(Re)Starting Your Engine
I was on an author panel recently, and a member of the audience asked us if we wrote every day. The other panelists confirmed that they did, and I had to confess that I do not. I know, call me Slacker.
It’s not like I don’t enjoy writing—most of the time. I usually have plenty of ideas of what to write, I know where my work in progress is heading, and I WANT to sit down and write, but there are days when it just doesn’t happen. The phone rings—Caller ID tells me it’s a friend I haven’t heard from in weeks, so of course I must answer. Or the computer goes on the fritz and I spend an hour in Help Desk Hell, listening to a robovoice assure me that my call is very important, so please stay on the line for the next available representative. Or the dog begs me for a walk with an irresistible, pleading expression on her furry face.
And there go my good intentions right out the window.
Generally, I make up for lost time, sooner or later. I turn off the phone, let the dog amuse herself in the yard for a while, and swear off Facebook until I’ve done at least 1000 words or put in an hour of writing, whichever comes first.
Recently, however, everything ground to a screeching halt—not for a day, or even a week.
For a month.
I had a good excuse: hip surgery. The surgery itself was uncomplicated and successful, and I’m making a rapid recovery. But in the days leading up to it, I had too many things to think about besides my current work in progress, where I was a little over the halfway point.
Post-surgery, there were many more distractions: follow-up doctor appointments, physical therapy, and fatigue that demanded frequent naps. Additionally, for a while I needed heavy-duty prescription pain meds—a creativity-killer if ever there was one. The opioid fog began to clear, but I still felt apathetic about writing. I’d abandoned the unfinished novel at a point where I wasn’t sure exactly what should happen next, which was a huge tactical error, but by then it was too late to remedy it.
I stared at the pile of pages on my writing table, overwhelmed with hopelessness. The novel reminded me of a car with a dead battery; the parts were all there, but the battery was drained and the vehicle was just a cold, unresponsive lump of metal—or, in this case, paper.
At that point, I gave in to despair. Why bother? Who cares? Does the world even need another book from me?
Then I remembered that some people did care: my writers’ critique group. I soon would owe them 30 pages of new work. With that deadline looming, I sighed. How could I let them down? I must at least try to produce something for them. So I picked up the pages and re-read what I’d written before I went under the knife, all the while laughing at my foolish assumption that I would “catch up on my writing” while I was recuperating.
The pages I’d already written weren’t bad, and I’d gotten some positive feedback from my fellow writers. I started writing down words, reminding myself that if I simply put them on paper, I’d have something to work on, something to build on and edit. I remembered a valuable saying: You can’t fix what’s not on the page.
I knew this approach as surely as I knew my own name, so I gritted my teeth and ground out five pages. They seemed flat and pointless. But at least I had something to show for my time and effort. And as I read over what I’d written, I had an idea for how to make them better. A flicker of hope beckoned. Hey, maybe this wasn’t a lost cause.
I wrote a few additional pages, and the more I wrote, the more ideas started to flow. First a trickle, then a stream. I lost track of time as I scribbled the outline of what needed to happen next, and a delicious enthusiasm flowed over me, that feeling I’d begun to fear was lost for good. That poor old dead engine had finally turned over. It sputtered a few times, but then it started chugging along.
I still have a long way to go to “The End,” but if I hadn’t sat down and made myself pretend to be a writer again, the muse would not have whispered in my ear. Why try and talk to someone who’s not listening?
So you see, magic can still happen. Believe in it. You may think the game is lost, but there’s always the chance it isn’t over yet. There may be a tiny spark of life left in that engine after all, but you won’t know unless you fiddle around with it a while.
Anybody out there who had to abandon a project and then fought to resurrect it after some time had passed? How did you get going again, or did you? Or perhaps now you’re thinking, maybe you will…?
7/1/2020 02:27:36 pm
So glad you shared this. I do write every day, but it's often for clients (web content, scripts, ads, etc.) I tend to do my creative writing in fits and starts. I find I write more since I declared myself a client!
7/21/2020 01:56:15 pm
I, too, have days I don't write, while there are others where I suddenly realize I have been at the computer for 3 hours or more. It's way past suppertime, and if it wasn't for the noises created by my poor cat crunching in desperation on dry food because she has abandoned all hopes of seeing a dish of canned food on her tray, the creative bubble would not have burst and brought me back to reality.
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This blog features new entries plus "encore" presentations of guest posts from years past.