December 2, 2009

Subject: A Season of (writing with) Joy

You know how the turkey carcass looks after Thanksgiving dinner? Empty and picked-over? That’s how I felt last weekend. And it was more than normal post-holiday blues. I felt weary, weighed down, blank. I suddenly realized that my work-in-progress is at a dead end. I’ve worked on it so long that the joy has disappeared.

My usual recourse in times of stress is to dig into a good book or visit a bookstore. I love to lose myself within a story, following great characters on adventure. And I find solace in bookstores, among the shelves. But somehow during the last few weeks of November, my desire to read also dwindled away.

No reading? No trip to the bookstore? Anyone who knows me can attest to the seriousness of my situation.

In fact, as the weekend progressed, I fantasized about scenarios that involved some kind of sabbatical from all writing and printed material. It would be like those monastery retreats, where you agree not to speak for two weeks, only I wouldn’t read or write. Maybe even for more than two weeks. Maybe for two months.

Of course, as soon as I thought about going cold turkey, I panicked. What would I do if I didn’t write? What would I do with that stack of books to read? How would I survive the holidays without visiting a bookstore?

Julia Cameron says that artists have an “inner well” or “artistic reservoir” that she likens to a “well-stocked trout pond.”

Any extended period or piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well. Overtapping the well, like overfishing the pond, leaves us with diminished resources…. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them—to restock the trout pond, so to speak (The Artist’s Way).

My pond, to use Julia’s terminology, was empty.

First order of business (that is, after a wonderful talk with my husband), I reconnected with friends. Writing is so solitary. Sometimes I feel completely isolated in my office, tapping away at my computer. My friend Susan reminded me that we all struggle with writing at times. She told me she planned to follow Anne Lamott’s advice to “put the squeaking mouse in the jar and close the lid shut so I don't hear it anymore.” My friend Allyson supported my desire to spend more time on fun creative projects. And Liz reminded me to do what brings me joy.

I felt so much better. I am grateful for the support of my family and friends.

My goal for the coming year is to write with a sense of fun and joy. I will set my India novel aside so I can explore new characters, short stories and chapter books. I want to write books that are fun to read, and the only way I can do that, I think, is by writing with joy.

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