The more I tried to force it, the less it worked, until in the end I hit a wall of creative exhaustion.
Today’s quote comes from this post by author Julia Ross, whom I am afraid to read. Not that I don’t want to; I have several of her books (alas, in storage, but there’s the library and ebooks, so not an excuse there) and I’ve peeked into them and closed the covers and put them back on the touch with a reverent pet. I’m sure I’m going to love these books when I do read them, but the giant question mark hanging over the possibility of there being more books from this author in the near or far future -her post was written in 2007, after all, about when my own wandering in the woods started, would require me to read them through splayed fingers. What if I love her and there aren’t any more, ever?
It’s happened before. I love, love, love Valerie Sherwood, aka Jeanne Hines, aka Rosamund Royal, one of the first wave of historical romance writers in the late seventies and early eighties. Grand adventures, bold heroines, intriguing heroes, vivid historical detail, heartfelt author’s notes, etcetera, etcetera. Most readers have those authors who get an “oh, yes!” from the very first page and never want the stream to stop. Sometimes, however, it does. After Ms. Sherwood’s last published work, Lisbon, she let fans know she was going to spend as much time as she could with her beloved husband, Eddie, who had fallen ill. She never came back. I can’t blame her. The illness of a spouse can overshadow everything else, and I can’t even imagine the impact a loss would have. When authors disappear for reasons like this, we understand. We don’t blame them.
The sort of creative paralyisis that affects writers in Ms. Ross’s situation, that I understand all too well. Those ideas that should work, but don’t, the yen to try something new but still stay true to who we are as writers, the shifting demands of the market, all of those together, compounded with the desire not to let people down, that’s a lot of balls (and sometimes chainsaws) to juggle at one time. There’s guilt. Frustration. Downright shame. This should work. It worked for Big Name Author. It worked for Writer Friend. It worked for Critique Partner. Why doesn’ t it work for meeeeeeee? Well, because it doesn’t.
(Makeup) case in point: today’s picture. This is part of my daily routine. I love makeup. I love makeup like I love historical romance. I’ve got Kat von D. I’ve got Wet’n’Wild. They are usually on my face at the same time. There’s primers and color correction and a pleasing balance of neutrals and brights, accumulated from a lot of trial and error. Makeup is natural for me. I like it. It’s playtime. It’s not a mask, it’s art on my face. It’s part of me. Some women don’t wear makeup. Some men do. Yay for all of us, as long as the face we see in the mirror reflects the person behind it, I’m good with that. If I were to run errands or meet friends in jeans and tshirt and no makeup, I’d feel…awkward. Uncomfortable. Not ugly, just not-me. I spent too much time being not-me to willingly go back there again.
So it is with writing. All that striving and trying and bashing my head against the keyboard and shoving what I naturally want to do into a box because “real writers” do this or do that didn’t get me anywhere good. I’ve spoken before about writer friends, however well-meaning, who think I “really should” write their favorite genre instead of my own, or what’s popular or what’s hot or the next big thing. Stop. Just stop. If I wanted to, I would. I’ve tried genres that are not-me, and know what? They’re not-me. I’m me. I wear makeup. I write romance.
Creative exhaustion is something nobody plans on, but sometimes it happens. It’s not fun. It’s frustrating and annoying and something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It does, however, have the potential to be a useful tool. It teaches us what we don’t want to do. What doesn’t work. When we know what doesn’t work, we can turn in the opposite direction and go in the other way. Forcing writing very seldom works, and if it does, it’s not the same as writing that comes from a natural place. It’s easy to say “relax, it will come” and for those in the throes of creative exhaustion, that can make the pressure seize up all the more.
I’m not an expert, by any means. I still seize up at times over the fact that my most recent novel release isn’t all that recent :runs around in circles, screaming.: Must get new novel out now now now now now! Accio manuscript! :taps foot: Nothing? Guess I’ll have to do it the old fashioned way. Which is fine, because it can be a wondrous adventure.