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How Much Wandering Before I’m No Longer Lost?

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photo by Rick Harrison

We’re thrilled that we’ve managed to successfully twist the arm of an former WU’er, bringing him back for a guest post, because he is a favorite of ours! Please welcome Yuvi Zalkow, who’s here to tell us about a new project–and a few significant revelations. Enjoy!

I’m very excited to be visiting Writer Unboxed again after my departure. Let’s see if I still remember how to write a blog post…

I’ve been in this transitional period for at least a year now. My book [2] came out last year. I stopped doing my I’m a Failed Writer [3] video series about a year ago as well. I’ve left those comfortable places to learn and experiment with new forms, new writing styles, new voices. And new failures.

I am working on a new novel that is more of a stretch for me than I ever imagined. It is forcing me to step out of my own neurotic comfort zone (and into other characters’ neurotic comfort zones). I’m digging into these characters living in rural Georgia in 1938. Not as easy to tap into their minds as it was with my first novel’s character (named Yuvi Zalkow) who was struggling to write a novel. My new audio and video series [4] is still a work in progress and doesn’t yet have the exact form I’m striving for. I’m particularly nervous because now I’m trying to capture other people’s stories as well as my own. For a sneak peek, here is a video (that I’m going to officially publish this week), which captures a few things I loved about my conversation with writer Kristen Forbes. She has some cool things to say about how she writes her emotionally [5] powerful [6] essays [7] and I’m trying to use her words to think about that middle ground between over-outlining and under-outlining a piece of work:

This project still scares me. My biggest fear: nothing I create will have an effect on others. That I’ll never connect with another person through my work. That I’ll never tap into that voice that I maybe momentarily had in the past.

I’ve been given lots of advice during this phase. There are many lovely, loving, supportive friends who have spoken to me on this subject as I walk around looking crumbled and lost. One problem is that this good advice conflicts. For every person who has said that you just have to plow through this mess and get to the other side, there is another person who has said that maybe it’s time to go back to the stuff that you did that was working. And I’m compelled to give similar advice to others. Sometimes I think they should cut their losses and do something that works more naturally. Other times, I think they are doing something amazing and they should push on through it. The real answer is that there may not be any obvious answer right now.

So what’s my point? Surely Therese wouldn’t let me come back to Writer Unboxed to depress the whole lot of you. Nobody wants to read a blurry, angst-ridden blog post before going off to work on their own writing. Right?

Well, maybe there is an upside to this whole spiel. Stick with me on this…

I finally came to an insight that has calmed me from this angst of working on tough, messy stuff that may or may not deliver. But first, a quick sidetrack:

When I was going through one of my first major bouts of depression ten years ago and my therapist was strongly suggesting anti-depressant medication, I was initially reluctant. I didn’t want to put that stuff in my body. I didn’t want to turn into a whole different person. What if it screwed up my (minimal!) sex life? What if it screwed up my (bad!) writing? What if… What if… What if…

I went back and forth with my therapist until she said something pretty simple: You know, if you don’t like it, you can always quit.

It was so simple a statement that I laughed at her. Taking this pill didn’t mean a lifetime commitment to Prozac (which didn’t work so I tried Zoloft, which gave me panic attacks so I tried Paxil, which gave me nightmares about spiders so I quit taking meds). Taking the pill just meant that I was trying the medication for that week. (Caution: I’m not a doctor. Please consult your doctor before abruptly stopping your medication!)

OK. Now let me bring this back around, finally. Sticking with a difficult project today doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it tomorrow. Are you up for working on it today?

What I’ve been doing is giving myself monthly reminders to assess the situation. Every month (actually every 35 days, to keep me a little off guard) I check-in and ask myself: Am I still learning from this? Is this still worth it to me? This is just enough reflection to calm down that panicky, emotional creature inside of me that is terrified of wandering.

And so it turns out, this month, I do want to keep on working on The Creative Turn [4] audio/video project. And I do want to keep digging into my novel about those sometimes lovable Jewish immigrants struggling in rural Georgia in 1938 with the Klan and their past and their future (and my slow writing process) pressing up against them.

How about y’all? What are you scared of? What keeps you doing (or NOT doing) the messy stuff?

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About Yuvi Zalkow [8]

Yuvi Zalkow [9] writes and worries in Portland, Oregon. His stories have been published in Glimmer Train, Narrative Magazine, Carve Magazine, and others. His first neurotic novel [10] is now available. He is working on a second novel (about one Jew obsessed with napkins and another Jew in the Klan). He recently received an MFA from Antioch University, which makes him feel official.