May 19

Almost Done with That Novel

I notice that many authors bail out, or want to, when their books are 95 percent of their way into reality. It's not writer's block; it's a more insidious self-subversion rooted in stress and exhaustion, like that of a mother who feels she can't summon the strength for one last big push to bring her baby into the world. True-life examples:

Sep 29

The Writer's Hangover

Writing 13 hours a day indoors during this oppressively hot summer and enjoying it, I knew it was technically unhealthy not to do anything else, so decided to drive 500 miles for a trip north to get out, take a break, cool off and see family. Started up through Illinois and for the first two hours could not stay awake. Stopped for coffee, stopped for lunch with coffee, stopped at a rest stop for 40 minutes and did jumping jacks and yoga, and stopped at another rest stop and splashed and slapped my face and lay down on a stone bench gazing up at fizzing summer trees, thinking, What's the matter? Illinois I-55 is not a challenging drive, it's a long straight line!

Then it occured to me that driving is a linear, objective task, a left-brain task, and for weeks I'd been waltzing in a right-brain ballroom of swirling words and limitless inner pictures and ideas. Even taking daily walks, very early or very late in the day, I didn't "do" straight lines; mostly I took gorgeous photos of gorgeous summer butterflies and wildflowers, and did only the barest minimum of anything else. Too swirly even to follow a DVD; Lost in Translation sat on the top of the player for three months and when I watched it, it made no sense. House was a wreck. I tried to construct and sew a simple skirt: disaster, thrown in trash. Presence in one place meant absence in another. Then I wondered if it was just the way things are for writers. Most of us have had a writing hangover. Binge on writing and you get a skull-buster of a writing hangover. It's not a joke; it can really impair you.

The problem was the transition from one type of task to another, and given one day and one night I got better at making the switch. I read an article that said it would have helped to do crosswords, Sudoku, or math problems. But I'd really like to live the high life in that right brain all the time.
Jun 04

Sleeping Next to God

tenthreeMaybe you too have symbolic or metaphoric afflictions. For two weeks, my neck felt  like glass was breaking in there. Pain in the neck? It mounted. First took it to masseuse, then to chiropractor. But something was not right SPIRITUALLY. I was putting off balancing the checkbook and paying bills, getting it all set up but couldn't start. I let people down, put off calls, in order to score big on "Jewels" on my droid. Procrastination left things unread and unwritten and I drifted into dangerous territory, dangerous for me, anyway: bed at 3 a.m.; wake at 10 a.m. with the daylight one-third gone already. Abusing caffeine. Knew where this led if I didn't save myself: staying up till 4 a.m., then till 7 a.m., then 3 p.m., and jogging the streets for exercise at 11:30 p.m. saying to a passerby, "I just got up."

Meanwhile summer 2011 arrived. I decided to pitch my two-man nylon tent out back and sleep in it to restore the circadian rhythm I share with the rest of humanity as a first step toward simplifying life and liking myself again. My literal sanity bubble. Furnished it with bag, pad, pillow and sheet, and after nightfall on a 96-degree day, crawled in by flashlight. Dew soaked the grass. Fireflies whirled from eye level to the treetops, misted over by humidity. The tent has room only to lie down and stargaze through the top. Saw the Big Dipper. Nothing to listen to but thoughts (left the cellphone in the house) and unexpectedly I felt gratitude. Dew collected on the tent, ran down into the tent seams, and sometimes dripped on me. Wiped it down with a pillowcase.

Sleeping outside on the warm earth under stars, with insects rattling and night birds chortling, is like sleeping next to God. Sometime in the night the temperature dipped into the 60s, and pulling the soft sleeping bag over me gladdened me like nothing else. The sun rose at 5:28 a.m. and woke me. I was thrilled. It's been several weeks since I've been thrilled. In the house I made strawberry scones (3 minutes from start to oven) and coffee. Ate them. Brought laptop out on the porch and enjoyed the cool hours. That was this morning. It was great, but not a quick fix. Since then I have fought to stay on some sort of disciplined schedule, not playing until the work is finished. I plan to win this one, if not today, then soon.

Mar 28

They Don't Want You to Write

Am haunted by the women who sought me out after Saturday's talk at "Celebrating Women Over 50." I'd said that as new writers they should expect overt and covert opposition, especially when they seek solitude -- because the woman who shuts herself away to do art threatens those who think she "should be" a voluntary slave to her family, friends, job, house. I had said, "They're just jealous," because in an hour I couldn't to explain everything about it: that "It's not that they want you to care for THEM. It's that they can't stand seeing YOU taking care of YOURSELF." There'a discussion about exactly this in the book The Artist's Way (pp. 198-200). Author Julia Cameron calls such relatives and friends "Wet Blankets." I recommended writers' groups for support. But opposition should have been the topic of the whole workshop. It hit a major nerve.

One woman described her husband getting nervous and suddenly needing her when she tried to shut her door to write. "What would happen if I called HIM at work and told him to come home immediately and take care of MY emotional needs?" she asked. Of course, short of illness or death in the family he would tell her to take a flyer, and rightly so. Another woman described her husband's verbal abuse. It was classic:

1. Horrible verbal abuse occurs regardless of the seriousness of "what's wrong." (Crooked miniblind is as enraging as a wrecked car or an IRS audit.)
2. The abuser denies that it is abuse.
3. The abuser declares that if anything, the abused is the abusive and crazy one.
4. Verbal abuse never occurs in the presence of witnesses (except children, whose testimony is easily discredited).
5. The abuser denies that abuse occurred, even when there is proof, such as a recording.
6. To others the abuser is affable and reasonable and socially is the better-liked of the pair.

To anyone out there with this problem, let me save you five or ten years of trying to fix it: There is NO cure short of separation.

The people to hang out with, live with, be with, as you begin to write, are the people who support your efforts, and if you haven't got them at home, join a writers' group.
Feb 10

Mental Monsters - Vanquished

How creative is the art of worrying! A largely baseless concern was filling up every corner of my mind, like poison gas, with worry and fictive worst-case scenarios, making me feel both jittery and paralyzed. My options at these times are 1) petition God, the Tarot, horoscopes or therapists for answers and peace, 2) take a pill, 3) make myself write the Absolute Truth about the concern. Often the resulting draft is an accumulation of put-downs, childish rage, obscenities and rudeness, and if it has potential I try pounding it into shape. If it's a poem I may impose a form on it. I took one such draft and turned it into four-line stanzas of two couplets each, and every stanza had to mention the name "Richard" (a pseudonym for the real name) or a derivative thereof (such as "Keith Richards"). This took all evening. Now that it's polished and disciplined, I lick my chops with delight when I read it.

Baseless worry and catastrophizing are byproducts of a creative mind, so artists often suffer from these mental monsters, which are made up of backed-up, souring creativity. If such a thing is bothering you, write the absolute Truth about it.  No one has to see it. Or you may want everyone to see it.

Jan 22


Whenever I read an excellent book I envy the writer. At least momentarily. I think, Gee -- what a mind that author must have. What creativity and perception! What inventiveness, what mastery of the form! Why, it's better than anything I could ever --

STOPPPPPP right there!

There are two cures for writers' envy.

1. Write your own stuff.

2. Decide that whatever that person wrote, you wrote. For example, I admire poet Lucia Perillo. I envy her talent and MacArthur grant. My envy might keep me from writing my own poems ("Oh, what's the use; she's doing it so much better!"). Instead, I tell myself, just for now -- (and I don't tell anyone else) -- "I wrote those poems. We are all one, so I wrote those poems too. And that means I can write more of them."

That way, Ms. Perillo's work becomes my inspiration, not my despair.