This has been an odd couple of weeks on the writing-sphere of my life. I wonder sometimes if I have multiple personalities, a short attention span, or just a cranky "artist-child", as Julia Cameron would say. The fact is, despite my daily visits to the blog and to Twitter, I have been in a dry spell since I finished my novel in September.
I remember looking forward to this period, journalling about the "free-time" I'd have to work on the blog, to pursue smaller projects, to experiment with other crafty things. This was supposed to be a break, a wonderful time to regroup and recover and rebuild my creative energy. And yet... having been deep inside this novel, in the minds and hearts of my characters, for the last year and a half, I found the post-novel experience to be frighteningly empty. Perhaps, even lonely. It's that moment when you realize, suddenly whilst swimming in the ocean, that you can no longer touch the bottom, and you begin to panic and sink.
Abandoned Psychiatric Hospital.
I didn't understand why I felt so bereft, empty, melancholic, etc, etc. I came up with a variety of self-diagnoses (like a psychological version of House): I need a big project to fill the void; I need to work on something new: those stories that have been sitting in limbo forever; I need to stop whining, stop beating myself up and read, read, read. These diagnoses were met with many a vacillation and excuse from my unappeased and unsatisfied "artist-child."
1.) The next "big" project would be the sequel to the novel I'd just finished - the novel which is in back in limbo, waiting for an agent. At first, I thought - of course! The characters are still fresh in my mind. I want to return to them so badly... And then I keep worrying about the state of the first novel - whether anyone would really want to represent it, or if it needs another wash-through altogether. Conclusion was that working on novel #2 would only make me worry about novel #1.
2.) Working on the limbo stories is absolutely fine. I have two of them: a scene where a historical character jumps from the tower in which was being held captive, and a sort-of fantastical bent on Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener." Awesome ideas. Really! But I couldn't (and still can't) figure out why my attention span and enthusiasm about these projects wavered from day to day. Fear? Yes, maybe, but isn't that obvious? But fear doesn't always keep me running in the opposite direction. It was torture to sit and stare at the partial drafts, having ideas in my head but being unable to bring them any further. Finish them, finish them, part of me said. But I was/is too tense to do so... as if suddenly an enormous amount of pressure was on my shoulders, trying to convince me that the only way I'd be taken seriously as a writer would be to fill up my portfolio with a variety of things... and didn't these make the most sense?
3.) Not writing on any story was the other option, a complete surrender. It's comparable to the glee of a child let loose at the end of the school year. Yayyy! I wanted to give myself a break! Here's a break! I'm going to watch as many episodes of The X-Files, Farscape and Star Trek: The Next Generation (yes, I'm a nerd, but you knew that) as I possibly can while I wait for Downton Abbey and Sherlock to air! I'm going to devour more books! I'm going to make all of my Christmas gifts by hand this year! I'm going to become proficient in Latin!
And then the euphoria faded once again. I was still empty. Still hungry, perhaps that's the better term. The story that was still vivid in my mind was... the sequel to the in-agent-limbo novel, even though I'd authoritative told my "artist-child" no. "No. It will only make you nitpick and stress out about what you have to fix for novel #1. You're too anxious as it is, trying to come up with the plotline for novel #2. Go play with Fantastical Bartleby. Or, do your Latin. You like Latin, remember?" And my artist-child instead took none of those options and chose to sit in the corner, pouting.
As much as I like Julia Cameron and the "artist's way", I don't want to attribute this to being "blocked" and try in vain to "unblock" myself. Blocked feels like such a negative, unproductive term. I don't respond well to diagnoses like that - as I do struggle with anxiety on a daily basis. Blaming myself for not writing isn't a cure. And making myself write what I don't want to write is hardly a solution, either. And... journalling and blogging have been a part of my daily routine since before the novel was finished. Is that blocked? No.
So... I've come to several conclusions from this massive wallow in the writing black hole.
1.) Anxiety about my first novel and whether or not it's "good enough" for an agent to want to represent will always be there. I'm not the only writer to struggle with this, I know. And how could we not be anxious? This is our brain-child! We want the best for him/her!
2.) I am not blocked. Period. I'm between projects and enjoying a rest. I am blogging and tweeting and using my brain. That's good, right?
3.) I don't have to work on Fantastical Bartleby if I don't want to. He can wait until a better time. There will be a better time for him. It's just not now.
4.) Work on novel #2 if I want to. The characters are still vivid and beautiful in my head. They're close to my heart. I love them. The most foolish thing would be to push them away. And even if novel #1 needs another wash-through, that doesn't necessarily nullify my work on #2. (If anything such revisions would be on language, not on plot or story.)
5.) After so long without the "need" for watching tons of television, I am gorging myself. I need to go on a Netflix diet but not completely deprive myself.
Already my unruly "artist-child" is feeling better. I might still vacillate a bit about what to do next, but I'm not going to flagellate myself whatever I decide. At this point "artist-child" wants novel #2, and we'll see where it takes us... but anything is good if it gets me out of the black hole and back into a better mind set, to fill the void left by that novel.
On another note, I'm glad I decided not to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. It would have had me stressed out on day one!
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