Last week I entered a time of "writing recovery," a term Louise DeSalvo uses in her book The Art of Slow Writing. I had not worked on my book project for several weeks. A road trip followed by planning for a retreat took precedence. No regrets, but that hasn't made the recovery process any easier.
I had no idea where I left off and what I had written and what the next step should be. I had passed the stage of missing my writing time and had entered a time of wondering if it just might be easier to let the project go. I could easily keep myself busy and even feel productive and purposeful. The retreat itself led to a number of other ideas to pursue. In other words this was a dangerous time; a time when it was important to sit and listen to the various voices trying to make conversation with me.
Fortunately, I had Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray Love, and her new book Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear, to cheer me on or was it to slap some sense into the voice that said, "Why bother. You don't need to do this."? Gilbert spoke recently in Minneapolis and over 700 of us heard her encourage each of us in our creative endeavors. Someone in the audience asked her about how to stay focused and Gilbert suggested the importance of knowing the difference between curiosity and distraction. In other words when does an Internet search for some essential piece of information for the article you are writing (curiosity) turn into a lost in time, one website leading to another till you forget what your initial question was waste of time (distraction)?
In my life distraction disguises itself as busyness, as in a need to wash floors and polish silver. Sometimes as opportunities. Sometimes as flattery, as in "You are the perfect person to do x, y, z." Sometimes as laziness, as in a pile of magazines beckoning me or another episode of Miss Fisher's Mysteries. (Netflix--great fun and a little racy!) Sometimes another name for distraction is fear.
Gilbert says, "Everyone's song of fear has exactly the same tedious lyric, 'STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP.'"
That's the voice I was hearing. The voice wasn't telling me to stop because I might die if I continue or I might contract a catastrophic illness or I might lose our entire savings or I might totally alienate everyone I love and hold dear. The voice I was hearing was undermining my own creativity and my desire to use that creativity. The voice I was hearing, frankly, was not very trustworthy, for over the years that voice has gotten in the way of growth and openness.
When I brushed that voice aside, of course, there was room for something new and far more interesting. I still had no idea how to return to my writing, but teachers are often right there when you need them. Louise DeSalvo says, "And beginning anew requires us to be patient with ourselves." Patience vs distraction.
She also mentioned somewhere in The Art of Slow Writing that when she is working on a book she keeps a separate notebook for each main section of the book. That was it--that was the clue I needed to get back to work.
Without further hesitation I drove to Target and bought 5 new three-ring notebooks, one for each section in my book, and a bunch of dividers, which I labelled "drafts," "feedback," "journal entries," "notes," etc for each notebook. (My labelmaker, one of my favorite toys, got quite the work-out!) I reorganized all the material I have amassed these past months in a way that is far more accessible and in the process, I re-acquainted myself with what I have done so far and what I need to do next.
Sometimes organizing can be a distraction for me, but this time it was a step forward, and because I spend time getting to know my various voices, I knew that would be the case.
That was last week, and this week I have been writing. Actually working on a new chapter and I now have several pages of what Anne Lamott calls the SFD or "shitty first draft." It's a start, and I am definitely in writing recovery.
What does distraction look like, sound like in your life? What do you do when you recognize it? What is waiting to be recovered in your life? What's keeping you from setting aside distraction and moving forward into your own creative living? I would love to know.
Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic
Louise DeSalvo's The Art of Slow Writing