Making It Through Creative Limbo

January is here and I am baffled. Where is the excitement I usually feel?

I like to spend January getting excited about what’s next. I had planned on returning to my novel. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I had developed a strong daily writing habit. My re-write of Rapunzel was going to rocket forward.

Then my husband hit a patch of ice on his mountain bike and broke his hip.

Two of the handful of drawings I’ve done in the last month.

As he lay in the ER, Kurt tried to figure out how he could make his meetings the next day. It didn’t occur to him that he would still be in the hospital the next day.

While I was quicker than Kurt was to realize that our world had changed, I didn’t realize exactly how I would be affected. I would have to be his nurse, as well as take sole responsiblity for all the tasks we normally shared, so I expected to be busy. I expected to be tired.

I did not expect to be completely unplugged from my creative self.

Early on, I was so overwhelmed and exhausted that I had to choose. On any given day, I could only do a little. Groceries took precedence. Doctor appointments came first. Cooking and laundry? Essential to the point of being inescapable.

Writing had to wait.

After a few weeks, however, I expected to get back to normal. Kurt was home and we had developed a new routine. Surely I could get back to my writing?

But I couldn’t. I usually write daily. I also knit, quilt, or draw on a regular basis. Since Kurt’s accident, I’ve gone days without creating, and I don’t seem to care.

My lack of enthusiasm frightens me. I feel like I’ve lost a piece of my brain. I signed up for some weekly online inspirational sessions to help me focus on my dreams, hoping this would help me find my way back to my creative self.

It turns out, I can’t do that, either. Attempts to dig deep and look at the big picture are fruitless and frustrating.

Whether I like it or not, I am in creative limbo right now.

Just as Kurt is sleeping much more than usual, I apparently also need to be still. As the days go by, however, I wonder when the my enthusiasm will be back. Like Kurt, I am anxious to return to my normal activities, and like Kurt, I must be patient.

The temptation is to force things, to makes something happen, but sometimes you can’t push it. Sometimes, you have to accept where you are at and go with the flow. We cannot always be making. We have to stop and breathe and let ourselves rest now and then.

Creativity is supposed to go in cycles. My hope is that this flat, gray, unproductive time is just part of the cycle, and that soon I will move on to a new phase.

In the meantime, I must wait.

Wrestling Creative Demons: Dealing With The Inner Critic

As an eight-time NaNoWriMo veteran, you’d think I would have all the answers when it comes to writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. Certainly, I know a lot about it and have strategies for dealing with many of the challenges involved. But here I am in the middle of my ninth year and NaNoWriMo is still teaching me new lessons.

For the first time ever, I hate the novel I’m writing. I’ve been stuck before, wondering where my unplanned story was headed, and frustrated with my feeble attempts to get the story moving again. But I have never before hated what I was doing.

This year’s fun notebook cover hides the horrors waiting inside.

In the last week, sitting down to work on my NaNo novel has taken supreme effort and discipline. Any time I wasn’t actually on the computer, gagging out the next scene, I was dreading the moment when I would have to get on the computer and start gagging writing.

Yesterday, I hit the breaking point. I’d taken Saturday off because I hated the story too much to face it, and I needed to write something to keep from falling even further behind on my word count. (I’m determined to make the quota for the month, even if I can’t fulfill my other goal of having a complete story arc. At this point, I’ll deserve a medal just for surviving this exquisite form of torture.) So I complained to my friends via social media, I read their suggestions, and I took a hard look at what I hated about this story.

This is what I discovered:
1) My angry snotty teenage heroine was pissing me off.
2) My love-interest/hero was wimpy and letting the heroine push him around, making him completely unloveable.
3) My projected plot line was totally boring predictable.
4) My chosen genre (science fiction) was giving me trouble. I was having a hard time making things up because my inner critic kept telling me “You have to get it right, or what’s the point?”

The last problem was my biggest. The other three I could do something about*, but wrestling with my inner critic has been a life long struggle. Years ago, my critic was stronger than the rest of me and constantly paralyzed me with harsh words. Thanks to my years of NaNoWriMo participation, I’ve learned to shut my inner critic off and play on the page without reserve.

Which explains why I’m so cranky right now. I am halfway through another November, having looked forward to a month of carefree practice writing, and my critic is a cloud dumping acid rain on my picnic. I thought I had this thing licked, that I knew how to deal with my destructive inner critic. Unfortunately, defeating it is temporary at best. It comes creeping back in new forms, with new voices, and if I’m not vigilant, I get talked into the corner and shut down on the creative front.

I hate being shut down creatively. It leaves me feeling ill. And I really hate hating my own book. Fortunately, my subconscious took on my inner critic in a dream last night and argued him into submission.

The analogy my dream-self used was scientific research. Basic research is about trying things. There are no good or bad ideas, just ideas that lead to solutions, and ideas that don’t. Some ideas fail to solve the problem at hand, but instead solve a different problem in an exciting new way. (Post-It note adhesive, anyone?) You can’t find the new stuff if you aren’t willing to explore, to experiment, and to fail.

Creativity is about exploration and experimentation, too. What others think of what we’re doing doesn’t matter. No one can know for sure where a well-explored idea might lead. It could be a dead-end, with nothing new or interesting to offer. But it could open the door to a wonderful new place no one has seen before, a place rich with gifts for the visitor. All that matters is that the person doing the exploring is interested in this territory and is willing to spend time finding out what’s there. Even if nothing of use is discovered, it is not a wasted exercise. The explorer still learns from everything she does.

Today I’m feeling shored up. I have remembered that this writing exercise I am doing is an experiment, a chance for me to explore new territory and play with some ideas. They may not come to anything I am interested in pursuing, but that doesn’t matter. Anything goes. The goal is to see new things and think new thoughts. Whether they are of any value in and of themselves is a question for another day.

*My short-term solutions to my first three problems were:
1) Embarrass the little brat, plus break her ankle.
2) Give him spine and have him stand up to her.
3) Burn down the house and set the hero and heroine on the run.

Have you ever hated a project you were working on? How did you deal with it?