When a writer becomes utterly fixated on his/her WIP, is that a sign of artistic revelation or that s/he has become a less well-rounded person?
I’ve twice had it happen where writing has taken over my life, the first time being back in 2004 when I was writing my first (incomplete, shelved) novel, and the second in 2005 when I wrote the first volume of my two-volume historical fiction WIP.
In 2005 especially, I fully gave myself over to my writing.
I would write all night from after supper until bedtime at midnight, and then would take an additional hour or so to actually fall asleep as ideas continued to pelt my consciousness in a torrential downpour of inspiration, forcing me to scribble them in my bedside notepad lest I forget them all.
I didn’t write during weekdays, for I was unemployed and job searching, but my novel was never too far from my thoughts. With everything I did, the movie-like sequence of events continued to play out in my mind (the pause button seemingly broken), once again necessitating compulsive note-taking.
Everywhere I went – particularly while walking – was in a state I came to refer to as “star-struck wandering” – ambling across the terrain of my own imagination with my characters whispering in my ear.
I did a lot of walking in those days to save money on transportation. And on weekends, when I gave myself a break from job-searching, I would write for 8-10 hours a day straight, often declining the few social offers I received as a consequence.
It truly was an incredible experience to live in such an ecstasy of inspiration day in and day out.
But was it healthy?
“I’ll give up everything just to find you”
I’m not so sure. Although I grew a lot as a writer during that time, I feel like I lost a lot of ground in other aspects of my life, becoming much too single-minded and narrow, both personally and professionally.
(I actually believe this writing obsession contributed to the six-year writing hiatus that followed, for with every feast comes a later famine, or in my case, a rebounding of my focus to everything I’d previously disregarded, up to and including (unrequited) love.)
As incredible an experience my writing obsession was, returning to this state remains one of my biggest writing-related fears. So much so that while completing The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron’s 12-week artistic recovery self-help program, I wrote as part of my week 4 “artist’s prayer” the following:
Help me to eat, sleep, work, and live in balance with my art.
Help me prevent my art from becoming
The one and only thing,
And myself, as a result, becoming
“I have to be with you to live, to breathe”
These days, my writing life is very different. I have a full-time job, and thus can’t afford to stay up all night with my characters.
I still write after supper, but each session is rigidly timed, and ends with a well-defined transition to help keep me out of the writing zone once my 2.5 hours is up.
I don’t write on Saturdays at all now, and try to say yes to social invites at least as often as I say no.
I still take notes – mainly short emails sent to myself from work – but an order of magnitude fewer than I used to, for work is busy and is what I’m being paid for.
I still think about writing while moving to and from various locations, but much of these thoughts are more concerned with writing for social media, including this blog. Any thoughts about my novel that do arise I tend to stuff back down again before they fully bloom and then forever float away.
All in all, my writing life now is one of boundaries, schedules, and firmly applied brakes all the way down the hill to ensure my creativity doesn’t escape my control.
I’m not sure this is healthy either for an artist. Indeed, some days, it all just feels a little flat.
“Who can decide what they dream?”
This week over at writersdigest.com, author Peter Stenson offers the following advice to writing a 90-day first draft:
- Give yourself over to the story.
- Allow it to take over your mind.
- Allow yourself to space out at work. Allow yourself to toss and turn in the middle of the night. Allow yourself to become selfish with your mental obsessions. Forty-minute showers as you walk through imaginary towns in the year 2050? Yes. Forgetting to respond when somebody asks you a question…? Bingo. Allow yourself to think like your characters. To talk like them…. Just don’t fight the natural result of intense immersion into your writing world.
Or, in other words, do everything I previously experienced and now fear and fight against with everything I’ve got.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to ask an author whose writing style has inspired me a lot (bestselling fantasy author Jacqueline Carey) about her experience with compartmentalizing her writing and the rest of her life.
Her response: essentially that she finds it impossible to do so. Admittedly, she’s a full-time author whose life is inherently more preoccupied by writing, but still – it does make me wonder.
How does one strike a balance between being devoted to his/her art yet remaining accountable in every although aspect of his/her life?
(Sub-heading titles source: lyrics from “Taking Over Me” by Evanescence, 2003)