Earlier this summer, I broke the garage door. I did this with the simple application of my car backing into it before it fully rose. To be fair, it was opening and I was in hurry, so I only missed it by about 4 inches–but that 4 inches was enough to bend the lowest panel, knock the wheel off of its track, and keep me from clearing the lip where it jammed, effectively blocking my car inside the garage. I was stuck with no way out. Embarrassed and humbled, I ended up calling the electric garage door company about coming out for a repair in enough time for me to go pick up my kids from their various camps that afternoon. The woman on the phone kindly assured me that they’d be on it and she got these calls every week. “You wouldn’t believe how many people do this,” she said. “We’re all in such a rush. It’s a reminder to slow down.”
It’s been several weeks (and garage-door-accident-free!) and I keep thinking about it: “A reminder to slow down.”
I decided this summer to take a break from writing–something that is completely outside my experience and outside my comfort zone. I write. I always write. I have always written. It is my go-to place, the thing I look forward to each morning and the one place where I can pour all the happiness/sadness/excitement/angst/worry/anticipation/glory/awe/fear/wonder of my everyday life and daydreams and come out refreshed (or exhausted) and feel better. But I’ll confess that somewhere around 2009 this stopped being the case. My mind, normally filled with inspiration and characters talking non-stop, was now filled with things like online promotion demands, BookScan numbers, blog posts and marketability. My road to publication was a bumpy one and I’d made a lot of mistakes* and the process of being a mid-list author with a strange little book debuting on the lip of a giant brick-and-mortar chain close-out is enough to squish anyone’s Muse and my Maggie took a particular beating. It’s been hard to stay positive. Heck, it’s been hard to stay happy, but we authors are not supposed to share that part of ourselves online because it’s a bummer and a downer and “I Published A Book!” so what right do I have to whine about anything? There are *thousands* of people who would gladly smash their car into their garage door if that meant that could publish a book! And that’s true (sorta, but you get the idea). And I know that I’m very fortunate I got to have that lifelong dream come true. And I’m also telling you, from one human being to another, that the creative spirit can get a bit wispy when the results weren’t all roses and song. It’s hard to shoot for the moon and miss. It’s doubly-hard to do it publicly, in front of everyone and your mother. And triply-hard to do it while smiling and keep going.
So I struggled. I wrote other books, cleaned up old trunk novels, wrote “proposal formats” of three chapters and outlines as I waited for news or another crack at the game. I felt like I had to keep it up, keep it going, push harder, or I was going to miss my chance to catch the wave and be left behind. I began spending far too much time at the computer and getting less done. I had trouble committing to a manuscript. I started and stopped and started again. I sweated at the keys and started avoiding them altogether. Basically, I was breaking-up with the idea of writing and that realization felt so frantic and foreign that I began to panic. Despairing that everything we write is terrible is nothing new to the writing process, but this went into unfamiliar territory, as desolate as the never-dreaded-before blank sheet of paper. I was writing a lot (as in blogs, tweets, outlines, blurbs) but it wasn’t writing (as in my book) and I’ve been wrestling with angels** over what to do.
And then I thought about running into my garage door. And I thought about slowing down.
So I did.
And I stopped.
Days passed without writing and that was…okay. (Not great, mind you–it is like holding your breath for a very long time–but “okay.”) I did other things. I concentrated on kids and baking and getting back into training and making plans with friends. I traveled a lot more. I made an effort to go to more art fairs and museums. I explored. I chatted with folks. I took a hiatus from regular tweetchats. I went from three regular blog entries week down to one or two. I took the time to slow down, to recoup, to let my Muse nurse its wounds and heal a little before having any grand expectations. I scribbled a little here and there. I talked with people who understood. I took the time to be disappointed, mourn a little, and get over it.
Now there are trickles coming in from the editor asking about flapcopy and bouncing ideas around. Something stirs in my mind about new possibilities for an old fairy tale and I’m kinda looking forward to the kids being off at school so I can get back to the regular practice of writing generatively instead of reactively. I said “Okay” to a book event in the fall. I submitted some workshop proposals for my favorite conference. I feel like I’m smiling when I come to the keys, and I didn’t even have to pay a repairman to do it.
I may be slow, but I *do* learn.
* A lot of mistakes. One day I’ll be brave enough to share all of them, but not until I know that’s not another huge mistake!
** Not real angels. More like fairies, myths, contemporary comedies, and near-future LGBTQ dramas. Why be normal?