Personal Writing

Navigating a silent battle: chronicling the creative journey

The current situation

I’m writing a book.

Truthfully, it’s more accurate to say I’ve committed to writing a book. To this point, all I’ve got to show for it is I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it.

A lot.

Like, all the time.

When I’m walking, at spin class, baking bread, making supper, reading, watching television, when I first wake up, when I close my eyes at night…I’m thinking about it pretty much non-stop.

Unfortunately, thinking doesn’t present as a tangible thing.

I have nothing to show for the hours I’ve spent thinking about what I want to say, how I want to say it, what stories to tell, whom to incorporate into the book…

To many, sometimes myself included, it probably looks like I’m stalling or making excuses for why I haven’t gotten started on the actual writing of the book, except for that opening gambit I shared a few weeks ago.

I’m of two distinct minds:

  1. Having lived through a version of the writing journey more than 2 decades ago when I was tasked with writing up a Masters paper, I know that the thinking process is actually vitally important for me. Topics and themes must tumble around in my brain like clothes in a dryer. It’s only once they’ve shared space, banged into each other and settled down to cool off that I find clarity, insight and the distinct separation and connection of ideas.
  2. I’m making excuses and just need to commit to writing something, anything, every day. The quality of the writing matters far less than the quantity of words that accumulate on the page. When I taught college English, I used to exhort my students to trust that if they just started writing, even, “I have nothing to write. I have nothing to write. I have nothing to write…” their brains would eventually cave in and say, “FINE! I’ll say this!” And the content they were searching for would begin to appear. That wasn’t just good advice for Freshman.

I believe, I hope!, the truth lies somewhere in the middle of these two points of view.

I do know the externally passive but internally active journey of going into my mind to see what’s there IS necessary. And, unfortunately, there’s no real timeline for that journey.

Going inside is like preparing for a battle where I’ll be worn out but never seriously harmed. Knowing that means I can show up with absolute curiosity.

Catapults of ideas stream overhead, and I trace them across the sky, fascinated by where they’re coming from and where they’re going. I address the barrage of meaning-making arrows shot from an unseen army of bowmen. If I’m not careful, I’m engaged in hand to hand combat with words, phrases and sentences that strike and leave me breathless by their advances.

I get asked often where all the words live in me.

Truthfully, I don’t know. They make themselves known to me, most often as a quiet but serious voice inside, and almost always from seemingly out of nowhere.

My entire life, all my best writing has arrived like this and fallen out of me, like cool, clear water from a simple glass pitcher.

Because I don’t really think it comes from me.

It’s much more accurate to say my writing comes through me.

In good company

I gasped the first time I read about poet Ruth Stone in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic:

When [Ruth] was a child…she would be out working the fields when she would sometimes hear a poem coming toward her—hear it rushing across the landscape at her, like a galloping horse. Whenever this happened, she would…’run like hell’ toward the house, trying to stay ahead of the poem, hoping to get a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough to catch it. That way, when the poem reached her and passed through her, she would be able to grab it and take dictation, letting the words pour forth onto the page.

Gilbert 64

Galloping horses also charge at me in this vast mental landscape. My job is to fix my gaze on the cloud of dust charging toward me hold my position as long as I possibly can before jerking out of the way of their thundering hooves. The longer I stand in their path, the more words and ideas I gather.

But today, like it has been for days and weeks now, I felt no thundering hooves; I saw no creative dust storm on the horizon.

Rather than avoid the painful process of putting uninspired words together, today, I took my own advice.

It continues to be all quiet on the western front of my mind, so I simply started to write.

I went back to remove many of the adjectives because I think Stephen King is correct in his “encouragement” to not overly fill your writing with fluff that doesn’t serve the story or the reader.

And this is what I have to show for simply showing up.

This won’t make it’s way into my book I don’t suppose.

That’s ok. I feel a responsibility to create new content for my readers and for me. And it’s long since time I showed up, sat down and put something “on paper.”

Sometimes my writing serves a utilitarian purpose: it helps to sell a program or promotes something I’m doing. Often, it’s to work something out that’s plaguing some element of my emotional or intellectual well being. Sometimes it’s just writing for writing’s sake, because I have a tiny kernel of an idea to unwind..

And occasionally, I write to get the wheels moving again. To feel the weight of a word, plus another and another, compounding into sentences and paragraphs, spilling over the edge of my mind and onto the screen.

Your turn

How about you?

What’s tumbling around in your mental dryer that needs attention? Can you remove the judgment you’re placing on yourself for all you’re not doing and instead look at it from a place a benign curiosity?

What’s keeping you from taking the first step? From engaging in the dogfight? From sitting down and doing something, anything, simply to see if your brain will give in?

I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about and working on, or not working on, as the case may be.

Not to judge it, but simply to see if saying it out loud demystifies the weight of it and gives you some clarity of purpose to move forward.

Whatever is charging at you, be it somewhat literal, a deadline at work, or metaphorical, a creative endeavor or life decision you simply have to get going on, stand your ground as long as you can. Trust that the Universe, the great cosmic good, your chosen Deity has your back. You’ve got this because you’re not alone; the work, your Spark, is waiting, and it’s desperate to come through you.

What do you need to do right now to simply let it come?

Photo credit: Galloping Horses by Shanina Conway

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.

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