How Do You Cerebrate When the Tank Runs Dry?

From the age of seven to just before my 21st birthday I was under the impression that every time I sat down with pen and paper or word processor, I should be trying to write something good, deep, moving, complete. Fortunately, I was young and less critical. While I didn’t think everything I wrote was great, I was content with the results enough to keep on. Unfortunately, I could tell my writing needed “something,” but wasn’t sure how to obtain the elusive creative “whatever it was.”
Then in college I found and devoured “Writing Down the Bones,” Natalie Goldberg. Finally, I was freed to just write. From then on until my first son started crawling (about 6 years later), if I wasn’t working, I was usually filling a notebook, listening to my “voice,” inspecting the corners of my mind, learning to open channels beyond myself and translate what I found into visible words.
I took to heart two of Natalie’s rules of writing practice. First, don’t stop your pen to edit or think. I often wrote, “I don’t know what words to write next so blah diddy blah, how long until I get an idea that goes somewhere, blah, blah, blah, argh!!! I wonder what my mom meant when she said….” and I’d be off and running again. Second, when you come to “heat,” – which I took to mean an intensity you almost want to run from – don’t try to stay with the direction of what you were hoping to write, rather follow the heat as far as you can. In the same spirit, if you’re in a ten minute timed exercise, don’t stop at ten minutes if you’re still swimming in a great intensity.
When my son started to crawl – and by that I mean he sped around on his hands and knees faster than his older cousin ran – I let go of physical writing temporarily. Being familiar with the idea of mental composting and the benefits (for a writer’s writing) of being in the moment, I often reminded myself that while my kids were small, I was gathering life I would later introduce to paper or as it turned out, a lighted screen.
At the end of 20o9, writing asked for space again. Little by little, mostly on my first blog, I shared insights, ideas, memories, whatever my heart offered in the moment. In January 2010, inspired by a friend who is an amazing water color artist, I accepted the challenge to write 30 “finished” pieces of writing in 30 days. I made my intention public on facebook then got to work. This was different than letting words fly everywhere unconcerned with result. I was entering a new level of creativity.
Every day I wrote. Everyday I shared a link on facebook. The feedback was encouraging. When 30 days were spent, I felt like flying, much like a gymnast who learns a new skill on the uneven bars or an ice skater who finally rotates once around in the air between take off and landing.
Over the winter, spring and summer I was unexpectedly occupied with other things that, while exciting and interesting, didn’t allow for much time to write. Then came free time, the approach of autumn and a desire to write… a lot! That’s when I remembered my friend Sharon, aka mimetalker, and her blog with a built in audience?? Could it be? Yes!
On September 2nd at 12:36am, I hit publish on Open Salon for the first time. Over the next few days, I had fun writing and especially reading work from some obviosly very intelligent, thoughtful people. The fun lasted less than two weeks before I was completely intimidated and experiencing writers block for the first time in my life. In the face of such extraordinary talent, knowing my words would be read and probably compared to such well crafted work, I almost quit.
Luckily, Alysa Salzberg had already made contact. Her encouragement, kind comments and friendship were critical. One afternoon, mired in funk and self pity, I went for a bike ride. I hoped, but did not really believe, I might find an answer or at least a way out of the trap I had placed myself in.
Wind on my face, leaves crackling beneath my tires, close up faces of school children in finger snapping clusters, freed me enough to hear a small voiceless suggestion. “Write another 30 in 30 and don’t worry about the results.” I made a personal commitment right then. Bingo! I can’t say the posts were amazing – most were lumpy and difficult to manage – but by October 13th, my hands and mind were free to work together once more.
So how do I cerebrate when the tank runs dry? Years ago, I watched smoke dance and mostly did whatever I wanted whenever I felt like, but since I kicked the nicotine habit over 13 years ago and am now blessed with beautiful children whose care and upbringing dictates most of my actions in a day, I try to enjoy my family, stay present, experience my neighborhood without a destination and write without intention. Then, when I do sit down with a specific idea, or to work on an existing project, my mind is happy to focus.

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