I appreciate Ron’s post below, and I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot. Writing depends, not just on time, not just on having a nice room of your own, but on having the mental space to create. And sometimes life just doesn’t allow that. I just went through a period where I wrote next to nothing for over a year. Even typing that kills me. Oh, I tried. I came up with ideas. I started books. But nothing took. I couldn’t see in stories any more. I couldn’t hear voices. I just didn’t know how to make the books go anymore and it killed me. Because this is what I do, it’s all that I do. You want to depress a writer, ask them what they would be doing if they weren’t writing. I have no other skills, except for obsessive Olympic-watching, making snarky comments about Project Runway, and pie.
Sure, a lot of it was situational. My husband was ill for a year and a half. My little boy was labeled a social deviant by the toddler program at the school we’d been so happy to get him into. I couldn’t manage to write around my teaching. I hadn’t really figured out how to write and be a mom. There was so much stress, and when there wasn’t stress there were time sucks, and when there weren’t time sucks there was the croup, and more croup, and still yet more croup. I wrote nothing. People kept asking me, “What are you working on?” and the question would make me want to weep, or at least eat many cupcakes. I wanted to print up a t-shirt: DON’T ASK ME ABOUT MY WRITING.
My husband’s better now. My boy, by switching schools, has magically lost his social deviant status. And after the last residency at Hamline–which was particularly awesome and inspirational–I got home and began to write again. I’m nearly done with a draft of a book I started five weeks ago, and I’m in the deep romance phase of writing. The truth is, things aren’t that much less stressful, but a switch turned on in my brain and I remembered how to tell stories again.
It bothers me how whimsical these muses are, how easy it is to forget how to do what we do. Life is always hard. There is going to be more illness, more hardship, more croup. And this is what I do, and I need to be able to do it when the angels intrude. Or when the well is dry. Or when I forget the only thing I know how to do–make up stories.
I admire our students so much. They write. They figure out their lives and they get their work done. They amaze me.
All I can do is listen to the better angels, and scowl at the worse ones, and tie up and threaten my muse, and wait for the moment when the ideas come and the story lays out in front of me like a shining path. It feels helpless. But when you’re on that path, nothing’s better. I just wish I knew how to find it more often.