Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Fricassee

Let's talk about creative energy.

I've always maintained that I'm not one of "those" authors--the temperamental ones who claim they will stop breathing if they don't write every day.  The ones for whom the word flow is a heady, uncontainable rush that fuels them in the way that cheeseburgers and chocolate fuel the rest of society.  The ones who wear tee-shirts that say, "I write, therefore I am."

No, indeed.  For me, writing is a discipline.  I have trained myself to write to deadlines.  I have a scheduled daily writing time, and I sneak in more when I need to.  I view my completed manuscripts not only as personal accomplishments, but as potentially viable products.


That doesn't mean I'm not CREATING.  It doesn't mean I'm not head-over-heels in love with my characters, or that I don't feel angsty when something gets in the way of my writing time, or that I'm not utterly passionate about what I do.

The whole CREATING thing really hit me last weekend, when I was involved in my first performance with the pretty-big-deal choir I'm now singing in.  I haven't had a legitimate "performance week" for many years.  Those of you in any branch of the performing arts know what I mean--an entire week of dress rehearsals and concerts that leaves you feeling, at the end, like you haven't slept for a month.

Here's what happened to me:  Knowing I was fairly close to finishing a draft of something she's been waiting to read, Danielle Burby asked me when I thought I'd send it.  This was a few days before my performance week, and I airily told her that it was my intention to finish by mid-month.  "I should be able to have normal days until our call times," I wrote, "but then again, I may be pretending I have superpowers."

Here's the thing--at the time, I really believed I would be able to write during that week.  And for a couple days, I was fine.  Then--it all came crashing down.  I was putting so much into the musical performances--or perhaps they were requiring so much from me--that I literally had nothing left.  Every drop of my creative energy was spent at the symphony hall.

At that point, it didn't matter that I was a disciplined writer or that I was working to another self-imposed deadline.  The truth was that I had no creative energy left over.  I couldn't go to ballet classes that week, either, and I didn't miss them.  That's kind of huge, because ballet has been an intense source of joy for me for the past three years.  The one class I could have attended (because it was in the morning), I skipped.  There was no way I could have danced the morning after a performance.

Of course, there's also the obvious truth that I'm not a good dancer, whereas singing is actually something I can do well enough to perform.  So the whole fulfillment factor this past weekend was huge as well.  And while finishing a novel is certainly fulfilling in its own right, it isn't exactly satisfying to write and write and write and still not see any tangible results.  As in, yanno, a publishing contract.  So my entire creative soul was satiated this past weekend in a way it hasn't been in an incredibly long time.

Anyway.  I've learned that, despite my wanting to believe otherwise, there really is a limit on the amount of creative energy I can expend in a given time frame.  That I cannot pour my creative self into more Things than it has the capacity to support.  That my writing requires from me a certain amount of creative energy, regardless of my cut-and-dry approach, and if something else is requiring all the energy from my stores, I can't write.  It has nothing to do with "writer's block" or a bad attitude--I am physically and mentally unable to do it.  Last weekend, my tank was empty.

The good news?  I bounced back like a champ on Monday.  In fact, my entire writing week has been phenomenal (I'm almost there, Danielle!).  Which leads me to believe that a vast expenditure of creative energy leads not to depletion, but to RENEWED CREATIVE ENERGY!  It's a sustainable source.

So, what do you think?  Have you ever paid attention to your own stores of creative energy?  Do you find that you can spread the love fairly easily during the course of a normal week?  Have you experienced the depletion of your creative energy because you've had to focus it on One Big Thing--like a performance or the completion of a huge project?

Share your thoughts!  This has been revelatory for me.  I will be able to better plan my writing life around my next performance with the chorus (which isn't until January), for sure.

Happy weekend!


  1. Did you read the interview with Ursula Le Guin at the Poetry Foundation? She is nearly 86, and says she no longer has the physical energy to sustain writing a novel. I found that interesting, and think perhaps it is what you are saying too - that artistic expression in any format requires physical energy, which isn't unlimited in nature.

    1. No, I didn't, but that sounds exactly like what I'm talking. You don't realize that there is a PHYSICAL component to the artistic expression (unless, of course, you're a dancer, in which case the physical aspect is obvious).

  2. Yes, I've experienced this. The months leading up to a solo cello concerto performance led to a dearth of creative energy for other things. But you're right about how it bounces back, too. I've found that using my creativity on other things (art, music, needlework, etc.) can really recharge me for writing, when the creativity well has refilled. Interestingly, drawing doesn't seem to siphon the writing creativity the way that other creative pursuits do.

    And I read that article with Ursula Le Guin (who is my hero). It was interesting, and I definitely agree. When I'm having serious health issues, I definitely have problems mustering the energy to write, so I do think there's a physical element.

    1. Ohhhh, I LOVE the cello!!

      Yes, the "bounce back" is incredible. I can't BELIEVE how energized and productive I've been all week, after that long, taxing performance week!

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  4. [editing for typo]

    In ON WRITING, Stephen King says of the challenge of teaching: " most Friday afternoons I felt as if I'd spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain. If I ever came close to despairing about my future as a writer, it was then."

    I read that as an admission that teaching took a toll on his creative energy. Yesterday afternoon, I realized that for me, even winning a tough tennis match (physical energy + mental focus) depletes my reserves. For a time. But this is another day, and the energy and hope are back!

    On to the blank pages, then. Happy writing!

    1. Yes, that all makes sense.

      Happy writing to you, too!! At least I don't have blank pages right now (since I'm editing instead of drafting).

  5. To begin with than you for sharing what you go through in your life and its effect your creative energy. I try to write every day, well actually it usually between the hours of 12:00 AM and 3:00 AM. I have been a caregiver to my wife and now I’m also caring for her 88 year old uncle. My days start early and so do my writing. There are times I find that when I pull up my writings I just stare at them, my creative energy is nowhere to be found. I do however throughout the day find when a creative though comes to me I use my iPhone and record them. This way I continue to be creative even when I can’t write.

  6. Pregnancies and parenting have this sort of impact on me. Fortunately, now that the kids are a little older, I'm clawing my way back to creativity. It's taken quite the long-term hit though! Kids don't take days off.

  7. I run into this quite a lot because my day job goes through periods of intense writing and research. (And coupling that with a large family at home, including toddler and teenagers...) I go through definite periods of creative overload but I try to write every single day no matter what. (Doesn't always happen though!)