It has felt, these last few months, like my creative life, has blown a fuse.
Don’t get me wrong. I write something every day. I interact with language and words and story every single day.
But it’s not always an effort centered on my personal creative writing life.
I write for a living, and I love that work. I love hearing from readers, knowing my words have inspired, educated, or empowered them. I love getting paid for my words, for the simple reason that I can most certainly call myself a professional writer. Enjoy your splash wherever you can find it!
But I also love writing fiction, personal essays, language experiments, and poetry. I love writing from a speculative place (meaning, I write for myself first, then try to find homes for that work after the fact). I love writing as an art form. It matters less if I earn a living at this (as very few do); it matters more to simply write, and for that writing to be read.
(By the way, the word amateur is not a pejorative to me, in this regard. Its etymology is very simple: it means ‘to love.’ For this reason, I can settle inside my amateur writing life cozy knowing why I am there and being satisfied with that.)
Writing life, wherefore art thou?
The last few months have been busy with work blended with book publicity. There’s been little time (or maybe the better term is brain space) left over for creative writing, or tending to new book manuscripts.
However, seasons have changed (in both a circadian and personal sense).
A couple of weeks ago, the weather turned sunny and windy and I was so viscerally reminded of my summers at Centrum (13 since 2005) that the deep desire for silent writing space and time became overwhelming.
It has been 18 months since my last hermitage (Kauai, Jan 2020). That’s way too long for me, especially since I ordinarily schedule at least 4 silent retreats annually on top of my conference time at Fort Worden.
I also must note that the pandemic’s grip loosened somewhat once I was vaccinated. My physical and emotional energy has is elevated now that I have been able to see my grown children in person and to celebrate my youngest’s graduation from college (double major and a minor, summa cum laude, I’m a proud mama!). I draw inspiration from creative people, and my children are two who inspire me with their own creativity (dance, music, jewelry making, writing… take your pick!).
So, instead of squashing these sudden and overwhelming instincts to reclaim my creative writer’s brain space, I acted upon them.
Hello, writing life!
I booked an Airbnb in Port Townsend for the last week of the month. Say hello to TRUST FALL, my new short story collection! It’s almost ready to see the light of day. I hope to polish it to a high luster starting with this upcoming foray away from home.
I also booked another retreat for early September (inspired by my friend Kristy Ann!). I hope TRUST FALL will be complete by then, because I have a novel, THE FLARE, to crack open.
I’m planning on a private writing event with some like-minded souls in mid-July, with lots of nature and cosmic writing energy!
Meanwhile, I permanently installed a journal and pen in my car to take with me any time I leave the house (and have written 10 haikus since).
And I signed up for the ClarionWest Write-a-thon, which starts today.
What is the Clarion West Write-a-thon?
From their website:
“The Clarion West Write-a-thon is a summer tradition and free for writers—and readers! There is no fundraising requirement to join the Write-a-thon; you can participate as much or as little as you’d like in all of the associated events. Participants set public writing goals on their personal Write-a-thon page, then work toward them. Friends and family can pledge donations in support. It’s like a walkathon, but with writing. To date, the annual Write-a-thon remains Clarion West’s largest annual fundraiser.”
On my ClarionWest page, I plan to keep a journal of my writing life on the daily to remind myself what it means to be a creative writer.
Here’s what I mean by “having a writing life,” in case there’s any question about that. For me, a writing life includes these 10 activities.
- Writing new work (short form or new words on a long-form project)
- Revising current work (could be short form or long form)
- Reading others’ works (I find this energizing and am not afraid of appropriating others’ voices)
- Researching/architecture for works in progress (what does this look like? Lists, outlines, sketches, charts, timelines)
- Attending writing community (live or online events or writing groups, including peer support groups and critique sessions)
- Listening to podcasts (a different narrative medium, but for me, incredibly inspiring)
- Learning craft (through classes, books, apps, videos, podcasts)
- Filling the well (usually a retreat environment or intentional time spent with my writer’s radar going full blast)
- Journaling (to capture ideas, energy, visions, images, details)
- Word games/puzzles (because I find being playful energizing and a superior way to unblock language and ideas)
These will be what I capture in my daily ClarionWest journal for the next 6 weeks. The goal? To really sit inside my creative space in earnest, for the first time in a really long time. It’s truly a reclamation effort.
Already I feel a soft, but lovely transition away from the publicity grind to the far more comfortable place where new writing and ways of being a writer return me to the reasons why I write in the first place.
Even though I’ve been a writer literally since age 5, when I wrote my first original sentence with orange chalk on a chalkboard in preschool), I still need reminders, pandemic or not.
Feel like your creative writing life has blown a fuse?
Try this process.
1. Unplug. Literally step away from all devices, which basically deliver tasks, obligations, and prescriptive advice we don’t necessarily want or need.
2. Turn the power off. Don’t do anything for five minutes except sit, recline, or walk and breathe. Some call this meditation. It doesn’t need to be that formal. Just insert five minutes of blank space into your day. See what happens.
3. Find the fuse box. Somewhere in that blank space, you’ll realize where the imbalances are in your life, which can often unfairly impact the time you spent as a creative person. How to find the fuse box? Look for all the reasons you write in the first place.
4. Identify the broken fuse. What’s getting in the way of your writing life? What are you missing from your writing life? What do you want to introduce into your writing life? This is where you’ll find the broken fuse.
5. Replace the fuse. Take action. Book a retreat. Open up a brand-new journal. Make a daily writing life plan. Join a writing community. Read work that inspires you.
6. Power up, plug in, and test. It’s just one fuse. You don’t have to rewire the entire fusebox. Simply go back to your daily life but with new tasks, plans, and goals set into motion. See where it takes you. Even if you don’t get to where you’d like to be, you’ll still be a lot closer than if you’d done nothing at all. Be patient and forgiving with yourself. It’s your creative writing life; you are the only creature behind the curtain. Own it! Love it!
Today is not only Write-a-thon Opening Day, but it’s also my 34th wedding anniversary and Father’s Day for my husband. BOOM, a big day! But I’m happy to report I’ve already achieved #3, #5, and #9 on my list.
Deep breaths, I tell myself. You got this.
(A shout out to literary citizen Sarah Rhea Werner, whose Write Now Podcast has been a ginormous source of empowerment for me over the last few days. Looking for inspiration? Check out her episode 121: A Writing Practice That Works For YOU.)
The ClarionWest Write-a-thon is also a fundraiser. I have pledged to bring in $100. It’s not a lot, and I have paid a quarter of that myself.
Many of the science fiction/fantasy/speculative/magical realist writers you enjoy as a reader are products of this community. As a reader (or as a writer), you may want to support this excellent literary organization for this reason alone.
Feel free to drop a few bucks toward the cause. I’m suggesting $21 to honor 2021. Here’s the link to do that.