Off the grid, away from writing … and surprisingly happy about it

couch dwarf

So I had a chunk of time off this holiday season, but I knew one thing about this extra time — it’s very deceiving. Extra time off doesn’t always translate into more time for yourself.

How did I spend some of this extra time? I ran errands. Endless errands. I spent more hours at the grocery store than I ever wanted to … and picked up a fender-bender in the parking lot from someone looking more overwhelmed than me when we got out of our cars and assessed the damage (very minor).

The home dynamic, as you probably know, is also different — everyone’s there, 24-7. No pockets of stillness. Visitors coming by at all hours. Too many TV marathons to catch up on.

During the holidays, what’s usually haunted me more than Marley’s ghost is John Gardner’s rule: you must write every day, no matter what. It just never happens.  This season was no exception: I read very little and wrote even less… even though my novel is waiting for me to make some time-sensitive revisions.

But experience has taught me that the usual result of such a situation is only frustration. So, what did I do?  I chose to do something else.

I restrung one guitar, I raised the action on another and gave it an open tuning (and learned to play “When the Levee Breaks,” ah yeah), I hung Xmas lights outside that were so artfully and sturdily anchored that an F-5 tornado couldn’t rip them off.

In other words, I was creative … even though I didn’t create anything on the page. I was channeling someone else instead of Gardner: Louis De Bernieres, one of the finest novelists around. When he was once asked by an interviewer about writing daily, he said he didn’t, but he made sure that he was creative every day even if it wasn’t with words.

What was more important to him was to feed the soul with satisfying activity, not a word count.

I’m off to a nice start with those revisions I mentioned earlier, but I don’t think I’d be in this pleasantly settled state of mind if I hadn’t avoided writing for a while. As we look ahead to 2015, my friends, this little lesson is what I want to share with you: Don’t beat yourself over the head with Gardner’s commandment, but give your soul some space if there’s just not enough time to write.

Go string up a guitar instead … or knit a quilt … bake cookies .. buy flowers for the kitchen sill … and all of it will help the writer in you to take your next step (whatever that is) when the time is right. I have faith in you.

Onward and upward, my beloveds… always upward!

6 responses

  1. Oh, how I agree with you. Just as we have to replenish our bodies with sleep and nourishment, spirits require rest and feeding, too. I don’t think of it as being non-productive. I think of it as lying fallow for a time, giving the seeds that have been planted a bit of time to sprout before cultivation begins. Get the hoe out too soon, and you’ll only uproot the plants.

    Here’s to a rested and creative new year, for us all!

  2. Lemme tell ya…. I baked and cooked a lot! And had a wonderful time. And am happily back to reading and writing. Just discovered The Eleven by Pierre Michon. A lovely little book that’s feeding me & my writing.
    Glad you had a good time too.

  3. Yes! Yes! Yes! We went to the snow, and we made a chandelabra out of a string of lights, built an enormous gingerbread diorama based on natural disasters, went on night hikes under a broad moon, and listened to the wind howl. I read three books, but the only writing I did was to fine-tune a story to submit for the SCBWI’s Golden Gate writer’s conference on New Year’s Eve. It had to be in by midnight. I sent it off, and we drank champagne and stoked the fire. Twas lovely. Now I’m itching to get a start on the year. Off to those revisions. Cheers!

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