Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. To let each impressions and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.
In the film 42, the major curveball rookie Jack Robinson has to deal with is his race. As the only black man in an all-white ball club in all-white league at the height of the racial segregation issues that plagued America through the better part of the 20th century, Robinson simply isn’t able to remain near where the other players live, at least initially. There is a poignant scene near the beginning of the film where Robinson and his wife are taken to a place apart, a “safe” place where he can reside while starting on the farm team, thus allowing him to keep his focus on the game and not on the major disruption his race will cause. The fact of this evasive action in light of the curve isn’t right, but it is necessary, both for Jack’s safety and for the practice of his craft.
When curveballs create an imbalance in our own lives, sometimes the best way to deal with them is to go somewhere else. This doesn’t mean ignoring them; rather, it means simply acknowledging that they exist and that there is no right way to deal with them head on, at least maybe not right now. Sometimes it becomes impossible to continue writing in the place you’re used to. Going someplace else doesn’t mean you can’t ever come back to where you were. It simply means that the place you had before no longer serves, no longer functions for you, the way it did before you began struggling with the curveballs.
What kind of space a writer needs and even if the writer needs a place apart depends upon a lot of factors. I need complete quiet to think, especially to get into the fantasy world of my novel. I do not thrive on noise and busy-ness, though I know some people who do. My temperament is such that I simply shut down after too much stimulation. Other writers may be able to tune our external stimuli to a greater degree. In my case, a lot of health problems and emotional challenges at home, coupled with the chaos of indefinite construction projects, the ensuing drastic schedule changes and nearly constant interruptions by the work crew have engulfed both my writing place and time and have made quiet in my home next to unknown – the conditions under which I wrote previously simply no longer exist. There will come a time when my schedule will revert back to what it was and my space and time will be more my own again. For now, however, to continue to write at all it’s become necessary to leave the emotional and physical chaos of my home. For the last few months, I was blessed with a quiet room of my own where I could escape the chaos for hours at a time on alternate weekends, a place where I could write, think, read, nap, and recharge. There I was given the concentrated quiet I need to enter deeply into the made up world of my novel and live there awhile. It was a place where I could breathe and think clearly and process everything that I was struggling to deal with. My place apart helped me to both work and strategize my troubles with the curveballs, enabling me to better see my way clear to dealing with them. And that’s what a place apart should do for you.
One additional curveball has been the recent loss of my studio. Even though it’s difficult to give up the space, it has served its purpose. The most important lesson having a room of my own has taught me is learning to commit to making the time to going there and doing the work. I know that I can still take those alternate weekend times and maybe head over to the library to work by one of the fountains for a couple of hours. It’s the work that matters and being in the space taught me to see possibility where none seemed to exist before. I’ve learned to take the initiative, find a space, and continue on with the work.
In a recent inspiring interview on the radio show Writers on Writing, memoirist Allison Singh Gee recounts how she composed her new book, Where the Peacocks Sing: A Palace, A Prince, and the Search For Home, at a table at work on her lunch breaks. As a busy working mother with a three year old at home, Singh Gee says she just couldn’t find a way or a place to write except to do it somewhere else. Finding a place didn’t mean she was abandoning her child and her home. It simply meant that in order to practice her craft and do the work of being a writer she needed to find a place elsewhere – home was not conducive to doing the work she needed to do. Finding a place apart enabled Singh Gee to deal with the curveball and complete her book.
Your place apart could be anywhere – a library, a café, a park, even your car. If you simply cannot physically LEAVE, then maybe try working outside or in another room. A friend of mine shuts herself up in the bathroom just to have some peace and quiet. Doors work wonders – don’t be afraid to close a door, position a screen, hang a drapery to block out the noise or chaos or whatever it is preventing you from focusing on your project.
If you simply can’t grow where you’re planted, don’t beat your head against the wall trying to force the situation to conform to your expectations or your old way of doing things (see Tip #1). Find another place to put down roots, even if only temporarily. Doing so can make the difference between writing and not writing.
Where do you write? How do you create a place apart to ensure your creative life is able to weather the curves?
I love baseball. Always have. I grew up hearing “Keep your eye on the ball.” And while it was said to me in the context of the game, like most sports, baseball is also a good analogy for keeping my eyes on whatever situation, problem, or event I’m dealing with. By staying focused and concentrating, I can find ways to deal with the problem, maybe even control it, live with it, conquer or solve it, perhaps even eliminate it by knocking it out of the park.
But the curveball is different. It comes along, initially just like any regular pitch. But at the last minute, the good curve ball swerves and dips, leaving me looking at the air where it WAS and not at the ball, which sails across the plate and under my line of vision, making this particular pitch really hard to deal with and capable throwing my entire game seriously OFF.
Lately, my life has been like dealing with one curveball after another. Recurring, and increasingly serious, personal health problems and the resulting weekly medical appointments, long-term home renovation projects, an increased work load, major schedule changes, and serious elder care with dementia issues are demanding more and more of my time and attention. As a result, I feel myself spread thinner and thinner. My energy level and ability to focus is sorely depleted and I’m having a lot of trouble concentrating on all of these major issues much less managing to find time or mental focus necessary to continue building the world of my novel.
Finding a way to keep writing during this challenging time while still attending to the tasks at hand becomes more and more difficult, thus raising a crucial question: How do I stay in the game of writing without striking out due to the overwhelming presence of the curves?
Starting this Sunday, and for six weeks following, I’ll be publishing a series of helpful tips to ensure I’m writing through the curves in a healthy way. Please follow along and share your own tips and strategies for maintaining a healthy creative life when the scales tip out of balance. Cheers!
There’s nothing quite like a boulder-sized speed bump to shake up your routine.
My current “speed bump” is the much-needed acquisition of a new computer system. While that would summon resounding cheers of joy and great enthusiasm, I am experiencing greater anxiety and smaller doses of the former.
Why? Because for the last 10+ years I have been working on a (defective) PC and have now switched to a MacBook Air. I am thrilled, but also I’ve been set adrift, left to learn a new OS on a weirdly portable device that makes me feel uncomfortably detached (I know I will adjust to this). I’m not sure how to do many of the things I could do effortlessly on my PC, which is why you, dear reader, are not being treated to the characteristic B&W photographs which usually grace my posts. I need to figure out how to do all of that, all over again!
The attendant learning curve would not be a problem were it not for two things:
1) I am the most technologically backward person on the planet. Seriously, I am so far off the target market that I may as well not exist to the folks who put these things out. I am as close to unplugged as you can get and still be somewhat plugged in.
2) At the exact moment when I got started on this new thing, my students had to turn in papers and writer’s notebooks, all of which must be evaluated and commented upon, along with figuring semester grades and writing progress reports! I do everything for my class online. It’s like being blindsided with an avalanche when you know the most you can handle is sand through a mini-hourglass….
So for those of you who visit regularly, please be patient with me as I take a brief hiatus from posting until I can get a handle on both my system and my workload. I don’t expect it to take more than a couple of weeks. I just figured I needed to downsize my expectations a wee bit at the moment.
Until then, I plan to keep to my writing schedule for my novel as well as I can. Tomorrow will be the first day writing on this new thing. Wish me luck! Cheers!
Tomorrow is the end of National Novel Writing Month — well, I suppose one could continue writing in earnest until Wednesday, the “technical” end of the month. But on my end, I’m done.
Overall, I would say that the month has been successful for me. My goal was to use the event as a time management exercise — I never intended to attempt the goal to write 50,000 words this month. And as a time management exercise, it worked. I doubled the size of my still meager manuscript and got myself in the habit of writing every day (more often than not), which for me is a huge accomplishment.
There were some major speed bumps along the way, the worst of which was getting sick mid-way through the month. A week of being under the weather derailed my best-laid plans and forced me to reorganize everything in order to meet my non-writing obligations. After a week of being “off duty” due to illness, I couldn’t justify letting my job and family go so that I could write more often. I DID write, but it was in the background. I teach high school composition and literature and, to be honest, after spending nearly 20 hours meticulously evaluating my students’ writing this past week, I had little brain stength left to even think about my own story, much less string words together in any meaningful way.
My take-away after participating in NaNoWriMo is that I can and will commit to writing each day. If I can write 4 or 5 days out of 7, I will consider that a success for 2012. To help me stay motivated, I scored this handy gem of a Writer’s Diary from Barnes & Noble last week — an early birthday present to myself! I plan to keep a daily log of my writing, as well as a page count of my manuscript. That way I’ll be able to see where I need to step up my efforts a bit and by the end of the year, I’ll have a record of how far I’ve come.
I’m not sure whether I will participate in NaNoWriMo again next year. I’m not sure it matters. The lessons I’ve learned — especially about how to embrace my snail’s pace and to keep moving forward — are ones that I won’t soon forget.