Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Ebb and Flow of Writing

You'd think that someone who lives at the beach would have figured this out before now, but I'm slow sometimes.

I have a lot of inner voices (a few years of studying Psychosynthesis in my twenties gave me the ability not only to claim them but to name them without feeling like Sybil).  My Good Little Catholic Girl, who always does what she's supposed to do, insists that I'm shirking if I'm not writing every single morning at 4:30 AM, a thousand words before breakfast. She doesn't understand that I can only keep up with that pace when I'm writing a first draft. Typically when I'm drafting, in addition to my 1000 words before breakfast, I will write 10,000-word marathons on a weekend. That annoying little wench doesn't understand that writing at Warp speed is a one or two times a year experience. I could not maintain that pace all the time.

The Lazy Hedonist wants to only write when I don't have anything "better" to do. Which means pretty much anything that does not involve sitting on my butt with my computer in my lap, surfing the net or watching reruns on the Food Channel.

The Saboteur thinks the whole writing enterprise is a waste of time and energy. She tries to get me to find anything else to do besides writing fiction. She tells me I'm not good enough. I'll never make a living at this, so why bother. Blah. Blah. Blah. I ignore her as much as humanly possible.

I have a newly emerging sub-personality whom I like very much. I want to call her The Novelist, which riles up the three aforementioned Voices. I don't care what they say. I will call her The Novelist and the others will have to deal with it.  The Novelist  understands that there is a rhythm to creativity. There are times when Story demands that I hie my ass out of bed at 4:30 AM and type like crazy for 90 minutes until it's time to get ready for work. There are other times when Story demands that I spend every spare minute reading novels written by others, enjoying being carried along on the crest of the wave of other storytellers' voices, enjoying myself -- and learning a lot along the way. There are still other times when a Story is gestating, deep within my psyche and there is nothing to be done but wait for it to emerge, not unlike those weeks before childbirth when Creation itself seems to hold its breath in anticipation of Birth.

I walk the beach nearly every day. I prefer to walk at low tide, when the beach is wide, hard-packed and spacious.  Sometimes my schedule and the calendar require me to slog through the deep sand of high tide if I want to get in a walk at all.

It think that's a good metaphor for the writing life. Sometimes it's low tide and I can breeze along with plenty of open space and wind at my back and the writing life is good. Other times, it's high tide and the wind is in my face. Those are the times when I'm pregnant with Story. My job at those times is to let it develop in its own time and its own way. When it's ready to be born, it will let me know.

That is not the same as waiting for inspiration.  Procrastinating is bad. Allowing a Story to gestate and be born when it is ready is a good thing.

Learning to live with the ebb and flow of the creative process is tricky.  Learning not to beat myself up about not maintaining a steady output is really hard. Learning to know the difference between procrastination and gestation is not always easy either.

Sometimes I do let the little Catholic girl flog my psyche. Sometimes sloth takes over and I piss away entire days doing absolutely nothing worth while. But, in between those times, I try to let the Novelist set the agenda.

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