Last month we were at our home in Florida for a few days, and came out of a shopping center to discover our car battery was dead. Apparently my husband had been sitting in the car listening to the radio with the engine in auxillary mode, which drained what was left of the charge on the car’s already failing battery. Jim carries jumper cables (it’s a 10 year old sports car, rarely driven), and he flagged down a nice young man who did his best to jump start the car. No go. Reluctantly, Jim called our son away from his work, and he willingly drove over. They tried jumpstarting it a few more times, without success.
So we had the car towed to the service station, certain there was somthing more seriously awry – a faulty starter perhaps. The next morning our mechanic called with the news that he had installed a new battery and the car was good as new. Why hadn’t it responded to all those electrical jump starts? Sometimes, the mechanic told us, the bigger sports car engines just won’t respond to the paltry charge provided by a “normal” car.
I don’t know whether my brain can be compared to the 400 cubic inch V-8 in our old Trans Am, but for the past few days I’ve been feeling it was in desperate need of a jump start. “My thoughts are cranky and resistant,” writes Julia Cameron. “I feel sluggish and irritable. My body of information feels like that of an out-of-shape athlete. I do not want to write.” (The Right to Write)
Every writer’s muse occasionally behaves like a recalcitrant two year old – the one who lays down on the floor screaming, “No! I won’t! And you can’t make me!” My first thought (with the muse and the two year old) is to respond in kind. “Oh yes, you will write today, and it better be darn good!”
But wisdom tells us this approach will likely backfire. Good things rarely come from brute force, do they? Modern theory advises that the wiser approach with a toddler is to stand back quietly and wait for the tantrum to run its course, without lowering yourself to the child’s level. Then firmly and quietly take the wild one by the hand and move them toward your goal.
Sometimes, when the words don’t come, I start to panic, don’t you? As we did with the car, I jump to the conclusion that something is seriously wrong. It’s all over, I tell myself. I’ll never write another word again. It was just a fling, a fleeting love affair with the page, and now I’m finished.
“Try to calm down, get quiet, breathe, and listen,” advises Ann Lamott, speaking to writers in Bird By Bird. “You get your confidence and inspiration back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. You get your intuition back when you stop the chattering of the rational mind.”
Certainly the larger the drain on my “writing mind” from outside sources, the more likely it is to stall completely. Pressure from work or family, worry about health or finances, these are the things that naturally curb a writer’s imagination and enthusiasm for the process of getting words onto the page. Ironically, these are also the times when writing’s healing power can be most valuable, when coming to the page with worries and concerns can rejuvenate the spirit and even illuminate possible solutions to those pressing concerns.
Because I don’t write “for a living,” it’s easy to indulge these periods of creative lethargy. So what, I finally say in exasperation. Who cares whether I write anything or not? And off I go to the television, bag of chips in hand.
Of course, that won’t do my writing mind (or my hips!) the least bit of good. Exercising the mind is a lot like exercising the body – sometimes, you simply have to “just do it,” whether you “feel like it” or not. “You must attend to your work daily,” writes Barbara De Marco. (Pen On Fire) “It takes sheer persistence…and stamina to heft the burden of fear…as you make your way along the path to being a writer.”
Sometimes it’s a simple as just putting a few words on paper. Sometimes, reading good writing – a favorite author or poet – provides the impetus to create. Physical activity – a walk in the park, a swim, whatever revs your heart rate might send a spark to ignite the muse.
So, how about you? Do you ever feel the need to jump start your writing? What drains the energy from your “writing mind”? What do you do when your creative battery dies?
You can write a post on your blog, leaving a comment with a link, or simply leave your complete response in the comments section. Write On Wednesday is open all week, in case you need some time to get your writing mind in gear <smiles>