The Path to Creative Renewal: Take a Breather

Blog, On Writing, What I'm Thinking

It is no accident that I’ve not written a blog for several months. I’ve been taking a break. But fall is almost upon us, I’ve now taken time to breathe and relax, and I find myself wondering how to describe what happened.

What happened is life. The first half of the year flew by, every day filled, and not an hour to reflect or think. On the Sickle’s Edge was published in January, followed by a series of book launches and talks. There were family issues to address. Attention needed to be paid to health and finances. I started work on a new novel. I’ve never much believed in creative burnout, but apparently, you don’t have to be a believer in order for burnout to find you. My creative impasse—the phrase doesn’t begin to describe the experience—felt very much like falling off the edge of the world.

For a while I fought it, trying to power through the blank pages the way an athlete runs through the discomfort of a pulled muscle. That’s what I usually do. Keep writing, with the conviction that eventually the sluggish stream of meandering prose and clumsy characterization will end. I waited for the laser focus to return, that wonderful sense of skillfully negotiating a series of dangerous rapids down a powerful river. But that’s not what happened. This time, the stream became a trickle, finally emptying out on the sand. It wasn’t even like a dry riverbed. It just petered out.   

For someone unused to inactivity, accustomed to measuring his days by creative output or the intensity of physical activity, it was a difficult and uncomfortable place to be. And I found that I didn’t have the tools to manage it.

Try meditating, said one friend.  Go to the Caribbean, said another. Do something new, suggested a third. Take a course in something you’ve never thought of doing. What they were all saying, one way or the other, was, give yourself a break. Go do something that feeds your soul. Or do nothing. Relax. Tune out. Just be.  

I’ve never taken advice well, choosing to follow my own counsel instead. Sometimes it works better than others. This time I followed my feet to my favorite beach on Cape Cod, on the bay side, where the departing tide reveals mile upon mile of tidal flats. Normally when I’m out there, I wonder, where are all the people? How come they don’t arrive in droves to experience the wide-open sky and the unending expanse of beach? The silence and the wind? The flocks of seagulls cawing as they pick up fingerlings and shrimp that wash out of the tidal marsh? But this time I was just happy to be alone with my thoughts, rediscover how to go inward, to the places that feed me.

We all need to go back to the source, to be renewed. It’s a universal need, not particular to writers or sculptors or potters or quilters. We eat and drink to restore the energy we use each day, and this is no different. When we’re really in touch with ourselves, we recognize the need for restoration as clearly as if it were a hunger for food or drink. It’s a bad idea not to eat until you’re starving. Likewise, it’s better to replenish creative energy before you realize that you’re trying to power that massive subliminal engine of creativity inside you on fumes. This experience has convinced me to be more attuned to the fuel gauge on my creativity tank. In the future, I’m off to the tidal flats the moment I recognize that my headlights have dimmed.

This photo of Paine’s Creek is courtesy of TripAdvisor