Summer, part 5: A pause.

Vancouver & around

For a few days towards the beginning of the summer I truly thought I would get a lot of writing done, that I would somehow cobble together a rough-rough-rough draft of the novel I’m working on. But summer’s over and, oops, I am nowhere near that; I didn’t even come close. It’s okay, though.

I’ve had a kind of psychological shift in how I approach/think about my writing recently. When I decided to get “serious” about fiction, I was in my mid-twenties and I wrote almost maniacally to meet internal deadlines I’d set in my head. I wrote and wrote and wrote and I sent out stories before they were ready and I took workshops and classes and sometimes I was lucky to get published, and then, a few years later, I was so incredibly lucky to find an amazing publisher that believed in my stories and helped me form them into something more solid for the public. After it came out I continued to write and write and write and after a few years (ugh, years? really?), I completed a novel that I still dearly love: my first long work, something I’d never put so much thought and time and effort into. Since its completion, it’s been in limbo – my agent is doing behind the scenes work and I’ve gotten some nice rejections, but as any writer knows, a nice rejection is still a rejection. Books are hard to get published. At this point I’m not sure what else to do about it other than wait, patiently, and keep writing and writing and writing like I did before.

Which sounds like a good plan, except for a while I just stopped writing. It was weird. I went from being someone who was annoyingly productive to… not at all. I wondered if I really cared so much about writing? I’d always thought that the thing I wanted to be most in the world was writer and then I realized that maybe it wasn’t what I wanted, and what was it instead? And what if whatever else I wanted to be was also some kind of unattainable goal?  Everyone faces this at some point and I suppose my turn was up. So I stopped writing, but I was busy figuring out other things in my life: I was moving cities, I was changing roles at work, I was seeing doctors, I was spending time with friends, I was being lazy, I was going through things that ate into the psychological space writing used to take up in my life.

I do believe that if you’re a writer, you’ll write through any upheavals and that if you’re in it for the long run, you’ll figure out ways to shoe horn it into your busy/emotional/lazy/fun life. But I am in it for the long run and, I see now, I needed a break. The week that I spent on the island in May was a good reset: it reminded me how much I do love writing, how much I need it and even if it’s not necessarily the most important thing, it’s one of the most important things.

A few months ago I saw that Jessa Crispin was giving astrological chart/tarot card readings for creative projects. I know half the people reading this will roll their eyes at the concept and the other half will lean in closer. I am of the latter group, and I signed up for a reading. One Saturday morning the two of us met on Skype and she talked to me about my chart and we did a reading, and  so much of it made sense in a creepily accurate way. It helped me realize things about how I should currently approach my writing, the biggest message being that I was likely at a stage where work would come to me slower than it did before and that I should enjoy it, take advantage it, rather than beat myself up about not being “productive”. At the same time, I still had to be diligent about not being lazy – there’s a difference between taking time to do work and simply not doing it. Most of this could be gleaned without any chart readings, but hey, you do what you do. I didn’t take a writing workshop this year; instead I got a tarot reading, and came away equally inspired/motivated.

So, yeah, in the end I didn’t write much this summer, although the bits I did write I’m proud of (a short story of mine got shortlisted for the Matrix Litpop contest and I’m now writing food book reviews for Bookslut). But I do wish I’d written a few more pages for my novel. Because the fall always feels more like a new year, I want to commit to pushing myself more. I want to write more fiction and go to more literary events — Toronto has such a great community and I’ve been a bit of a hermit. So I’ll put this up on my blog as a reminder. I also want to remember this feeling — this vagueness, this uncertainty — so that later I can remind myself it’s okay to feel like this, that I am in it for the long run, even if I sometimes need a break.

6 thoughts on “Summer, part 5: A pause.

  1. this echoes what i’ve been feeling myself lately…kind of a shift in terms of productivity/writing. i’m starting to realize that i need time away to refill the well, so to speak…not just in terms of inspiration, but energy as well. i used to be quite disciplined and frantic about creating and completing work, but as the work itself gets longer and more ambitious, i find it just needs enough time to be done well. this summer i got some things done but not nearly the amount that i wanted — but i’m trying to learn to not be just a fascist jerk boss to myself and be a little gentle with myself. xo k.

    • Yah, down with fascist jerk bosses (especially when they’re us)!

      Looking forward to seeing your newer work, but I don’t mind waiting a bit longer – I understand :)

  2. So many people I know haven’t been writing lately! Maybe it’s the weather? I know I’m much more productive in colder months, and I actually feel more hopeful about writing.

  3. Teri, this so well encapsulates many of my feelings and anxieties about writing this year! Well, except for the part about being productive…it has been a long time since I have been very productive (if I ever have been, really).

    It is so hard to know when it is okay not to push oneself (or at least, say, not to feel overly about not producing pages) and how to achieve the security of knowing you’ll always go back to it. (I feel like I’ve been on this rollercoaster enough to feel fairly secure…but still, nothing happens without some cracking of the internal whip.)

    I think upheavals will usually claim their own space and it’s fine to let them have it, especially if things are percolating in the background.

    • It’s nice to know that others relate to this! And right, just because you’re not necessarily writing doesn’t mean projects aren’t percolating. It’s been a relief to not think so much about “productivity”, but the anxiety inevitably returns… Oh well. Here’s to more writing!

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