“Write every day. Sit thy butt in a chair and write. Don’t talk about writing, just do it, kind of like the Nike slogan.” This was my advice to writers until recently. See, it is hard to tell people how to finish a work in progress when you are not writing. These tips stopped working for me well over a year ago. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about my creativity running dry. Each time I was sure I’d found my momentum again and hit the road at a full run, I was disappointed by my ideas draining, leaving me empty and sure I’d lost any talent I possibly had.
Then a sudden move presented itself to our family. I was determined to keep following my own advice, no matter what I would tap into the keyboard, while I packed up our house of fourteen years. My agent laughed when I told her my plan. “You won’t write a word for a month or two. Face this. Relax.”
Relax? I couldn’t remember the last time I relaxed when I was writing. Yet, there was a time, but the memory was so far in the past only a flicker teased me.
Boy was my agent correct. My best intentions were traded in for sleeping when I could, cleaning the old house and the new, and sorting years of stuff. I won’t even talk about the move itself. We had this grand idea to have family and friends help—they are saints—instead of professional movers. Such a luxury was not in our budget. Right in the middle of the transition my car broke down with major engine problems. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t reading. I did begin to physically work harder than I ever had. Imagine appliances, a piano, and large pieces of furniture.
For almost a year my characters’ voices had stopped speaking to me. Not something this fiction author wanted to admit. Ideas surfaced only to run away when I came too close. Maybe I was a better mover than a writer. Maybe I needed to find a new career, if one could call three novels and a novella a career. Was I ready to give up?
Most of my first novel, Ghost On Black Mountain, was written on my lunch hour every day at my corporate job. When I read through this body of work now, I don’t sense the struggles taking place in my personal life at the time. My mother had died—one reason I began writing this book in earnest. I was the mother of a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. My day job was demanding, leaving me little time for productivity. Still I managed to finish a piece of fiction that won awards.
So, why did the publication and book tour for my second novel create a massive roadblock where my creativity was concerned? What was different from the earlier years? This gave me a lot to think about in a crazy time when I couldn’t stop to ponder.
Shortly after completing the move into our new home, I began to walk through my neighborhood. It wasn’t long before I was walking more than four miles a day. Then I picked up a novel I’d been itching to read but hadn’t had the time due to honoring blurbs I’d agreed to write for first time novels. One day while admiring the beautiful fall colors as I walked, the main character from my work-in-progress spoke. It had been so long since this happened that I wondered where the thought came from. Was I losing my mind? I nearly dropped to my knees on the sidewalk. A character was talking. Maybe I was still a writer. Still I held off going to my desk. A small thought warned I might scare the character away. I continued unpacking. The next day a fully formed paragraph came to me and the urge to write it down was too strong.
The glorious feeling of the pen scratching across paper, the goose bumps on my arms, and the urge to carve out time to write took me over. I was back. I was still a writer.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, among other creativity books, says an artist has to fill the well. I had stopped filling my well long before. Instead I was drawing creativity each day and never growing it.
I’m still too early in my new routine to say creativity is here to stay. My characters are with me again. I can drop into another world and not be disturbed. Am I fully recovered? That I can’t say. I do know there is a small creative flame flickering and has to be nurtured.
My new advice to aspiring writers? Fill your well. Balance your work with inspiration and play. A simple walk or a good book is a wonderful place to begin. Feed the artist inside of you and creativity is bound to follow.
Ann is hard at work on her fourth novel and a book of nonfiction narrative while walking four miles a day in her new semi-rural neighborhood.