Last year, I challenged myself to turn in 10,000 words a month toward a novel I had pitched and was shortlisted for the Miles Morland Scholarship that I ultimately didn’t get.
I started off decently well. By the end of January I was able to produce about 5,000 words I was proud of. In February, I think I got to 8,000. In March, April, and May, I averaged somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000. In June, I had a creative pause.
I got into the Rhode Island Writers Colony where I spent two weeks in Warren, Rhode Island eating my face off, drinking like a fish, and connecting with six other writers. For the two week I was there, I got more thinking than writing done. In July, I wrote about 80 pages. I stopped counting the words.
In August, I started cutting. A lot of the words I had been proud of weren’t so amazing after all, and I trimmed down to about 35 pages that I felt were teflon. I continued writing steadily in September, then, in October, I got a freelance gig that threw my whole flow out of whack.
I had been freelancing mostly from home from March through the first week of October and had gotten into a flow of balancing paycheck assignments followed by stretches of creative writing, and long prayer and praise walks. In between, I prepared and gave a TEDx Talk in Accra, traveled through Italy, stopped in Geneva, celebrated with family in London, and did multiple day trips to Connecticut and other Stateside parts.
It was amazing and I made sure to thank God for it, but it was expensive. I had to take on a new additional work assignment and I eventually found one that wouldn’t let me work remotely.
When I took the job, I lost my creative bearings for the rest of 2015’s last quarter. It was as if I had never worked in an office before! I had no muscle memory of waking up, commuting, connecting with co-workers, or navigating the emotional, psychological, and political hierarchies of the workplace.
Just when I had established a dream creative flow, I had to figure out a new way to fulfill my personal writing goals, and I was miserable and ornery and pretentiously philosophical about it.
I tried to resume my old flow of waking up a little early to write on the bus to work, but my muse wanted to be naked on my couch, the TV on mute, my empty cereal bowl on the table beside me as I tapped at my keyboard and thanked God for my dream life coming true. She was spoiled, and like the brat she can be, she folded her arms.
I didn’t meet my goal of completing a rough draft of my novel by December 31st. Part of me wants to wallow in the self pity that I had to take on a demanding gig. It’s the same part that accuses me of failing to redeem the time more wisely when I had it. But the sane part of me knows my “creative struggle” was a tantrum.
First of all, I got a gig! After several weeks of zero response from recruiters and people I’d interviewed with, I was reminded that America is still recovering from one of the worst financial crises in the nation’s history and that for a large percentage of people chronic unemployment has become reality. I needed a gratitude adjustment!
Secondly, the truth is, from the second week of October through December, I did not have a problem getting new words out. And I had many stretches of unabated time that I could have used to write–stretches I used to seize before I had that dream flow situation.
My issue was accepting that I would have to find a new, less sexy way. Again.
All the parts of me that didn’t make my 2015 goal are laughing and shaking their heads at me. We’e never had a problem mutating before. Why now?
New never used to scare me, but as I get older, as each year ticks by, the panic of the pressures I’ve placed on myself mounts, and I feel as if everything I’ve ever wanted for myself is passing me by. It’s paranoid and delusional and gives me no credit for the 30,000 words I did get down, amidst all the other stuff I did. Also, according to this article about Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire’s book Wired to Create, I’m no less creative for not hitting my personal deadline. Whew.
2015 was a good year. A great year. A dream-come-true year. Every part of it. I wish I had embraced that more in the last few months of it with respect to my writing.
In 2016, I’m challenging myself not to get stuck on one particular flow–or give one way too much power. I’m getting older, but I don’t have to be an old dog about my creative process, or an asshole. The whole point of artistry is to contribute something fresh to the conversation. How else to do that, than to be open to the new?