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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The seasonal nature of writing

Instead of reviewing "Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance" by Julia Cameron I decided to share the nugget I found most helpful. But first, a little background.

Cameron's book, which she writes while battling the fringes of depression and the ever constant battle to maintain sobriety (after more than two decades of recovery), can at times be a downer. She's writing to the co-dependent in all of us, linking some similarities between the alcoholic mindset and the creative personality, cautioning us to stick to routine (which she repeats throughout).

I understand the great benefit routine plays into maintaining sobriety. I've seen it work in action and know how instrumental it can be. Likewise, I do believe that professional writers also need to adhere to some kind of routine that keeps them productive (think: Just do it) and keeps them from sinking into the angst and drama that inhibits good writing. (I am prone to just such destructive spells.)

But I'm also a believer that good writers also leave a little room for serendipity and so would caution against creating such a rigid schedule as she advises. I have, however, taken up her idea of Morning Pages, where I awake early and write a few pages in my journal. It's a practice I used to have when my kids were little. It's nice to pick up again and I have a bunch of new journals my sister gave me for Christmas in which to begin.

Back to the useful nugget of Cameron's book. In the chapter, "Uncovering a Sense of Perspective" she writes, "You are asked to imagine yourself larger and more surefooted than you may feel yourself to be."

"When we are incubating something creatively, we, too, follow a cycle of seasons. We begin locked in winter, when we look and feel devoid of ideas, although the ideas are there for us, simply dormant. Our wintry hearts lurch toward spring and suddenly an idea puts out a hopeful bud … As surely as the seasons turn, our brightly budded ideas must now ripen and mature … Now come the long days of labor. We must work to bring forth the fruit of what we have envisioned."

If you're a professional writer, you're probably scratching your head about being "devoid of ideas." My problem is that I have too many ideas that are not sharply focused or that I'm unsure how to explore or transform into paying work. Stay with me. Cameron continues and here's where I found myself in her writing.

"Some of us remain locked in winter, unable to go forward because we doubt the strength of our ideas. Others make it to spring, shooting forward with rapid growth but unable to bring things to fulfillment, unable to put in the heavy labor necessary to cultivate our crop. Still others, myself included here, bring work all the way to completion but lack the resolution and bravado necessary to sell the work that we have done. A critical failure of nerve at the last moment causes us to doubt the worthiness of the projects we have birthed. Novels go into desk drawers. Plays languish on shelves. The pumpkin rots on the vine." (Bold is mine.)

Of course, the answer is perseverance, pushing forward when we lack the courage, "imagining yourself more surefooted than you may feel yourself to be." Because creativity happens when we operate just outside of our comfort zone.

Cameron's advice when we have been rejected is not to ask, "Why me?" but to instead ask, "What's next?" I think I'll try that in 2007. How about you? What will you do differently this year?


Kelly Boyer Sagert said...

This year, I swear that I'm not going to overburden myself with so many writing assignments that I *should* take ("should" because of money, because it would look good in my bio and so forth) and leave some time and energy for writing that I want to do.

I'm still talking about writing that I want to publish, by the way, versus journalling or some other type of private writing. As you've mentioned in your career, there are so many ideas that need explored, ideas that need attempted.

Wendy Hoke said...

I agree, Kelly. In my case, it's time to turn those things I'm interested in pursuing into paying writing gigs.

Kelly Boyer Sagert said...

Think how satisfying our careers will be if we succeed in this goal!