Writing Cycles, Writing Funks (from the archives)

Confession: I haven’t been writing much lately.

Two weeks after completing my PhD, I’ve been taking time to recharge, restock my creative batteries. Much of my free time has been spent in retreat, playing computer games and cooking food.

This time to retrench feels vital.

In this quiet, healing time, I have been thinking about this post, one of the most popular ever on this blog.

I hope it speaks to you.

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Writing Cycles, Writing Funks

One of the funny things about writing a blog is that you see, on the screen in front of you, plain evidence of the upswings and downswings of your time, inspiration, and urge to write. You know when you haven’t posted much in a while.

It’s a very odd thing, however, how little the conscious mind seems aware of these flows of energy and strength. I might detect, consciously, no reason why I can’t sit down and write another paragraph of a story, or draft that little essay on Paco di Lucia that I had planned, and yet once I’ve been sitting at my desk for a time, and been unable to write much, it suddenly occurs to me that I’ve been away from home three weekends in a row. Simply speaking, I’ve exhausted myself and need to take a break.

My artistic well–which resides somewhere in the brain far deeper than consciousness, which seems fed by a strange and unstable mixture of rest, routine, books and conversation, competition, and deadlines–had run (temporarily) dry.

I’m sure that everyone who does creative work is familiar with these bouts of high energy and low. Emerson wrote, in the essay “Circles:”

Our moods do not believe in each other. To-day I am full of thoughts, and can write what I please. I see no reason why I should not have the same thought, the same power of expression, to-morrow. What I write, whilst I write it, seems the most natural thing in the world; but yesterday I saw a dreary vacuity in this direction in which now I see so much; and a month hence, I doubt not, I shall wonder who he was that wrote so many continuous pages.

Yet still, it would be nice to be able to track the level of that well of artistic energy, and know in advance when it was getting low, or know confidently what action to take to quickly restore it. But when I find myself thinking like that, I’m reminded of something very wise once told to me in a London cafe. This was a couple of years ago now, when I was jotting down ideas in a notebook, and I got the strong impression that the woman sitting at a nearby table was a writer. She was, in fact, Michelene Wandor, the author of a major study of the creative writing industry, The Author Is Not Dead, Merely Somewhere Else. We started talking, and I mentioned these sort of thoughts.

She replied (and I’m repeating this from memory, so it may not quite be accurate) that writing is supposed to be a social activity. It’s supposed to have a social function, too–a wider purpose. When we forget this, and instead treat writing as something purely personal, then we naturally become a little manic about it. We treat the capacity to write as proof that we have a soul, and so we make “writer’s block” a terrible condition. But writing is supposed to be like everything else, with a rhythm and a flow. It’s supposed to interact with life as well as, at times, require a retreat from it. No one is supposed to write all the time, she said. And so my three recent weekends away were not, in this sense, weekends away from writing–they were part of my life, just as the writing is.

Thinking about this idea, today, I am also reminded that, actually, I have written a great deal lately. I’ve just completed the first big section of a new novel, 150 pages, which I’m about to show to classmates, and, possibly, my agent. I’ve got a fair idea, too, how to move forward with the second section–it’s very exciting. So perhaps my conscious mind is bad, also, at knowing when I’ve been writing “enough.” Perhaps that well of mine is wiser than I am, keeping my reserves fresh for the big, on-going project.

What’s your experience of this? Are you, regardless of the points made above, a firm believer in daily writing?

Daniel

 

8 thoughts on “Writing Cycles, Writing Funks (from the archives)

  1. Now that I’ve been writing frequently for over a month, I agree with this. There are days when I just need a break. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t a writer before and I may need less downtime in the future. But I think the breaks are beneficial as well and give me new things to write about.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post, Daniel.

    I certainly don’t believe in waiting for inspiration to strike — that’s what keeps folks talking about writing rather than actually doing it — but I don’t think it needs to be held to a rigid schedule, either; hell, if we wanted that sort of thing, we could’ve just taken a nine-to-five in a cubicle somewhere! Writing is done in cycles, anyway: You get grist for the mill simply by living life, and, in your “down time,” your subconscious is drawing connections between things that will surface in your work; the act of sitting down and grinding out words is just another step in that process. Being a writer is so much more than a profession — it is a worldview.

    Hope you enjoy a much-deserved creative recharge.

    Sean

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m not a “regular” writer on the “write every day” level of the professional authors, like Stephen King.

    I hope to get to that level, insofar as it may help me be committed to the work, as Dickens and Philip Roth, who did much of their greatest work in their late artistic moments.

    I sometimes feel lazy for not writing every day or even consistently, feeling the dread that I won’t complete my novel in time. But I have written some pastiches, based on Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dickens, and have shared them, and received feedback. Haven’t my written anything new, but that may be fine

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I am a “writer” by profession. I have to write every single working day of my life. I have to make inspiration strike every waking day of my life. So, I am not sure I believe in this writer’s block thing.
    I sometimes feel lazy about writing and I take the day off.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can completely relate to this! I often feel the creative juices start to flow and then a few hours later the inspiration withers away. I’m currently in the early stages of a novel and will bear these thoughts in mind as I try and keep motivated.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never really thought about writing as a sort of social event. I’ve always thought writing was more of a daily activity that which I’m not very good at. I guess I should have used my time for recharging instead of forcing myself to write.

    Liked by 1 person

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