Long before COVID-19 brought its new and grim reality, I was already struggling with what it meant to be a writer who wasn’t writing. So maybe that’s why I haven’t experienced the kind of acute anxiety many of my fellow creators are experiencing now. For the majority of the past year and a half, I have been picking away at a manuscript, but not feeling as if I’ve been making any sort of true progress. What was strange was that I didn’t feel much (if any) distress about it. I could easily go weeks without looking at the story. When I did open the file, while I pretty much liked what I had written so far, knew the rough shape of where the story needed to go, believed in the story, I had absolutely no urgency to do the work to get it there.
In the seventeen years since I started writing my first novel, I never anticipated there would come a time where I wouldn’t be upset by not being able to write. (That’s quite the convoluted sentence!) But here I am. Not writing.
And because I have to worry about something, I am concerned that I’m not concerned. Does that mean I’m fine with never writing a story again? Have I run out of stories to tell? Am I really depressed but not aware of it? Does my subconscious mind think this story is worthless?
When I examine those questions, the answers are no, no, no, and no. But for right now, my creativity is taking me down different paths and that’s okay.
What I’ve come to understand is that being a writer is only a small part of being a creative soul. Words may be the main way I express myself, but they are only one way. I am also a potter, a gardener, a fiber artist, and a cook. Each of these fulfills a need in my life both to create and to nurture. I get the same pleasure from a friend using a bowl I’ve thrown that I do harvesting and turning peaches into jars of peach butter, knitting a sweater for my husband, or making a meal for a neighbor that I get from a good review or a letter from a reader.
The difference is that I’ve monetized my writing. And turning a creative pursuit into a business changes things.
After finishing the fifth and final book of my Halcyone Space series, I hit a wall. I had been working continuously telling these stories for over five years and my sense of wellbeing and creative self-worth became conflated with their commercial success. That metric can all too easily be a never-fulfilled hunger. No matter how many books you sell, there is always someone selling better, winning awards, getting rave reviews, and more.
I think it took me until now to fully understand how much my process and my expectations had changed when I shifted from writing stories to being an author. The past year and a half has taught me that I need to practice creativity without expectation of the outcome. Or rather, to let the process guide me in at least some kind of creative exploration. [Read more…]