last may I began a project, a book about wolves. since that time I’ve traveled to montana, yellowstone, wyoming, idaho, montana again, yellowstone again. I’ve read a towering stack of books, and perused articles and op eds galore. I’ve interviewed dozens of people, from hunters to ranchers to conservationists, attorneys, retired schoolteachers, biologists. I’ve written, I’ve listened, I’ve reflected, I’ve written more. and more, and more, shaping and crafting it into something worth reading.
and yesterday, I took my manuscript–after giving it a thorough polishing–and put it down for a nap. it’s going to rest, now, for a few weeks. I’m going to leave it alone, no checking to see if its breathing, for I’m going to trust that it’ll be just fine without me.
a small period of dormancy is good for both of us. I’m going to focus on other projects, other areas in my life that might need a little attention, and I’m purposefully not going to think about wolves. I’m going to tidy up my living spaces, maybe go for a walk. catch up on all those things I’ve let slip to the bottom of the pile. maybe sing a little bit. sweep out a few corners. think about the cover of the published book, envision it on people’s tables and nightstands, in their hands, in their minds.
this period of enforced hibernation is a trick used by many writers, a way to view something with fresh eyes. it’s crucial to be able to step away from your work, to be able to see it from a witnessing viewpoint. to read it as if you were someone else. and this is impossible to do when you’re engrossed in the writing, the creation of it. some parts of my manuscript I wrote 6, maybe 7 months ago, and during my most recent full-manuscript assessment and edit, I had no memory of writing them. some parts I’d written just 2 or 3 months back, and I read them as if for the first time. I know when I pick the manuscript back up a few weeks from now I won’t have forgotten it all, but hopefully the time away will have dulled my memory enough to let it speak to me in a different way. perhaps parts will be less clear, perhaps new ideas will jump out at me, different ways to organize, to express thoughts, to make the story better hold together, intrigue, delight.
when I return to the manuscript a few weeks from now, I will read it from end to end, I will try to forget that I wrote any of it, I will let it speak to me. and hopefully it will howl.
I can’t seem to write.
now, I know this is a temporary state of affairs. last week I whipped out a 5,000 word essay, and I wrote a bit the week before that. so, chances are, I will be writing again soon. but today I have no motivation, can’t find even a thread of it. I forced myself and wrote a grand total of 254 words today, 251 of which will probably be edited away later. I don’t want to write, I have nothing to say, I no longer wish to be a writer, I’m looking for a new career, a new passion, something to sweep me out of this abyss I’m in and help me build new dreams.
I don’t like being in this place. I’m bored and grumpy and antsy and would rather do my physical therapy exercises than write. instead of journaling, I took the dog for a walk. instead of doing more research, I ate. (even as I type this, I’m thinking of eating again.) I am ready to throw my dream of being a published, prolific, professional, prosperous author out the window and go back to school . . . maybe I’ll study nursing. or dentistry. or accounting.
the good news is that, based on experience, this slump won’t last long. I tend to slump for short periods of time, then bounce back to being my passionate writer self quite quickly. I am a writer through and through, heart and soul, pen and paper. I can no more walk away from it than I can be a natural redhead. it’s ingrained in who I am, in my dna, in every cell in every part of my body (including those parts that are still recovering from that accident that led me to read all that no-brainer fiction.)
but today, this evening, I reside in a slump. it’s gray and dreary and deep, and something far below is trying to grab my toe and pull me even further down. I type away in an effort to resist this pull, but I’m not certain it will work. I own not a single iota of creativity, I have nothing to say, all of my projects will wither on their vines.
come tomorrow, I expect things will be different . . . because they always are. I will go to bed tonight and ask for a reconnection with my heart, with my soul, with the pen and paper I so dearly love. the prince of sleep will send me colorful dreams that will stimulate what is today lying dormant, and upon waking I will once again have the desire to write, to create, to find inspiration everywhere I turn.
I accept my slump this evening—moments like this are part of everyone’s lives—but will banish it tomorrow. because I am a creator, and like every artist out there, I have no choice but to do what I do, because it is who I am. not a redhead, but absolutely, a writer.
today I handed over a piece of my new project to my publisher. if you’re any kind of a creator you can relate to the feelings involved, which are similar to those of a parent whose newborn child is on display.
possibly worse than being the parent is to be the viewer: dare we speak our truth? um, gee, that face is red and squishy, and the cheeks are out of proportion, and all those wrinkles around the eyes aren’t very attractive . . . the hair’s a mess, and yikes, look at her scrunch up her face and turn bright red and oh God, here comes a wail . . . no, we try to find the positive and focus on that. we put ourselves in the mind and heart of the parent and say, she’s beautiful.
as I handed these 4400 words over this morning, I told my publisher I’d already imagined a slew of responses he might have, considered what those might do to me and my project, and decided that I was going to keep moving forward anyway . . . so I handed the papers over.
and now I feel like I loaned him my baby. he might come back with responses meant to mollify me, stroke me, encourage me. he may say things that make me want to grab my baby back and never give it to him again. he might be honest, and I may or may not like what he has to say. it doesn’t really matter: I will keep writing what I need to write.
I hope he likes it, of course. I hope he thinks it’s fantastic. but I also know that whatever he says I will hear through a parent’s (and a creator’s) self-protective, love-filled bubble. I will listen, take in as much as I can, keep on writing, and subtly adjust as time goes on and the words flow through.
today I handed part of my baby to a relative stranger, and I’m waiting for him to tell me what he thinks of it.
I’m not holding my breath, but I am, however, gently holding my heart.
last friday I mailed off my first grant application. ever.
I’ve long known about the concepts of grants, and have read author’s words of appreciation in their acknowledgements for this or that organization’s gift of this fellowship or that grant. my publishers have even discussed the possibility of digging up some grant money to help cover expenses on my current project. and the idea of a grant from a well-funded, well-meaning organization sounds like a fabulous idea.
so I did some research and found two grant opportunities for which my writing and my current project seem to meet the criteria. I read–at least thirteen times–the list of required forms, documents, and samples, and proceeded to create, fill-in, and piece together everything necessary for grant number one. I edited and proof-read and re-wrote and paused and pondered . . . and finally called it good and pressed the “print” button. 64 pages of paper later, I collated and clipped and gently tucked it all into a priority-mail envelope, attached appropriate postage, and mailed it away.
whether I am awarded one of their grants or not, I hurdled a new step in my path. I did something for the first time, and I dared to put myself out there as deserving of attention and support. they may laugh at my submission, they may think it incredible, they may decline to fund my project, or they may be thrilled to do so. I can’t know, I can’t predict, and that’s fine. I am proud of my application, and look forward to a big fat yes. I like the word yes.
this whole process, though, has led me to dream about the day when I might be in a position to grant grants. how terrific will that be? to be able to support others in their journeys, to be a small piece of new creations, to be someone who says yes to others . . . to foster dreams, to champion someone whose soul aches to create, to encourage people with vision. what a beautiful place to place your energy.
grant application number two is in my to-do pile, with a deadline of sometime in september. these grants are nothing I can count on, but the process of applying helps define my project and helps me take myself seriously. it’s a step in the direction of someday earning a grant that would allow me to focus entirely on a project (say, in a little cabin somewhere!), and to someday be one who is a grantor of grants.
op-ed: abbreviated from opposite the editorial page (though often mistaken for opinion-editorial), is a newspaper article that expresses the opinions of a named writer who is usually unaffiliated with the newspaper’s editorial board. These are different from editorials (which are usually unsigned and written by editorial board members) and letters to the editor (which are submitted by readers of the journal or newspaper). [wikipedia. what would we do without them?]
I didn’t go to op-ed writing school. nor did I attend journalism school, nor do I have an MFA. my business undergrad gave me one semester of business writing, and my life path has served up numerous courses and workshops dedicated to the craft of writing . . . and then there are those years and years of just writing and writing and reading and writing and reading.
but I don’t read op-eds. I’ve never studied them; I’ve not practiced writing one.
the publisher I’m working with has asked me to start getting my name out there, and to write an op-ed piece on our subject matter. (which I’ll go into more in a future post.) so . . . I’m working on crafting an op-ed piece. yikes!!
I thought about attacking it as I would a blog post: a brief essay with (hopefully) some kind of narrative arc or structure that contains and guides and takes the reader from point a to point b. I think this could work.
I also thought about attacking as a journalist might: the who, what, where, why and when of it all. then I remembered why I’m not a journalist and don’t seem to want to write like one.
then I thought about putting it away until I learned what I was doing, possibly researching how one writes an effective op-ed piece. and what I learned is this:
it should be a strong argument about about an issue in the news. it should be spirited, provocative, highly opinionated, and easy to read (courant). they should be timely, brief, written by someone with expertise, and have a call to action (msu). it should be (I like this one) jargon-free (wsj). it should be about twice as long as what I’ve already written here.
so . . . I guess I’m going to practice. I can do the spirited part, and I’m certainly capable of being opinionated. I know my call to action. I’m excellent at using jargon-free language. and I’m working on the expertise thing. all in all, it’s feeling a lot like a truly excellent blog post, like a blog post I actually work on, tweak and nurture and shave, before I press the “publish” button.
it’s good to add new tricks to our bags. who wants to be pigeonholed as someone who can only do one thing? not me. people ask me what I write and I respond, everything. and soon, my “everything” will include excellent op-ed pieces. just watch me go. and why don’t you join me?