
So, what are your goals? Watch for and expect plateaus and name them for what they are— adjustments toward success, nothing more. I am no longer on a plateau, I'm in a period of adjustment.