Friday, May 7, 2021

How to Keep Writing When You Have No Time--or Energy or Enthusiasm--for Your Book. Or Do You Need To?

My spouse and I just adopted a puppy. He's adorable at 14 weeks, and full of energy and sharp growing-in teeth. He is slowly, after a week with us, learning how to use the yard for his bathroom duties rather than our rugs. He sleeps a lot, which is a blessing.

But my writing life has been upended. Not to mention sleep. Not to mention every other aspect of my every day.

We chatted with a woman this week who works with animals. She said some of her clients swear than raising a puppy is harder than raising a kid. I've done both and I'm not sure I agree, but it's certainly causes a lot of upheaval. Puppies are bundles of energy. They demand attention, care, love, as they should. They create havoc, happily. They are full of joy and curiosity.

I'm exhausted.

And! He's entirely worth it.

But I've had to relook at my own goals for the near future and adjust them mightily. Especially my creative goals.

I know the teething and housebreaking stages don't last and so-called normal life will resume--I've been there before. But for now, it's all about deciding priorities, reducing the demands, and focusing on what's important: this little bundle of love and energy and soft snuggles.

One of my clients last year was in the same dilemma. She wrote me to postpone sending her manuscript for my feedback because she and her husband were crazed. They had just adopted a dog plus they were remodeling part of their home. Another client is nearing delivery of her first child, racing to complete her manuscript before "all hell breaks loose" (her words). Another is dealing with elderly parents who are not unlike children. No time, no energy, each of them say. No enthusiasm for the book, they add, often awash in regret or guilt.

Deaths, births, family changes, serious illness, moves, house remodeling, big life events all happen. What's a writer to do? When Covid first hit, very few of my writing colleagues were able to spend effective time at the keyboard for months. They grumbled, worried, then accepted it. Life had to re-stabilize for that creative flow to begin again. Eventually, it did.

When we got word that our puppy would be ready in two days, I made a quick mental list of things I had to absolutely take care of before life as I knew it collapsed. It was a very busy weekend before we drove to upstate NY to pick up the puppy. And I was grateful I'd stocked groceries, done laundry, written and called people who were waiting, and taken care of some of my creative work. This past week, I've been lucky to get sleep.

The first thing I've had to learn, and maybe you have too, is to allow the derailment. It's not forever. Just like my writing friends realized, there was a resurgence of time, energy, and enthusiasm after some new normal was found. But there's also a point of no return with a project, like a book. After some time has passed, it's important to catch the wave again. Find your creative spark.

One of the clients mentioned above got it through reading. Writing craft books, good novels in her genre. Another of those clients got it through booking a deadline with an editor who was helping her refine her draft. She responds well to external deadlines, the first client to inspirational ones.

Creativity, per Maslow, is low on the list when any kind of big change--or personal survival--is at stake. It'll rise back up again when it's time. It's up to us to listen and look carefully for the moment when it begins to itch inside.

And how does creativity emerge? Maybe your creativity is all about being a great puppy parent, or raising your child well, or renovating a part of your house that has long dissatisfied you. That's valid too. Whose to say that the creativity has to be about your book?

But I do miss my writing. A good way to re-enter it, to let the ideas start to bubble up in that arena as well as the parenting one, I like rereading a certain group of books. One of my favorites for generating enthusiasm is Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic. It's been around for a while. I own a print copy and an audio version for my car. Many years ago, when the book first appeared, Gilbert wrote a facebook post that I printed and read over and over. She was traveling for her book promotion, or another reason I can't recall, and she talked about how she wrote on the road. She was following her own advice to snatch moments of time--a half hour waiting somewhere, an hour before bed--to jot down whatever had been floating in her head all day. Without worrying about quality, her goal was to keep writing, no matter what.

I also enjoy reading excellent novels. Thankfully, puppies sleep 20 hours, on average, so I can read. I prepared by ordering a bunch of new books that caught my eye--five or six--so they'd be ready when I'm free for half an hour. Reading beautiful writing never fails to stimulate my own ideas in a good way. Soon the craving to re-enter a story grows stronger and I find myself back at my laptop, sketching out ideas for a scene.

How to keep writing. It doesn't really come via guilt and shame and beating ourselves for not writing. Some of us are motivated by that, of course--but I think, for myself, it's more successful when I learn to pay attention to my particular creative rhythms and honor them--not shame myself if I'm ruminating and not producing.

That's always the conundrum for us authors. We compare ourselves and what we're producing with others who are faster, more successful, more steady at the wheel. But what if our particular creativity demands something else?

I am very nervous by the rest periods in my creative life. But I can't forget one my early instructors, a very well published, awarded novelist, short story writer, and playwright, who astounded me when she described to our class that she wrote for four months of the year, on average, and percolated ideas for the remaining time. She didn't write during that rest period not because she didn't have time, energy, or enthusiasm for the writing, but because she believed in fallow times to generate depth and new ideas. For me, a person who met weekly newspaper deadlines weekly for twelve years, this sounded a lot like procrastination. But she did produce, and she produced well.

So, with puppyhood front and center, I'm considering that it's possible, even beneficial, to not have a regular writing practice that stresses you out when you can't meet it during times of unusual events. Gilbert's theory of writing every day even if it's just a little is solid--many writers follow it, who publish well. She believes ideas come to us and if we don't attend to them, they go to someone else. That I also believe. But is that such a bad thing?

What do you think?

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