ONE OF THE THINGS I discovered when I discovered I was a writer, was that feeling of standing at the edge of an abyss and knowing that to jump, although it was a terrifying thought, was the only thing to do. The abyss held no answers or guarantees, in fact, it was impossible to see anything down there, no evidence of anything I could be sure of, or of anything I had known before. I confess, I have been away. Many refer to it as writer’s block. I prefer to think of it as the writer turning his back on the abyss, stepping away from the edge, folding one’s arms across one’s chest and facing the opposite direction–the SAFE direction. Except for a sporadic flow of poetry, which comes naturally to me, I’ve turned my back for a while on “story”. My awareness of this has been compounded by updates from author friends who excitedly share with me how many thousands of words they already are into their second (or third, or fourth) novel. Of course, I feel nothing but happiness for them, not only because it means they’re doing the job we’re supposed to be doing, but because we need the support of each other. But instead of being inspired by their motivation, the spray that lands on me from their creative juices squirting in my direction has only served to illuminate my feelings of inadequacy.
Being absent from “story”, stepping away from the abyss, facing the other direction, etc., all imply a shift in movement. On the other hand, “writer’s block” is a noun. It’s seen as a THING we writers encounter, a THING in our way, a THING that happens TO us. So when it showed up in my consciousness as “stepping”, “facing”, “folding (one’s arms)”, it occurred to me these are all verbs, and “I” am the subject, the one doing–or, in this case, NOT doing–and that meant I was responsible. (Yuck. How we humans hate taking responsibility for stuff. I had finally received my membership card from the Artists’ Club of Art Peace Truth and Beauty, the one place that provides safe haven from the Real World, where creativity is not only expected, it’s in the mission statement, and now I had to be responsible here, too?) The occupation of a writer is made more difficult by the fact that there’s no boss standing over you making you do it. This is not to be confused with having an agent or publisher who’s given you a deadline for work completed or work-in-progress. The writer has “no boss” in the sense that the creative process, the birth, the origin of it all, is something only the writer can produce. The cozy confines of the lining of your pocket where the key to the creative floodgates rests is controlled by the writer. No matter how tightly her hand may be wrapped around the key, how warm the metal has become from the heat inside her closed fist, no one can make her take the key out and use it, except herself.
Though the reasons for this paralytic phase vary from writer to writer, I believe one cause is the stress of everyday life. I, for one, have found my instinctive responses to extreme stress to be as powerful as my passion for writing. Yet lately, stress has won, pushing the creative me to the bottom of the list of what’s important. The me that strives to identify, evaluate, change, fix, manage, step out of the way of the bus or be thrown under it, have a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, don’t forget to breathe, survive, survive, survive–is tough competition for the me who creates. But in those moments when I believed life demanded more of my attention than the artist in me deserved, I sought comfort from the very thing I had turned my back on. Though I wasn’t actually writing, I was thinking about writing, thinking about what’s next for my characters, sculpting out an imaginary path for their future, climbing inside the magic of story-telling and hanging out there for a while. These were the thoughts that quieted my chaos. With the chaos burner turned down to low, I could once again hear that small voice inside whispering “create”.
Your true calling is frequently defined as the thing that aligns most with your spirit, the purpose that fulfills your soul. Although I was unable to see it, it makes sense to me now that in the midst of life’s challenges, jumping back into the abyss is the thing I need the most. That grand distinction between Alice falling down the rabbit hole, and Alice falling down the rabbit hole and writing her way out, is something I know a little about. When we get knocked down and have to get back up, find our balance, regain our strength and keep moving, writing is the thing that triggers my deep breathing, the coach in the corner to keep me boxing through the Real World, one punch at a time.