My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Saturday, September 8, 2018

When the Magic Dies (Mailbox)

What to do when the magic has died?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. Questions that got picked up for 20 Questions post but were nothing even resembling "short answer" will be trickled out one at a time.] 

W. asks: 

Hey. Long time follower, first time messenger. You’ve written about so many aspects of writing and the love of story. Do you have any posts about what to do when the magic has died for you?

I grew up with my nose in books, writing my own stories and then even working in BBC scripts in my twenties. I wrote my first feature length at 32. Then I had ID twins at 34 and the younger one died at 11 days old. That was 8 years ago.

I couldn’t look at a novel for years after then it had to be something that didn’t treat the horrors of life as fodder for the story mill. But it’s probably been almost a year since I read a novel.

Now I’ve been commissioned to write a series outline for a producer and I’m realizing I can’t bear to do it. I don’t watch TV drama any more and I only watch films if my husband puts them on. But I miss them.

My nickname as a child was cloth ears as you could say anything to me when I was reading. I lived the world of the story until I put it down. The same when I wrote. But it has died for me. Is there any hope?

My reply:

Just a quick announcement here regarding the shit ton of questions I'm sitting on that came in while I was in summer school for my Twenty Questions posts. It was a great idea in theory, to keep things a little lighter and fluffier for me during the weeks I was teaching, but people sent me regular questions, not quick-answer questions, and they ended up being more like writing 20 consecutive mailboxes in one post. I'm still going to get to all of them, but one at a time. I'm creating a separate file for the actually short answer questions, and I'll trickle the longer ones in.

On to our answer.....

I can't tell you if the magic is gone for you, but I can share a couple of stories about a guy named Chris. I've put down The Pen™ a couple of times in my life, usually during major transitions that sucked up most of my time (I found it quite impossible to be a writer and a restaurant manager, for example, so those were some shitty two years). In every case eventually the bug bit again, and I got back into the flow, often to much relief that my "Creative lobe" hadn't shrivelled up and fallen off.

In both situations writing was no longer bringing me pleasure. Not magical unicorn rainbow fart pleasure. Not gut-wrenching catharsis. Not deep fulfilment and satisfaction. I liked writing, but trying to do it regularly was stressing me out.

Each time I returned to writing, it was because I wanted to. Like a make-up/break-up relationship where you realize that you made a mistake. Perhaps more illustratively I always felt like something was missing when I wasn't writing; a deep and profound sense of absence within my soul.

Do you solemnly swear to stop taking eight months off to manage restaurants?
I do.
Image description:
Delicate feminine hands sliding a ring on the fourth finger of a masculine hand.

It has only been more recently in my life (since maybe my early thirties), when I treat writing as an obligation and a habit (I "settled down and committed"––wait, did I just make marriage sound like an obligation and a habit?), that I've found my writing "red shifted" into he Yee-Haw zone*. The kinds of setbacks that would have usually led to months of break tended to be more likely to just put me in a "dry spell" of gutted-out minimums and frustrating sessions for a week or two instead. Rather than even the slightest setback making the day a wash, my very worst days were 250-500 words and instead of my best days (usually around 2500 words) be these few-and-far-between one-shots, I could milk the ebb for a week to ten days.

*Not to be confused with the Hee-Haw zone where I pop up out of cardboard "crops," tell a joke and then Conway Twitty sings a song about how much his heart is breaking for you.

I keep coming back to one sentence in your question: "But I miss them." And given the tremendous agony that you've gone through in life, I wonder if there isn't something greater at work here. Something that is well above "my pay grade." It is just so common for someone having gone through something so terrible to spend years getting back to a place where they do things they enjoy again. And I don't know where you are in your recovery, but maybe now is the time you can start to do slowly reintroduce things that once brought you pleasure––things like reading a few minutes a day or maybe some light writing––and see what happens.

Sometimes we write because we love it. Sometimes we write because not writing is worse. Sometimes it brings no joy or pleasure and it's time to be honest with ourselves. It's not easy to know, but I suspect with you the magic is in the middle of a phoenix resurrection.

Because there's no getting around this one thing: I'm sitting here with this question, which if there were a simple and unambiguous answer in your heart, you would never have asked me. Perhaps, "But I miss them," is the beginning. The prologue to a prologue of a long walk home to a world where life is never what it was, but the Babadook can be locked into the cellar for a while. And as for writing, perhaps this is the tiniest spark of something that might return to a glowing ember if it is nourished and treated gently.

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