Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Workhorse Speaks


So, I’ve got this little problem: I’m not writing. It’s not that the watering hole has run dry or that I’ve lost my sense of direction. Neigh. It’s Life, getting in the way.

Summer of 2010 I stepped away from an intense, full-time fifth grade teaching position with the goal of writing part-time and running a business, what would eventually become W.O.R.D. Ink (a tutoring and editorial services company.) My whole life I’ve earned continual paychecks, so the wobbly ups and downs of tutoring threw my husband and I for a loop. Still, we managed to figure out the pattern by the end of the first year in preparation for my second, and I worked through a nine-month program to earn a certificate in digital journalism, so I could expand my business services into print and digital media. All the while, Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Sunday, I was working away on a revised incarnation of a WIP that I was excited to show Sara.

Around August of 2011, my main Life pipeline began to clog up: my husband and I dealt with several complex medical issues, and he hired me (I, being the resident copywriter), on our tight budget to write the content for his new company’s website. Meanwhile, it became clear to me ¾ of the way through my WIP that I needed to return to research and story development once more. I would give myself from November 2011 to February 2012 to sort out the backend of each story component. My certificate degree program now over and the winter lull carving a deep crevice in my tutoring income, I began to write the content and conjure the design for my new business website, having now both time and intense need. The goal was to finish by February (coinciding with the culmination of my WIP research), with the site up and running by April. Then, I thought naively, I can finally get back to Just Writing. My new WIP goal was to finish a polished draft and submit by August.

But, Oh…the unforeseen soul searching that ended up going into the website process, the constant decision-making, tweaks, add-ons, gathering, and revisions! The site was to be a representation of me, and what I stand for, of my business and personal mission, vision, values, and promise. It was, I realized, an encapsulation of the best of me, out there for people to see. So where do you think all my creative energy was redirected? And do you think all that could be achieved by February?

By April, I finally had a website I was proud of, but it had cost me now two months of lost momentum in writing time. All the while, my characters wandered aimlessly around in my head, waiting for me to do something clever with them, but I didn’t have the time or creative energy to make decisions. Then came the miscarriage, after waiting so long. If there’s ever one thing to throw your entire life into a depressing tailspin devoid of motivation, it’s one of those. Add to that, three of my best friends were pregnant and I would be helping to plan their baby showers. *Sigh* -- Life. May through August have been a slog of commitments, compromises, and crazy emotions. I got stuck in the endless loop of the Busy Trap. Kissed my writing time goodbye, and felt like a total failure, bait for bad-luck. Ah, the grieving process.

Eventually, I started acupuncture to find some balance and to reclaim my Chi. After bottling up all my experiences, ashamed, thinking how no one on earth wanted to hear me wail about my woes, I finally started talking. Wow. We all have s*#?t going on in our lives, don’t we? We’ve all been through something. And apparently, we all have something to look forward to, as well. Listening to others, I found myself relieved, and laughing behind the tears. When I broke down on my critique group and admitted I needed some time off, they revealed their own struggles with their novels right now, and we decided to reframe our meetings for the time being, to support where each of us is at, to help each other find our creative spark again.

In another month, I can actually breathe a sigh of relief and sink back into the patterns I created so diligently two years back. My tutoring business is expanding, and I’m in the process of hiring a small team of educators, along with an assistant. I’m excited not only for the expertise that they’ll bring, but for the relentless work they will take off my plate. Soon, I’ll be able to justify “sitting around,” and creating in the middle of the day. I’ll get back to the business of writing, and more than anything, I want to write. But my anticipation wears two faces: one the one side, Joy! Splendid Reward! On the other, Fear. All the usual sorts. Am I deluding myself? Will my best-laid plans continue to get sabotaged by the pressing distractions of Life? Will I, in this workhorse form of myself, be the ironic undoing of my own fairytale vision of balance? What if I can’t gain momentum again, can’t jump back into this fictional world, can only view it from a grimy window in my memory? Am I worthy? Am I good enough? Will I trust myself? Be kind to myself? Remember to have fun?

      A blog post on “Write At Your Own Risk” by the lovely Leda Schubert, faculty member at VCFA, kindly bonks me over the head:
“The work of the writer is to write. The work of the writer has not necessarily been—until recently-- to blog, tweet, post, or travel about the world promoting the work of the writer […] Why is it that we write? […] We write because we can’t not write. We are driven by mysterious forces. […] What I really want as a reader are superb books, and those don’t get written when writers are doing other things. Which brings me in a roundabout way to today’s topic: rules for writers. There are none for how to write a great book. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to check off ingredients one by one and bake at 350 until done?” 
A list of writing rules from famed authors follows. Here is my favorite that Leda quotes from Henry Miller:
  1.  Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2.  Start no more new books. [… add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’]
  3.  Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4.  Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5.  When you can’t create you can work.
  6.  Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7.  Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8.  Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Returning over the past month to the very simple revelation Leda laid out, I begin to chant: The less you write, the less you write. The more you write, the more you write.
“Back to work,” Leda reminds me.
I nod, accept my fate in the Chinese horoscope (yes, I’m a born Horse), paw at the ground, and get ready to charge ahead. 

4 comments:

  1. You've had quite a year, Vanessa!
    Reading the Leda Schubert/Henry Miller list, I'm afraid to admit I've been violating almost all of these rules. Oh well, according to #9 I can start again tomorrow.

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  2. Thank you for that post, Vanessa. Your worries about getting back into writing after an absence are dead on.

    The only cure is to stay in the book until it's done, but that's not always possible, of course. Life is busy. Life is messy. and these days, very few writers live in isolated, clifftop cabins with a typewriter and three years' worth of peanut butter sandwiches stockpiled in the fridge.
    Actually, none do.
    Unless the cabin has WiFi.

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  3. Wow. This is a touching post. I've been struggling with burnout physically and mentally these last few years, now in my 30's and I feel like I'm still a "newbie" in the writing world.
    Just need to not overwhelm myself with the past or the future. Still not sure how to just get through each day, but have to keep trying. Thanks for the post. Lovely.

    J

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  4. Greetings!
    This post is just a tremendously nicely structured piece. Awesome things you have here. Best of luck!
    With Best Wishes
    bedroom | sofa | kitchen | bathroom | living room

    ReplyDelete