Do Feed the Writer

Happy (belated) May Day! May has arrived in New England with the most beautiful, seemingly long-overdue weather. Temps hit the 70s this weekend, and the week ahead is looking great, too. The leafing-out of the trees, the blooming of my magnolia, even hauling piles of mulch bring so much joy! I love how Spring makes me feel.

I’ve spent the last few months working 16-hour days at the day job, and anywhere from four to 12 hours over the weekends. It isn’t just me–it’s our whole team. We’re tired. Seriously, bone-weary, psychologically, emotionally exhausted. I’m not sure I’ve ever been this tired. And one day, I just looked at my boss and said, “I’m done. I’m not coming in tomorrow.” My boss is fantastic, and he was completely supportive of my taking a mental health day. But, here’s the thing; I had this grand plan to write on my day off. I’d not had time to be creative, to “feed” that side of myself in months. If I actually had a few free minutes, I was sleeping or re-introducing myself to my family. So on this particular day, I slept in and then sat down to write.

I couldn’t do it. I practically cried out of frustration. Here I was, finally with some time and some quiet, and I couldn’t even put words on paper (okay, on laptop). I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I worked myself into rather a tizzy over it, and my poor husband got an earful when he called to check on me. I walked away from my laptop, caught up on a few chores, and then back to work.

It took a few days and the clarity of hindsight to realize that first, one morning of sleeping in was NOT going to recharge my personal batteries. But second, I’d forgotten to feed my writer self. I put my writing far, far down the priority list, along with any other creative past-times, until I felt completely empty. There was simply nothing inside me, it seemed; no words, thoughts, stories. Just a void.

I found myself unable to get back into the work groove, too. Our whole team had; we’d hit that point where we did our best, and then walked away, because we simply couldn’t sustain our pace any longer. I began to prioritize a bit more sleep, and cut off my work-day earlier; first from midnight to 11:00pm, then 9:00pm, and I now allow myself to only work an additional two hours after I get home and finish our family time. Because really? I’m not a neurosurgeon; no one will die if my work doesn’t get done. The work will still be there tomorrow, and with careful prioritization, I get the important things done and the rest simply has to wait.

More importantly, as I’ve made these changes, I’ve found that I’m not empty. I’m still full of words and stories and creative impulses, but I can’t access them when I don’t take care of myself, and that includes taking care of my creative side. The writer inside needs to be fed. She needs attention and motivation, affection and encouragement. Without that, she slips away, needing to be coaxed back from where ever she’s been hiding. It doesn’t take much; a paragraph written here, a tidbit of an idea jotted down there, and the writer may still be hungry (the day job does pay the bills!), but she’s no longer starving. When the writer inside is happy, I’m a better person. I’m more patient at work, I have more fun with my family. She’s at the core of me, and I have to take better care of her.

I’ll be mining this experience for a story at some point. What’s really exciting is that I’m back to thinking that way–I’m having a conversation with someone and making mental notes, like “Oh, that would be a great character quirk” or “that would make a great red herring.” Its wonderful. I feel so much better, and the fun thing that I’ve remembered is that creativity grows exponentially. The more I notice cool things for future stories, the more cool things I notice. Hurray!

Just remember kids, Do Feed the Writer (but still avoid feeding the bears). And Happy Spring!

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Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

11 thoughts on “Do Feed the Writer”

  1. Pamela, this is so true. When I forget that I have to “feed” myself with care, all sorts of things in my life fall apart. Including writing. Glad you are back on track.

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  2. Thanks, Mary! We all need to make sure we take care of ourselves. I keep thinking of the safety speech on the plane–put your own oxygen mask on first, then you can help others. It’s not selfish; its logic!

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  3. The writing motor gets rusty when it isn’t worked. I think of the Tin Man squeaking, “Oil can!” It takes me at least one full day of screwing around and indulging myself (discount movie with lots of popcorn, long walk with the dog) to come back to my book. Lately my favorite warm-up is to write blog posts about the Elizabethan period, to turn my thoughts back to that setting and get the blog well filled for another month while I’m at it.
    Thanks for a very pertinent post!

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  4. I can relate to this. This semester got so busy I burned some brain cells, too. I’m only now getting back to writing, and it’s like starting that lawn mower that first time in the spring. Best of luck feeding your writer self.

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  5. Anna, yes! The oil can! I love the warmup you do.

    Sue, agreed–its everyone, not just the writers, that need to fill the well.

    Theresa, having just started the lawn mower for the first time this season (yesterday), I think this is a great analogy. A little sputtering, maybe a stall or two, and then things begin to come together.

    Thanks, Sarah!

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  6. Thank you, Pamela, for saying it so well. I’ve been on the same insane ride and petrified that the only murder I’d committed was to murder my muse! I have more or less decided that I need to schedule some Kait time. A massage, maybe even a weekend away, just my laptop for company, or maybe even a notebook and flowing ink pens. Yes, do feed the writer! Happy spring and thank you for a great post.

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  7. “I’m still full of words and stories and creative impulses, but I can’t access them when I don’t take care of myself, and that includes taking care of my creative side.” << SO WISE. Thanks for sharing this, Pamela!

    @Theresa, that lawn mower analogy is perfect! Exactly how it feels…

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