Writer Unboxed is probably the best writing blog out there and one that rarely disappoints. A recent post, Taking a Break is a perfect example. It’s an article that highlights value of taking a break. Recently, I stumbled over my life but fell into a place where I needed to be. I finally could write full-time; hell, I could do anything I wanted full-time. I started my education in the early 80’s at the Corcoran School of Art in DC but left after the Farmer’s March on DC and gas rationing prevented me from getting to school. I took classes at a local College for a few years and worked odd (very odd) jobs. I switched my major a few times from Journalism to Writing, I was published and even had a few one woman shows of my paintings. Then, my husband took a brain cancer turn in the road, I freaked and rushed through a Biology Degree program. What was I thinking? No one needs to understand the mechanisms of cancer to endure the loss but I me, I guess. Trust me, the less you know is sometimes better in biology.
I ended up working in AIDs and Cancer research labs for ten years. I would have taken any government job and tried very hard to get into the CIA. All the while, I never stopped painting or writing. I entered juried shows and sent out submissions. I was asked for rewrites from Granta and my stories stayed at the New Yorker for months and came back with encouraging rejections and marked up with strange pen and pencil graffiti. But, I was never able to follow through on the rewrite requests and I missed shows because I couldn’t get slides together. I was managing a lab in Boston by this point and I worked about 20 unpaid overtime hours weekly. Trust me, no one outside of the pharmaceutical companies does research to make money or have a life. I dreamed of a day when I could write or paint full-time.
The day arrived but there was no trumpet announcing creative freedom. It was more, my boyfriend/partner bailed on our web design company for a salary and benefits. He assured me that I could now do whatever I wanted to do! That ended up being gardening, cooking, blogging and redecorating. I found myself on the Donna Reed path. I was still writing a few hours a day in the early morning hours. Eventually I stopped. I didn’t give up. I had three novels completed. I read several books on editing and managed to kill my third book following bad editing advice. I shifted my life to baking the perfect french bread, making croissants from scratch and enjoying four rescued Siberian huskies. I never felt like I gave up, it felt like a vacation.
Which brings me to last year when my second win at NaNoWriMo brought me a emotional-sleep deprived epiphany. Why wasn’t I writing like this all year? I managed to cook and clean and paint and write when I had a full-time job, so what’s the deal now?
Something magical started and changes began happening. I began encountering people and events that begged to be written. A chance conversation with a certifiable nut at a Farmer’s Market blossomed into a story by the time I got home. A frightening encounter with a local drug dealer had me imagining my gruesome murder and subsequent investigation. My mind felt like it was so full of ideas it would burst and my computer had a crazy folder of ‘ideas’ and I felt like I’d drunk too much coffee. I may not have been writing but my mind hadn’t taken a break. It was stockpiling experiences, filing away characters and brewing ideas. Inside my cranium were 20 year old single malt plots, micro-brewed short stories and old family recipes of dysfunction.
I made a decision, had a realization that it was the right time to write 9-5 and treat my writing as a career. My partner, who is now my husband, simply rolled his eyes. To him, this was an idea I should have had years ago. Now, the bread doesn’t always happen, the dishes don’t always get done but all those files of good ideas are now organized in Scrivener and 90% of the time I am writing 9-5. The other 10% of the time, I might be daydreaming, baking, watching Hulu or trying to keep the dogs from destroying what’s left of our home. I don’t fret or whine if I’m not writing, I know that I am sabbath-writing. Somewhere, in the gray matter, an idea is brewing –a book is forming.
This is not to say that you can’t take the traditional route, go to college, major in writing, get a MFA in Creative Writing and bang out the books. I am only saying that it’s okay to take the other road, the one that has pitfalls, catastrophes and failures, it only means you need these to do what you need to do when the time is right to write it. It might feel like you have given up, sold out or weren’t good enough but only you can temper those fears with faith in yourself.