Sunday, August 01, 2010
back in the saddle
I have plenty of excuses for why it's been so long: A blissful week of beach vacation during which I only left my lounge chair to take a dip in the ocean or grab a meal; nearly a full week in the Boston area for a staff meeting; a crushing backlog of work for the day job because of time lost to reasons 1 and 2.
While all of those are good -- and legitimate -- justifications for my writing break, I know they're just excuses. The real reason is that it's time to start something new, and that nearly paralyzes me.
It's not writer's block. I have several ideas for novels, all of which are pretty exciting. In fact, that's part of the problem. I like all of the ideas well enough that I can't decide where to go next. Should I write the middle grade novel with the character who haunts me but whose story is hazy? The romance that came to me while I was in Paris, for which I have well-fleshed-out characters, conflict, and a pretty fair idea of the story? Perhaps I should write the literacy tale based on the true-life experience of a young man I once tutored. Or the semi-autobiographical (and, therefore, absolutely terrifying to my subconscious) story of a girl growing up during the 1960s. They're all good projects. But which one should I choose?
Beyond that, there's the burden of putting those first words to paper. I'm surprised to discover this still scares me. The weight of that first line kept me from writing for years. I thought it would set the trajectory for the entire book, that I might write for months before realizing I'd launched the story in the wrong direction, forcing me to throw all that effort away. I now know that's just another excuse. I've totally changed the first chapter of every book I've written. It's critical, of course, to get that first line right. But I sometimes don't know the first line until I write the last one, and it's always possible to go back and change it. It's my world, after all. I create it, and I can alter it at will. Yet the trepidation of setting those first words to paper remains.
It's also tough to put myself back in the traces after such a long and enjoyable break. I'm a hard worker but, deep inside, I'm basically lazy. Although I am infinitely happier when I'm writing than when I'm not, it has been fun to go to movies and baseball games, to spend time with my husband, to just live. Writing, when I'm doing it, consumes every waking moment I can steal from the day job. It requires me to wake up two hours early on weekdays (a true sacrifice for one who loves sleep as much as I do) and grab the laptop, to spend almost every evening and every minute of the weekends bent over the keyboard. It's not a hardship once I'm deep in my make-believe world; I'm quite happy to live there with my new friends. But when I come up for air, I do worry about neglecting my real life and the wonderful people in it.
For all these reasons, it's tough to take the plunge and go back to work. But it must be done. My stories aren't going to write themselves, darn them. I've learned a valuable lesson about myself from this hiatus, however: I can get away from the day job to recharge the batteries, but I must never, never, never take a break from writing. Creative momentum is tough to gain and, once gained, must be maintained. The only way to reclaim it is to ignore the pain and climb back in the saddle.
To the writers and other artists in the audience, I'd be interested to know: What is your pattern? Do you take breaks between projects, or move directly from one to the next? What games does your subconscious play in an effort to break the flow of your creativity, and how do you overcome them?
Having difficulty posting comments? Just choose the Name/URL option, enter your name (first name is sufficient), hit "continue" and then hit "post comment" and your comment will appear.