Though I’ve expressed the desire to fill my free days starting something new, I can’t seem to bring myself to a place of inspiration. My editors and I were kicking around a concept, but I don’t think the pages I wrote were quite hitting the mark, so I’m stuck in limbo until we find a different path. Until that time, I wanted to revisit unfinished business, maybe make some progress on old projects, and yet I’m sparking to nothing. The Google Docs I’m re-opening are jumbled, disconnected messes, or at least that’s how they read to me this morning. But writing is not always the product of inspiration; in fact, I’d say it’s much less inspiration than getting your butt in the chair and typing. So here I am, typing.
I find myself with something I’ve been seeking for so long–a period of security and creative freedom–and like so many before me who finally have a grasp on their goal, I have no idea what to do with it. Four years ago around this time, I was committed to never writing for commercial purposes again. I wanted to become a teacher and write for myself and myself only. Now, it is only my ability to write commercially that has allowed me enough time and energy to work on what I want for a while. Now, I’ve learned not to predict one’s future in absolutes. You’d think I would have learned that a long time ago considering how many times I’ve changed course, both as a writer and as a person, but I don’t like to be told what is true without experiencing it for myself. I’ve absorbed all of the best wisdom by hurting, holding, sensing, and I know it’s the best wisdom for me, because it brought me here, to a place I’ve longed for.
So, now what?
All the seeds I’ve planted for some future day are ready to be cultivated, but now that I’m examining their real potential, they seem like the ideas of a different person. The optimistic solution here would be to ease my way back into them however it feels right, to not worry so much about the outcome, to trust that somehow the Writer of Today will integrate with the Writer of the Past. There’s also the option of starting something really new, with no strings to the past attached, but then I’m worried the new-new project will eventually join its fellows on the shelf. My best work comes out of a sense of play, and thinking about future consequences, good or bad, hinders the joy of exploration.
More and more, I feel as if I’m being invited to consider the role of others in my creativity. My most successful projects–that is, the ones that I have finished and shared in some shape or form–have all been collaborative. As with every novel I’ve written, my editor and I came up with the events and major emotional arcs of my latest story together. I wrote each chapter with our collective vision in mind, either as a direct execution of our plans, or in response to them. To create the screenplay we finally finished, my writing partner and I were in conversation for 8-10 hours every week, the two of us actively working with each other on the same document. I am beginning to wonder if my primary motivation in writing is not to build worlds, and certainly not to be compensated for them, but to share them, and to thrill and delight in the sharing.
Though I choose a solitary profession, the most cherished memories of my craft are not dominated by the act of writing; I imagine that’s the case for many of us, considering we are not really “present” in our bodies when we are deep in the act of writing, and therefore we are not taking note of any sense or emotion connected to it. But even holding a book I wrote or reading what I’ve written aloud aren’t really among my shining moments. For me, none of that compares to making stupid videos with my brother and cousins, rehearsing plays in high school and sketch comedy shows in college, building elaborated literary-themed structures with my friends in Minneapolis, inventing silly poems in real time with my students–the wild joy of creating with other people.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I want to change careers. I respect and revere the choices that have brought me here, puttering away in my little workshop, even if it isn’t always yielding the most ecstatic experiences. There’s probably a reason why I gravitated this way, rather than to the stage or in front or behind a camera. There are certainly many painfully memorable reasons why I’m not in a classroom. I’m here and not anywhere else because here is where I’m willing to do the work. Every joyful career or calling takes work, and it just so happens I am (and have always been) more willing to write 500-3000 words a day than anything else. I trust that.
So how do I bring play back into my work? How do I incorporate cooperation and exchange in this new phase? How do I rest the work-horse, managing, goal-setting part of my brain for a bit, and wake up the child? After a decade of worrying about the next deadline, the next paycheck, the next job, I am grateful to even get to ask these questions, and hopefully nimble and brave enough to go somewhere uncharted for the answers.