It’s been tough going the last three months. Sure, I’ve been writing. It’s what I do. It’s how I understand my world and it is how I keep my cats in kibbles. I have assignments and responsibilities. Writing is my job. But it’s been a slog. An icky, I’m-not-sure-how-I’ll-write-again slog.
Not that writing has ever been easy-peasy to begin with. I’m not one of those whom the words pour out of. I’ve never channeled a single piece. Not even a thank you note. The work I do, I do by sitting down, slumping over the keyboard and moving my fingers until some idea breaks free and makes sense. Or, until I pretend to do more research. On Facebook.
Right now though, I am parched and any good ideas have long since blown away. I’m in what my friend calls the Fertile Void. But it feels anything but fertile.
The void part I get. I’m in a creative black hole. Vast and empty. And dark. It feels frightening and lonely and desperate and hard. It feels like I have nothing left and it feels like the only thing I’m good at is drinking coffee and making sandwiches. I am a very good sandwich maker. My lunch is getting a whole lot of attention.
Living to Create
In the last three years I’ve written three books, hundreds of articles and blog posts, probably millions of words. I couldn’t wakeup without an idea. It all just flowed. The work was challenging and exhilarating and though there were tough times, the ideas guided me. Now I’ve got nothing.
Come to think of it, life this last couple of months has become a bit routine too. Put my daughter on the bus in the morning. Head to a workout. Sit at my desk and write or worry about writing. Meet my daughter’s school bus. Help homework, cook dinner, do dishes, visit with husband. I put my daughter to bed. Then I go to bed until I wake up and put my daughter on the school bus again. It’s an endless routine of obligations, that I willingly take on, but it is not the routine that best fuels the work.
Creative energy comes from exploration. From questioning and puzzling and feeling and wondering. It comes from daydreaming. It comes from engaging in life. Hanging around inspiring people. Eating new foods. From showing up, tuning in, and turning on.
The best ideas come from living life. From talking to others, reading, and watching and trying and testing and traveling and experimenting. Even an interaction at the grocery store or an observation at school can be the seed for an article or research inquiry or character background, if I’m paying attention.
A quiet moment alongside the ocean or a hike along a wooded path can be enough to set my imagination free.
I’d forgotten that creativity is not a passive endeavor. It is not office bound. It is not in the computer. I thought writing the books was a way of participating, but to really write, you must really live. That means getting out and filling up again on life.
My routine, as much as it works for me, has become a bit too familiar for my writing. A void in the work then, is just a reminder to live a bit bigger.
To get out there again. To look at the familiar a new way and mix up the routine. To drive a new route home from work, contemplate the big questions, try the food that you’ve always been curious about. To read a different genre, ask why when you don’t understand, do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.
And, when you do that, when you engage again, that void I was talking about does become fertile. A place of growth and possibility for living and creating.
This post first appeared on the Creativity Post.