At least, that’s what I used to think until I had a really rough bout with it this past month. I have a pretty fast-paced writing life. I commit to a certain number of articles per day or week or I commit to a certain number of hours for different clients. About mid-May, though, I just couldn’t make myself write anything. I would sit down at my keyboard and want to immediately fall asleep. Or I would feel depressed.
I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the emotional travails of geniuses, whether the genius in question is either real or self-proclaimed. I tend to look down my unfortunately freckled nose at people who claim that writing is torture or that writing is painful. Sure, when I’m writing, the product is inconsistent. Sometimes, I score a great article or an insightful blog. At other times, I feel like I’m merely producing recycled drivel. The process, however, isn’t painful. You just sit down and start producing. Right?
Wrong. I went through three weeks where writing did feel like torture.
I started to psychoanalyze what was happening to me. Was it burnout? It didn’t feel that way. I tend to associate burnout with frustration. For instance, when I was completely burned out at my job at the bookstore that shall not be named, I felt trapped, like I wanted to box my way out of a corner. This time, I just felt like sludge.
Part of the sludge, I think, was that I hadn’t produced anything creative in a while. The “creative” work is the work that I do for fun, such as writing fiction or writing this blog. I think I’ve been pouting over the number of fiction rejections that I’ve gotten. My husband has been trying to convince me to start writing to agents about my novels, but I haven’t done it. I’ve told myself I haven’t looked for an agent because I didn’t have time, but of course I make time for the things that are essential or for the things that I really want to do.
I kept thinking of something that Sue Monk Kidd said about “the measure and the madness.” You can read her thoughts on this idea by clicking here. Essentially, her philosophy is that writing is a series of methodical measures, like doing character studies, scene diagrams, outlines in notebooks, etc. Then, writing is also about madness. She describes going to sit on the dock behind her house or creating random collages. She also described in the best book of her that I have read, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, painting random pictures that didn’t make any sense, like pictures of women without hands and feet.
To get myself reoriented, I tried some different ideas. At their best, they inspired creativity. At their least, they inspired escape. I played a lot of games on my iPhone, like Trainyard Express (hopelessly addictive), which I played with my oldest son, for escape. I watched an episode or two of Battlestar Galactica–nothing like realizing that a few fictional humans are worse off than you are. I got a massage at A Moment Away spa (my Mother’s Day gift) and had them paint my toenails purple.
I went on a Memorial Day vacation to Vermont at the Wildflower Inn for inspiration. I took photos of the amazing vistas and played with my kids. I also rode the Yule Log Flume at Santa’s Village. After the Log Flume ride, I bought the customary face of my kids and my faces (mine alarmed, theirs gleeful) as our log plunged down the water slide. I also rode the roller coaster with my sons—three times, actually.
We made s’mores at the Wildflower Inn bonfire. My sons also made two new friends at the inn, and I laughed while they all made up a game called “Bull Cow Rescue Squad.” I’m sure there are plenty of stray cows to rescue in Vermont. I think they also headed to Cape Cod to rescue dolphins, and my oldest son made a strong case for adding pig rescue to the mix.
The result of all of it…I feel better this week. I had a productive work week. I wrote this blog. I sketched out an idea for a short story. I think that, in short, I was sticking to the measures and forgetting all about the madness. I forgot to take the time to escape and to play, even if playing just meant solving Trainyard puzzles. When I was working in the corporate world, I escaped into alcohol and food a lot. Since I’m happier now, I don’t need as much escape, and I try to avoid the kind of escapes that make you fat (like food and alcohol). At the same time, to stay creative, I’ve realized that I need to play from time to time.
Take some time this week to do some ludicrous train puzzles. Play Bull Cow Rescue Squad with your kids. You’ll find that your creative life gets a surprising boost. Your boring old day job might get a boost, too.