I did. I cheated on this blog, abandoned it and left it questioning my love. I was seduced by a challenge I’d never even flirted with before, and boy did I ever fall to temptation. Worse, I did it on a different blogging platform, throwing myself off the learning curve I was on with WordPress and whirling down a learning luge without safety gear.
What a mess.
But one of the best writerly messes I’ve ever made. I learned a lot about myself, and I believe that the more I know about myself, the closer I get to that core we all share, and the better I’ll get at turning out work that resonates with a larger audience. Emerson called that core the Over-Soul and likened it to each of us being a unique note on the flute, played by the One Breath from which we’re all made. I like that. I believe it.
So, what exactly did I learn? And how might it apply to others sweating over their keyboards?
Well, I learned that I’m impulsive, and that’s just fine. I learned there are no characteristics we have as unique individuals that are bad or the sloppy big-dog kiss of death on the cheek of our dreams. We are who we are, and it’s our job to mine that field and make it productive.
After getting really bummed about my infidelity, my failure on the other platform, the crappy posts I made, and in general feeling sorry for myself because everything doesn’t come easily for me, I went into a period of depression. Then defeat. Then I started thinking about starting a business unrelated to writing, rationalizing I could use my writing skills in marketing that product. Oh, and I also ate a lot of candy and beans. I know, a weakness for candy and beans (eaten separately, never together—I’m not that far over the edge) is a strange combination of food passions, but that’s what makes me unique.
It was the chocolate and beans and alternate business plans that sent up an army of red flags. Those are the things I do when I’m running. Now that is something I’m very good at—skedaddling. But it, too, is productive. Distracting my mind with the damage I’m doing to my body, and knowing that starting a business is the last thing I want to do, yet there I am doing it, let’s what I call my Smarter Self some time off to figure things out. It sounds as if this is time wasted, but I’ve never found that to be true. What I am finding is that the more I’m aware of the running, the sooner I stop the wind sprint and give my Smarter Self a rest on purpose.
Those last two words are important. They keep me on the purpose of writing. I’m aware. I take control of my running, don’t get blinded by guilt and frustration and self-loathing and all that other happy hoo-ha we writers like doing to ourselves. It frees me so I can look at the journey of the run for footprints leading to my work.
For instance: During this last run, I baked a lot of bread, took my first stab at canning, and did a lot of doodling on business plans. When I was younger and dumber, I would have eventually stopped my run, looked at what I’d done and been ashamed. Yeah, I do the shame thing, right after I’m done with the blame game, which is all turned inward these days. Now I’m learning that nothing is a waste of time for a writer. Nothing defeats the writing journey except our mindsets. And guilt. And the weight of shame. But even those characteristics and habits can be useful if we know them through and through and can write them into a character. Same holds true for what I learned baking and canning and drawing up business plans. There was research done on all those feet of my run, and it’s all worth keeping and filing away for character development down the line. And through the particular shape and form of my run, I learn which characters are knocking on my door, asking for their story to be told.
I’ve had a central character of a story lounging at the back of my thoughts since I started this blog. I thought it was a project for the future, but now I might reconsider. If the rough idea I have for this person came through as I was running, maybe her story is more urgent than my thinking mind understood. At the very least, it’s something for me to explore through character sketches, story outline doodles, and just waiting to see how much of her keeps tumbling from my daily writing about this maximum culture shock of moving from Sin City to the Bible Belt (another blog in development).
Whatever it is, it’s all good.
Even the impulsive nature I’ve got. Once I realized my “character flaw” had grabbed me by the throat, I simply stepped away from its grip and thought about how I could use it.
There’s a debate amongst writers about pantsing v. outlining and structure. I find both useful. I find I do my best writing in both styles, just different kinds of best writing. (I also write my best crap in both styles.) There are so many surprises in pantsing, especially when it’s a word count marathon, but there’s also so much feel of the artist at work, sculpting thought and language when writing slow and deliberate with a road map. I find that I need pantsing on a regular basis. Just as my dogs love their morning walk but need a few days of opening their stride to full tilt at the park, I need a variety of writing routines. One style of writing pumps my juices, and the other gives me a feeling of being in control.
My adultery taught me that I—just me, not necessarily you—need regularly scheduled, crazy wild word count days of pantsing as part of my writing life. It’s like wind in the hair of my creativity. Stretching my stride. I’ve got to keep running. It’s part of who I am.
The next time I find myself doing things out of character for me, I’ll know there’s a character within me fighting for freedom. I won’t stop running, I’ll tame the run, use it, harness the power of impulsiveness. I’ll steal a day and fill it with an impossible word count so big it allows no time for looking back, just running, running, running because that’s what I do, and everything I do is for my writing.
A writer is and can’t be anything else. We can only waste time if we don’t recycle it.
I still wish I’d done things differently these past few months, but I don’t regret the practice they’ve given my development as a writer. No, I didn’t complete and sell a novel, but I got in a bunch of practice on how to be who I am.
Just as mastering the craft of writing takes thousands of hours of practice, we also benefit from practicing who we are.
It’s not easy, and there are so many temptations along the way. Just remember who your true lover is.