I told myself it would be best to take a short break from writing – just until I’d had a chance to settle into my new job and home, and establish myself socially.
That “break” lasted six years.
They say that love is blind. I’d like to submit my own saying: love can make you stop writing. Especially when it is unrequited love. For my time away from writing my novel did indeed involve unrequited love, as well as obsession of an entirely different sort, rivalry, a joking/not joking threat of getting shoved off a boardwalk, and is practically a novel in its own right.
I’m not going to discuss it in any detail, for though it was a significant experience in my life that would go on to shape many things to come and perhaps even still does, it’s not a part of my “story” that I wish to continue living and carrying around with me.
I will concede that it was a time that allowed me to develop other interests, skills, and facets of my personality. Yet my pursuit of all that stuff (not to mention “the guy”) was no less balanced than when I was deep in the throes of Obsessive Writer’s Disorder – writing nonstop during meals and when I should have been sleeping.
All that’s in the past.
This is the future.
The way of the artist
But first, I had to deal with myself in the present.
I was beside myself with guilt and regret for having given up writing – my lifelong hobby I’d been pursuing in form or another since I was in grade 3. I knew I wanted to start up again – to reclaim that known piece of myself with so much of the rest of my life now damaged and unfamiliar – but didn’t know how. I was a slave to negative self-talk:
- “You’ve missed you chance to establish yourself as a writer at a young age.”
- “You’ve missed the start of the resurgence of the historical and YA genres.”
- “You probably don’t even know how to write anymore.”
- “You won’t be able to recapture your protagonist’s voice after all this time.”
- “You’re going to become obsessed with writing again.”
- “You’re not going to be able to write alongside a full-time job.”
I generated pages and pages of these sorts of de-motivators, as well as a whole other list of the payoffs I obtain from taking them to heart instead of challenging them. For these were two of the activities required in the program that eventually saved me.
For those not familiar with Julia Cameron’s groundbreaking book, The Artist’s Way is a self-directed, self-help course for lapsed artists to help them rediscover their confidence, creativity, and passion for their art. It is a 12-week program in which each week you are assigned both some inspiration reading and a number of activities to help unblock the dam and get the creative juices flowing again.
It took me 11 months to complete the program.
This is not because I wasn’t into it. Rather, it was because I was so into it, I wanted to do it up right, for this was my big chance for deliverance and redemption for allowing myself to be led astray.
Plus, I was working full-time. And there are a lot of activities. And although your level of commitment is essentially optional, I was determined to do each and every one of them.
Words to learn by
Despite being someone not typically given over to airy-fairy dogma, this “Artist’s Way”, however slowly, was working for me. It just made so much sense to my left-brained, linear mind. Before long, I found myself posting key quotes from the book on my walls and in my journals in answer to my persistent blurts of negative self-talk. Some of these quotes include the following:
We begin to sense our real potential and the wide range of possibilities open to us. That scares us. So we all reach for blocks to slow our growth. If we are honest with ourselves, we all know which blocks are the toxic ones for us. Clue: this is the block we defend as our right…. The choice to block is a creative U-turn. (pp. 164-165).
All of us have taken creative U-turns. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for all failures of nerve, timing, and initiative. (p. 161).
We can’t afford to worry about what is in or out. If it is too early or late for a piece of work, its time will come again. (p.173.)
The latter part of this latter quote eventually expanded to encompass my overall self-view as an artist and the six years I’d let slip by without practicing my art. That is to say, If it is too early or late for one to be an artist, his/her time will come again. By March 2011, my time had come again, whether I was fully ready for it or not.
1000 miles in baby steps
I still wasn’t – not totally – but I was as close as I was ever going to get without having the whole thing handed to me on a silver platter. The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step, and like exercise, you have to use it or you’ll lose it.
I thus set myself the target of doing one small thing every day in support of my writing and writing life. This mainly involved rereading my manuscript a chapter at a time to remember what it was all about and to reacquaint myself with the protagonist’s voice, and rereading my reference books a chapter at a time to remember how my fantasy world worked.
And some of the things I did weren’t so small:
Like eschewing roommates for the first time in eight years and getting my own apartment, which has played a huge role in my artistic comeback.
I also bought a new laptop. Which might not seem like that big a deal save for the fact that my old one had been purchased nine years prior.
And I changed the genre of my novel-in-progress.
Previously a fantasy novel, I’d read no less than 10 books on medieval European history to inform the creation of my fictional medieval-esque world. Suddenly, I had no idea why I was putting in so much work to make my fantasy world seem historical when nothing else about the story was especially fantastic. Rather, I could just makethe whole thing – world and story – historical and be done with it.
Of course, that would require more research to properly site my novel both chronologically and geographically…
…which prompted my first ever solo trip abroad last summer (August 2011): three weeks in England, to visit family and conduct field research for my book.
Not necessarily in that order.
This took care of the geographical component of my research. But for the chronological part, I still needed to do more: more books, more reading, more learning about history. At least count, my bibliography is up to 20 texts. That’s not counting numerous online articles, maps, and notes I’ve transcribed from photos I took of interpretive signage at various historical sites while on my trip.
I love reading and researching, but I love writing much more. That’s why, on February 20, 2012, I was happy to upload my first maiden post to this blog indicating I was finally a writer again. One whose creative muscles were sorely out of shape, mind you, but the only cure for that is – you guessed it – more writing.
Which is exactly what I’ve been doing.
To quote singer Nina Gordon, tonight, and the rest of my life.
To quote yet another singer, Rod Stewart, and songwriter Diane Warren, “It’s been a long road getting from there to here.” It has been a long road along my writer’s journey, getting from an overeager novice to where I am today. Where I am today, of course, being on yet another writer’s journey. This is not a finale at all, but rather just the beginning of what’s next, for which this blog will serve as both record and roadmap.
One’s entire writing life is nothing but journeys set within larger journeys, like a set of Russian dolls. Around and around it goes over and over again, every stage in a writer’s career marking another turn around the board, only every stopping when the writer stops writing for good. Thanks for taking the time to read about my journey thus far, and if anyone wants to share where they currently sit within their own journey, or perhaps an important lesson you’ve learned along the way, consider leaving a comment.