Who is it that can make muddy water clear?
But if allowed to remain still, it will gradually become clear of itself.
–Tao Te Ching
I’m in that uncomfortable, fallow place between writing projects—the inevitable spell after completion when I have no clue what comes next, no force pushing my writing forward, and grave doubts that writing will ever again light my inner fire. I’m done, or so it seems. The time I usually reserve for writing gets cluttered on good days with blogging (a-hem!), reading, and mucking around in my journal; on bad days I ditch my discipline entirely and repaint the kitchen. I’m aimless. I grump at my partner, at the cat. I’m empty. I miss the deep absorption of a project, when my whole being is engaged in creation and effort fills the empty house like a warm, rising balloon.
I’ve been here often enough to trust that this, too, shall pass. Like God I’ve experienced a burst of creation and now need my metaphorical day of rest. The willful, exuberant drive will return soon enough—rather, it will return if I allow myself to be restored while I’ve got the chance.
When you study the work patterns of great writers, most were skilled at resting within the writing process. For hours they ambled over the moors, sat in the sunny doorframes of their cabins, and stared out of windows. Then they returned to work. We need these little sabbaths as well as larger ones; we need to let our thoughts drift, to put down the whip, to play and listen and seek, to stop being makers and allow ourselves to be made.
All writers know the magic of putting aside a problematic passage (for a nap or a walk) only to have the solution appear unbidden. This turning away from writing is, paradoxically, an essential part of writing. Here’s hoping we all claim a bit of rest within the work of 2015!
Writers of long projects: I’m hosting a week-long retreat designed to give you space and support (and rest) from June 15-19, 2015: Alone Together: Write That Book at the Madeline Island School of the Arts. The deadline for submissions is 1/30. Hope to see you there!