Hello there. It’s been a while.
I’ve been on the road quite a bit. Pullman, Port Townsend, Tucson, San Francisco, New York and London, mostly for work. It’s been an arduous spring with not much time to write. Knowing it would be this way, I made certain promises to myself.
First, I swore off anything extracurricular that would distract from writing. This was harder than I thought. I learned that my many “commitments” actually come from me volunteering for things rather than me being roped into them, as it often feels. I stopped several times, mid-email, as I was about to raise my hand for yet another initiative, knowing that every minute spent elsewhere would eat into precious writing time.
Second, I allowed myself to take a month off from The Novel. I knew I would be on the road nearly all of May, and that I’d get frustrated or stalled out if I kept pushing for the sake of pushing. So I took a break. Now, I’m not the sort who normally allows herself a rest. A break, like a mid-day nap, feels like laziness or lack of conviction, yet I suspected that so-called diligence in this case would end in flames. Let’s come back to that.
Third, I allowed myself to experiment with writing short things while not working on The Novel. (Gasp! She’s going off-piste!) As part of this I visited my college town, which I left in 2001, and found myself writing and essay about going home again—home in the sense of a past kept intact over time. The trip was very meta, including the night I went to a live show in a space where a friend once rented a live/work. People were spilling beer on what used to be his bedroom floor; guitarists were crooning under colored stage lights in what was once his design studio. It was weird.
Naturally, Tucson has changed in the seventeen years since I left, but I don’t know how I feel about that change, exactly. It was like seeing an old friend who has had plastic surgery — sort of looks the same, but something has shifted. The person you knew is lost somewhere inside the stranger in front of you.
I also met Cornelia, a retiree, at the counter of Five Points Market while eating breakfast. Former Chicagoan, former lawyer. Whip smart and outgoing. She saw my book on Vestal Virgins (research for The Novel) and we got to talking about life, the universe and feminism. Our conversation made me realize that it’s been a long time since I’ve done that: travel solo and talk to strangers. The long-gone Hidden City Diary days.
In May and June, I dipped into one- and two-day writing classes to keep the juices flowing. “How to Make a Human Thing” with Ada Limon and a class on elegies with Jane Wong, both at Hugo House. Last weekend, I took a flash workshop with Sayantani Dasgupta and my Centrum writers group, the Fire Girls. Now it’s mid-June, nearly solstice (although the gray Juneuary skies feel otherwise) and I must admit: I’m having a hard time getting back on track with The Novel despite my better intentions.
I fear that taking time away was a mistake.
I was afraid of this happening, if I let off the gas. So far this year, I’ve written chapters one through four (which I reread last week without cringing too much, although there was cringing.) The problem is, I just don’t know what happens next. I’m out of flow. I keep waking up at 5 am to write and I can’t get a bead on it. I’ve taken to editing my Tucson essay instead because it’s easier. I’m beginning to see why so many writers say that the main result of an MFA is (essentially) networking plus the support and pressure of finishing a book.
So, now what?
I’m not sure. I’m a good procrastinator, and it’s residency application season, so I imagine that I’ll busy myself applying for things in June, July and August. I’m sure I’ll fiddle with the short pieces I’ve written in class because it’s easier to transform snippets and poems into tiny publishable things, which feels like progress. But, is that the right approach? Or, is now the time when I should be pushing hard on The Novel despite feeling apathetic? Should I keep waiting for inspiration to strike, and follow it when arrives—or, should I keep opening The Novel each morning and try to write, even if it’s one sentence, even if the writing is bad, because that’s how flow eventually happens?
As of this morning, it still isn’t happening. So I’ve said, Fuck it, and will head outside shortly to finish stripping and sealing the deck while it’s not raining. Then I’ll weed the yard all afternoon because I love weeding, and thus I’ll avoid writing altogether because tonight I’m going out to sing karoake with friends til the wee hours.
Admittedly, getting stuck is not a new problem for any creative individual, but it’s where I’m at right now. I thought I’d share if only to make someone else out there feel less alone in their doldrums. Hopefully, I’ll have figured it out the next time I write…