After having done all I can for a writing project—after it’s finished, published, promoted, and my energy for it is exhausted—I enter creativity’s no-man’s-land. It’s a sprawling, barren landscape. Either I’m worn out from the last project with little energy for the next, or I feel used up, as though I’ve reached the end of inspiration’s wellspring, or I’m writing but whatever I draft is a sprawling, blathering desert of words. I feel bereft; I’ve left a lovely world of my own making and can never return. I’m hopeless, because despite whatever success my project achieved, it’s inadequate, and besides, what more could I possibly do? I wonder whether I’ll ever write well again.
Luckily I’ve been around this block enough times to know this emptiness passes. I can be more patient now that I recognize the signs. The end of a project is like a death; something we love is over, leaving us forlorn, listless, insecure, disoriented—and open. A friend of mine calls this an experience of the “tabula rasa,” a scraped tablet or clean slate. I think of it as a blank page with a history, emptiness that’s been filled and emptied again, a revised nothingness. It’s an intriguing place, although it’s difficult to stay there. We humans have a propensity to fill it as quickly as possible, in hopes of satisfying our need to be busy, productive, and significant or as a way to avoid discomfort. It reminds me of the emptiness in meditation which my frantic, scrambling mind resists with every trick in the book.
I find it interesting that the writing process is bookended by emptiness. It’s like our creative endeavors rise out of the void like the Big Bang within a vast field of nothing, and then they return to a different form of nothing that’s more like death than space. What I know about writing, at least, is that if I accept the emptiness afterward with a full heart—if I grieve what I’ve lost, own my inability to do anything about it, acknowledge my debt to the source of inspiration, and give all this time—some spark of new life will come out of nowhere and I’ll be creative once again.
The fact that the artistic process includes emptiness says something important, I think, about creation itself. Emptiness is part of becoming. Learning to embrace emptiness is part of our path to becoming fully human. I love how writing helps me practice! –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Please join me to explore Community and Revision at Wisdom Ways, June 14th from 1:30-3:30!
Stephen King says, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open”—but we can open that door slowly and deliberately. To conclude our season of celebrating community, we’ll explore life-giving ways to welcome others’ eyes as a means for re-seeing our work. How can we preserve our sense of safety, freedom, and exploration in the writing process while also sharing our writing? Might our memoirs help us foster sacred connections to others?
Here’s hoping you have a great summer!