Sunday, August 28, 2011

When Life Builds A Wall Between You and the Muse

I recently made a discovery: Writing is an emotional thing. If our emotions are locked up because of something going on in our lives outside our pages, it can, quite literally, build a wall between you and your writing muse.

I know a bunch of you are saying, “Well…duh.”

Okay, so after twenty years of writing and fourteen published books, I should know this. But when it comes to life stuff, I’ve always had a bit of a rose-colored glasses view of life. This is probably why I’m taken by surprise when Life rips off those glasses and makes me see things in cold, stark, black-and-white reality.

Over the past couple of years, things have gotten rocky in my world, creating more and more obstacles. But I’ve been through tough times before, and I always worked through them. Nothing stopped me. I held down my full time job, raised my children and wrote my books on deadline. I think Life was getting frustrated with me when I refused to falter, so this time around it threw me a curveball, a thing that stopped me cold in my tracks.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

My mom had always been a healthy, active woman, and no one in our family had ever had cancer. It made no sense. How could this happen? My sisters turned to me, the eldest, for answers—answers I didn’t have. I had no idea how or why. If this were a book, I certainly wouldn’t write it like this! No one would believe it. And so Life shoved the last brick in place in the wall between me and my muse, laughing maniacally all the way.

I could not write. My publisher was very understanding while I struggled to support my family emotionally from the opposite side of the country during this difficult time. I flew back east in the dead of winter to be there while my mom had her surgery and to stand with my sisters while we awaited the results. We had to be strong for Mom.

This story does have a happy ending. Mom’s surgery was a success, and she is completely cancer-free. But the emotional hit to me has lingered. I thought I could just go back to my book, but the words have proven elusive. I have been chipping away at that wall brick by brick, and sometimes the muse can whisper to me through the cracks. But sometimes I can’t hear her at all.

When I wasn’t able to just pick up where I left off, the frustration just added more bricks to the wall. A chance comment from my very wise agent turned on the lights for me. She told me that it made sense I was having trouble writing, since my emotions were—quite properly—engaged elsewhere.

Oh. Well…duh.

Recognizing that simple fact made all the difference. I started to treat myself more kindly. Gave myself some slack. I’d been knocked down by this unexpected twist, and now it was time to get back up again, dust off my big girl pants and get back to work.

In the past few months, I’ve made strides towards breaking down the wall between me and my muse. Writing this blog post, for one thing. Going to chapter meetings. Speaking at a writer’s retreat. Talking things out with friends. Strangely, when I reach for it, all my writing mojo is still there: the craft, the years of experience, the instincts of storytelling. It hasn’t gone away. Little by little, I am starting to remember how to be an author.

We’re born to write. Nothing can stop us. So no matter what Life throws at you or what dark tunnel it drives you into, the joy of the page still awaits on the other side.

Even if you have to bulldoze a brick wall to get there.