A year ago, I was a very busy woman. My life was out of control. I had two blogs where I posted daily, and had started guest writing for another. I was editing a novel, had some short stories coming out, and was doing a live reading of one of my works at a local author’s event. I was taking violin lessons from a master teacher, playing in two orchestras, plus a chamber group, which meant practicing four hours a day. I spent two hours a day at the gym. I was physically exhausted.
At the same time, my imagination was supercharged. I loved the feeling of being lost in a story, drunk on words, having characters whispering in my ear. I had so much to say, I was afraid I would explode if I left the keyboard.
Still, I had a family life to tend to, so I cut back. I took a break from lessons and from chamber music, and dropped out of one orchestra. I moved this blog to three times a week. I decided that one hour at the gym each day would be sufficient, and I cut down on my social commitments. I had more time to write, some breathing space.
And the words disappeared.
I wasn’t too concerned. I had been so stressed, stretched like taffy over so many activities. I’d depleted my reserves. After a rest, surely my writing would snap back. One year later, I’m still writing, but it feels like work.
I was afraid that maybe, I was tapped out. I contemplated giving up.
My former boss and mentor used to ask me why I thought so small (my words, not his). I told him that working with him was like driving beyond my headlights. One day, I’d follow him right off the cliff face into the ocean. He didn’t say “that won’t happen” or “you can always stop in time.” He said, “Come with me. The water is warm.” The look on his face said, “Jeannine, this is life, and you’re missing it!” He’s a very successful man, but not infallible. If he crashes on the rocks, he gets back up and says “That was fun. Let’s do it again.”
Maybe I’m not tapped out. Maybe I’m trapped.
When a plant becomes root-bound, you have to put it in a bigger pot. Sometimes you have to break it apart, or score the roots to trigger them to grow.
I’m turning off the internal editor. I’m speaking through characters with world views opposite to my own. I want to scare myself a little by acknowledging the dark corners of my imagination. The beauty of writing is that I don’t have to actually do what I write, nor do I have to share those words with other people if I don’t want to. I can use language that would singe my vocal chords. I can bend reality. I can hug tigers and banish cars.
Not only do I feel energized, I feel…free. I’ve written 15,000 words this weekend, and my only enemy was the clock. And somewhere lurking within those words is the glimmer of my next novel. While I wouldn’t go back to the pace I was keeping last year, I know that if I sit in a box, I only hear the echoes of what I’ve already said.
They say do something every day that scares you. I think they have a point. Come on in. The water’s warm.
Photograph “Cliff Diver : Acapulco” by Alejandro de la Cruz © 2009 Creative Commons