My daughter and I had a conversation about romantic relationships recently where she observed, “You and Dad don’t have a lot of excitement in your love life these days.” Well, I suppose that’s true. After nearly 20 years of marriage (and with 2 teenagers to keep us running) the days are no longer endlessly filled with fireworks and sparklers. But, I explained, that’s pretty normal. Otherwise, I think we’d burn out.
So, too, is it with any passion. Including writing. The general public believes that we all sit down to our computers (or pads or typewriters), a cup of our favorite beverage in hand, maybe at some fancy bistro or in a lushly appointed writing den, and the words pour onto the page in an endless rush, seeming to flow directly from our brains to the page. No stopping. No editing. The angels sing, the trumpets blare. Cue Beethoven’s Ode to Joy! We are writers and we are glorious!
And yeah, sometimes that happens. And it’s awesome. But I think a lot of days go something like this: “What is this dreck? I wrote this? This character sucks, he’s boring. How did I get to this point? More important, how do I get out? I’ve written myself into a corner. It’s hopeless. I suck. Why did I even think I could write? I should be flipping burgers.”
Anybody? Good. Not just me.
I’m pretty sure these feelings are not unique to writers. Athletes, musicians, visual artists – I bet they all have their days where the fires of passion seem to be burning low. Michael Jordan, probably one of if not the best basketball player ever, used to practice every day and not stop until he had made 500 shots. Made, mind you. Not taken. And despite the joy that so clearly shows on MJ’s face in game footage, I can’t think that he felt that way every day.
And I don’t think this is a bad thing. And therein lies the key. We are not bad people if we approach that day’s task – new pages, revisions, whatever – with a certain amount of “why am I doing this?” We tend to think of stress as a negative thing. But any state of high emotion is stress. Passion definitely counts as high emotion, at least in my opinion. And stress wears on the body after a while. And the spirit. The human body was not meant to exist in a constant state of stress. It’s not healthy.
So maybe those days where we approach the task with less passion than usual are the body’s way of saying, “Hey, let’s take a break here, shall we? Relax. Unwind. Before we break something – like our brain.” It’s okay. Normal. Go take a walk, or read, or play music, or needlepoint. Whatever.
Because underneath the exhaustion, if we’ve done it right, is a strong bed of coals. Coals that burn with a slow, steady fire. Coals that will burst into flame as a new idea comes to us and we blow on them ever so gently.
And when the flames of passion burst forth again, we remember: Oh yeah, this is why I write.
Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73