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I have drained the well.

I know better. And yet, when I stop to measure the charge left in my physical, emotional, and spiritual batteries there’s not much more than a flicker. Just enough to drag through another day, so long as nothing big comes along, so long as I am not called upon for any acts of will and discernment.

Yeah right.

Life isn’t going to stop for me. My job isn’t going to stop presenting me with difficult challenges and decisions. The kid still needs to get ready for college and I have a house to run and a family to love. The cat is sick. Second Son lost his glasses. The newsletter I edit for the DMHP association is coming up due again.

Meanwhile, I have new writing goals and plans. So much to do. So little time.

It’s not my fault, this time, but it is still my responsibility to seek the cure.

I know perfectly well what I need.  Daily yoga. Long walks in the woods. Good books. Naps. Journal writing. Art. Time away from people. A whole day home alone in my jammies. I figure a month ought to do it.

This is where the daydream breaks up in hysterical laughter. A month? Not gonna happen. Maybe a day, if I’m lucky.

And so, I look for healing and refilling in the little things, in the odd moments scattered throughout the day. A picture that I love, hung where I see it every time I walk by. A hummingbird watching me hang out the laundry. A purring cat. A hug. Reading a great book. Talking to friends. Even just taking a moment to stand on my front porch barefoot, eyes closed, soaking in the energy from the world around me with every pore.

Not surprising that it’s been difficult to get words down on the page. There’s temptation to just hammer away, and although sometimes this is the right approach – butt in chair, hands on keys, right? –  I know it’s the wrong one now. There is a time for everything under the sun, and sometimes that means just being kind to yourself and giving the creativity well a chance to refill.

In her lovely book The Right to Write, Julia Cameron likens the writing life to the life of an athlete. For every fast mile, nine slow ones, she says. As a maintenance solution to the problem of draining the well she suggests weekly adventures, alone – dates with your creativity. This is a great idea, but it’s too late for that. For now I don’t need new adventures, I need time to process the old.

And so, I’m cutting myself some slack, setting aside the writing deadlines I’d set for myself to explore, gently, the writing that is talking to me. If I am kind to myself, I know that soon I will recharge and be ready once again to take on the world. And more importantly, to listen to the story that wants to manifest through me, and write it down.

I have encountered new terrain on this writing journey of mine – a sort of No Man’s Land, with no signposts and a bewildering tangle of paths. Some, no doubt, are dead ends. Others hold land mines and other booby traps designed to hinder or possibly even blow the unwary writer into fragments. But somewhere in the maze I believe there are paths that lead to a publishable novel. As I stand here, bewildered, afraid to set my foot to any path lest I go astray, it is tempting to believe that there is only one right path, one chance out of a hundred, a thousand, of reaching my destination.

I am lost.

A voice of wisdom reminds me of something drilled into me since childhood: when lost, stay put. Don’t go aimlessly wandering about, thrashing through the bushes and falling into swamps. You’ll only get yourself more lost. You might even drown or get eaten by bears.

This seems to me to be good advice. I have, for the moment, set Swimming North aside.  I have too many ideas of where a revision could take me. There is no clarity. My heart and my head are not lined up. Anything I do in this frame of mind will make matters worse. I suspect there is a simple solution to my dilemma that is staring me in the face.

The best solution, I believe, is to just set up camp here in this wilderness until I’m clear about which path to take. I have resources, helpers, and guides, which I fully expect will be of benefit to me. Here is my plan:

1. Write something every day that is related to the story but not part of the novel.  A character snapshot. An idea. A scene fragment.

2. Read a good book. I have selected Stephen King’s The Dark Half.

3. Learn something. I’m reading Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, which has already inspired me with the words, “anything can be fixed.” Maybe this needs to be taped above my work station, along with “Before the beginning of great brilliance there must be chaos” (I Ching) and my favorite rejection letter.

4. Give myself permission to stay here for awhile. This too is writing. I’m not under contract, there is no deadline to meet.

5. Freely brainstorm the possible options. Explore them and see where they go.

6. Remind myself that this is only temporary. I will write other books. Better books. This is an educational opportunity, if nothing else. In fact, I hereby give myself permission to enjoy the stay.

“Insanity: repeating the same action over and over again, and expecting different results.”  Einstein

“But the worst enemy you can encounter will always be you, yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caves and woods.”  Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Insert image here of Wiley Coyote flattened against a wall, or falling over a cliff, or blowing himself up one more time and appearing singed, hairless, and dejected.

This, my friends, is me.

Reality is a locale that I avoid.  It is an inhospitable world, one in which I feel alien and outcast.  But every now and then, my Muse gets together with whatever demon was charged with tormenting me into personal growth, and they drag me, kicking and screaming, through those oh so solid gates and lock me in.  My repeated head plants into the wall do nothing to extricate me from the situation, and eventually I figure out what it is I need to learn.

In case anyone has noticed, I have been increasingly frustrated with my writing of late.  I angst over lack of time, over slow progress, over my inability to write what I think I should, or could, be writing.  The sheer pleasure in the act of creation, in mastering this craft, got lost somewhere along the way.  Over the last two days, after dashing myself repeatedly against the very solid walls surrounding the land of reality, a certain amount of logic has finally pierced my slow and unwilling writer brain.

Things have changed.

Once upon a time, not that long ago, when I got up at 5 am to journal or yoga or write, I was alone and undisturbed, with at least an hour and a half before anybody else dared to enter my personal space.  On my days off, I was alone and free to write or do whatever else I wanted after the kids went off to school  All distractions, digressions, and procrastinations were at my own discretion and under my control.  Until one day, both of my darling children announced that they wanted to be in jazz band – a zero hour class that started at 7 am.  This shortened the morning solitude significantly.  Child #1 then decided that 5:30 was the optimal time for him to get up and have a shower.  My wonderful and beloved partner, who used to leave for work at 4 am, got laid off and began getting up with me at 5.  Days off involved the presence and distraction of somebody I love to spend time with; somebody who needs an extra pair of hands for a project here, and wants to go for lunch there, and is just generally bored and wanting to go do things. 

My response?  Going on as if nothing had changed.  Getting up at 5 and expecting alone time, despite repeated proofs that this just wasn’t in the cards for the day.  (Speaking of cards, the tarot tried to help me out, repeatedly giving me advice and sneaky little hints about change, and the end of something, and letting go and moving on to something new.)  On days off, I continued to expect long, unbroken stretches of writing.  Rather unrealistic, considering that the house we live in is completely open, and anybody else inhabiting it, unless locked in a crypt, is going to make appearances and engage in conversation and want to know what happened to those left overs that got shoved into the back of the fridge last night.

I ceased to enjoy anything.  When I was writing, I felt guilty that I wasn’t engaging with my partner or my children.  When I was hanging out with various family members, I felt guilty that I wasn’t writing.  I would set improbable goals and then beat myself up for failing to meet them.  More recently, I sank to beating up my very supportive and dearly loved man person.  Okay, I didn’t hit him or anything, but I did blame him for something that is in no way, shape, or form, his fault.

Insanity.  What my brief sojourn in the town of reality has taught me is that it is time to accept the changes and adapt.  Writing time may need to be more scheduled, with clear and explicit boundaries.  I can’t expect people in my world to know whether I’m twittering or blogging or deeply involved with a difficult scene if I don’t tell them.  And my usual writing station at the kitchen table, in the center of an open plan house is just begging everybody to interact at will.

Thus it is that I have moved my desk and my computer into the mud room.  Not the room of one’s own that every writer dreams of, I suspect.  There is a huge window and a french door between me and the rest of the house.  The sound of pianos and guitars and TV sitcoms is dimmed, but not shut out.  I’m surrounded by shoes and there is a definite traffic flow pattern of people entering and exiting the house.

But there is a boundary in place.  When I’m in here, I’m writing and everybody knows it – a signal of intent.  So it is that out of the tears and emotional flailing of yesterday, a peace is born.  I can work here.  And I will try to remember, as I flee the harsh reality world back into my softer and much more entertaining lands of fantasy and conjecture, that there is more to life than writing. Not much, maybe, but if the writing work gets done then the rest of life holds so much more pleasure.

“As for discipline – it’s important, but sort of over-rated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness. Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you.” – Elizabeth Gilbert.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am in need of this self forgiveness.   If I were Catholic and went to confession, right now I think it might go something like this:

Father forgive me for I have sinned.  I have been lazy and self indulgent.  I have spent far too many hours on Twitter and blogging and Facebook when I could have been writing.  I have cherished words that do not further either plot or characters in my writing, and have been profligate with adverbs.  On two days of the last week I neglected my novels altogether, and did not write a word.  I have worshipped vainly at the shrines of agents and editors before my manuscript is ready.  I have been envious of the success of others and I have entertained the demon of despair.

I’d like to think that perhaps, even without a priest, there is absolution.  I am human after all, and there are so many factors that go into this process of writing: emotional, psychological and physical, as well as the unfortunate need to abide by the laws of our physical reality.  I’d get a lot more writing done if I could only adjust the space-time continuum at will. 

Self immolation is futile:  every thought you indulge about failure, every self doubt you entertain, every bit of energy spent on the counter productive process of beating yourself up, is energy taken away from forward motion. This doesn’t for a moment mean that we should ignore our faults and failings.  What I have frequently suggested to clients who practice the art of despair is this: stop talking to yourself as though you were the enemy.  Talk to yourself as you would to someone you love who is struggling.  This doesn’t mean sugar coating reality, it just means that you speak with love and a little understanding.

Reframe:  I have been brave enough to go back to a novel I thought was finished and begin restructuring the entire thing.  I have studied the art of the query and researched agents appropriate to my work.  In good faith, I acted on this information and began my collection of rejection letters.  I have taken myself seriously as a writer, and registered for my first writing conference – Write on the River, coming up next month. My brain is a creative and busy place, and I have allowed myself to take pleasure in the act of creation rather than worrying excessively about where I will publish it.  I have, on occasion, turned up at the page when I was exhausted, distracted, and sick at heart.  I continue to believe, against all odds, in the power of story and words and that somewhere in this upside down economy there is still a market for what I write. 

How are the rest of you faring with the art of self forgiveness?  It’s been awhile since I posted a writing challenge, and today’s is a little bit different. I challenge you to comment positively about the current status of your writing:  time spent, temptations overcome, courage shown in the face of your own doubts, a brilliant quote from your own work, some kind of forward movement on the road to publication.  

As always, keep your fingers moving, and may your muse be kind.

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