My creative well is empty. And it gets worse—something has happened to my brain. I’m forgetting things. I have failed to register for next semester’s classes, pick up my husband’s shirts from the dry cleaners (3 days in a row), put the milk back in the fridge. I am writing down the wrong words. In a recent story I workshopped I wrote groomed three times, instead of groom. I write what instead of where. That instead of tree. Just yesterday I was frantically searching for my phone WHILE I WAS TALKING ON IT. As I made my way up to bed the other night, I carried the book I was reading and my car keys. I tell my husband these things and he says they scare him. I tell my mother and she says to take a walk. Give it a break. Step away from the writing, from the work. Take ten minutes. You’re stressed. Stressed, stressed, stressed. Is that what this is?
The thing is, I don’t feel stressed, but my body and mind are telling me otherwise. I am usually full of ideas for stories, articles and blogs, but no, the past few days, nothing. My mind is blank, empty. The idea of being creative when I can barely remember my name seems, well, impossible. This isn’t writers block. Or even writer’s fright (this is what a colleague calls it, something similar to stage fright when you freeze up, afraid your thoughts will amount to nothing on the page). What is this? Burn out, my husband says.
How to replenish the well? I tried a few things yesterday and they helped. I met a friend for dinner in New York City. We ate Chicken Cobb salads and drank wine out of juice glasses and talked about writing. But there was no pressure, just easy going chatter, what we love about the process, books we’ve recently read and enjoyed. She told me about the children she teaches, how she lets them lie on their stomachs as they write, how they raise their hands eager to share their work. And then I met another friend on 6th avenue, just two avenues over, and I ordered again. More food. This time French fries. Lots of salt. And there was more conversation, this time about the recent article she’d sold to an online magazine. We celebrated. We talked about the possibility of things, about art, about putting one foot in front of the other, about submitting to magazines and how they sometimes say yes.
Food and friends. They help replenish the well. Sitting in a bistro with the lights dimmed, a candle flickering in the middle of the table. Talking about the big picture, letting the small stuff slide away. What else? I am thinking of artist dates… Julia Cameron recommends them. I think I should take myself on one tomorrow. It’s when you treat yourself, take yourself somewhere special— a paint store, a book store, a museum. You buy a pack of glittery stickers, decorate pottery, search for the perfect notebook in a stationary store. Take a walk, my mother keeps saying. Yes, I need to listen to my mother more. This too helps—fresh air and walking. Moving in general is good.
Food and friends and glittery stickers and moving.
I do know that once I cure this burn-out the well will slowly replenish. Soon I will be drinking from it again, writing again, imagining. Soon I will use the right words (see—I almost wrote write words). Soon I will feel like myself, not like someone who will never write another word and brings her keys with her to bed.
We are so hard on ourselves. Write every day, we say. Stick to your goals. Yes, yes, this is all important. We should do this when we can, when our bodies and minds are strong. But what about the times when we push ourselves too far? Don’t we deserve a break? Don’t we owe it to ourselves to take a walk in the park or to a cancel the meeting and grab coffee with a dear friend instead? We aren’t taking away from our writing time. No, we are replenishing, filling up.
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
-Sir John Lubbock