Silk’s Post #34 — As I sit at my writing desk, looking outside my window at another impossibly perfect, sunny, hot early May day, I can feel the tingle of my red face.
Embarrassment at being late with my post?
Fervor to get back to the far-from-complete draft of my book?
No. It’s sunburn. First of the season, and it feels good. Sunscreen be damned, I’ll live with another wrinkle.
Yes, I’m late with my usual Monday post. The reason is illustrated above. That’s us, in the line-up to sail past and salute the Commodore of our little sailing club at a traditional maritime occasion known as Opening Day. This being Saltspring Island, a picturesque haven for hedonists, arty types and iconoclasts, our ceremony is more casual than at uppity yacht clubs, but we do go in for a parade up the docks behind a Scottish piper. It’s the sort of club where you’d have seen more people in pirate costume and French sailor shirts yesterday than in blue blazers.
Opening Day is the ceremonial start of the sailing season (although here in the Pacific Northwest, the hardy sail year round). But it’s probably no coincidence that such Opening Days fall as close as possible to May first, the ancient day of Spring Festivals in cultures throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
May Day begins the sunny half of the year, the time when the earth warms, seeds are planted, everything grows and blooms and eventually is harvested to sustain life. What could be more joyful and inspiring? The glorious period of sun, fecundity and long days is extinguished six months later by the cold rains and long nights of dark November. Back when the Northern Hemisphere was dominated by agrarian cultures, these seasons really mattered in the kind of life-and-death way that we can barely appreciate today in our electrified, hermetically sealed, fast food world.
Yet, buried somewhere in our DNA is the memory of May Day as a new beginning in that basic life cycle of renewal and decay.
While the essentially pagan nature of May Day observances like the Celtic Beltane festival and the Germanic Walpurgis Night has been overwritten (not entirely successfully) by churchy holidays and communistic celebrations of the working class, the ancient life cycle that begins with May hasn’t changed. And it never will, until our blue marble ceases to revolve around the sun, or life itself ceases to exist here.
I’m not going all apocolyptic here, but just putting the enduring character of this cycle into perspective. It’s something we can absolutely rely on – and how many things can you say that about? There’s always a new beginning. And that is something really worth celebrating. No wonder May Day, in all its costumes and guises, is a festival to lift hearts and renew spirits.
For a writer, new beginnings are life blood.
We are always seeking them, making them, surging ahead on them like surfers catching a wave. The cycles of both creativity and productivity – inspiration and perspiration – are, by nature, of limited duration. We aren’t machines that can be programmed and coaxed to chug away indefinitely, spewing out words like sausages at a steady rate of efficiency.
We’re alive, and like all living things, we have our cycles. New beginnings to our stories is just one aspect of this. We also experience new beginnings – over and over again – to our emotional, intellectual, creative and energy cycles. At least, that’s how it is for me.
In our 5 writers challenge, it’s no secret that I’ve been struggling to make headway on my first draft, and I’ve been more or less constantly beating myself up about it. Do I actually have the drive and discipline to be a “real” writer? Is this really my calling, or have I been kidding myself about that for most of my life? Why can’t I just get into a writing routine and click off my 1,000 words a day like the pros? Is this some kind of weird, self-defeating behaviour, or am I just lazy?
Confession time: I’ve always been a procrastinator, an eleventh-hour, rabbit-out-of-the-hat kind of person. I’ve gotten away with it all my life. By and large, I’ve made a success of everything I’ve truly put my mind to. Though I admit I’ve probably missed some important opportunities because of my on-the-edge workstyle, I can be incredibly productive over a period of intensive, all-consuming, energizing effort. And then I need a break to re-charge.
That’s my cycle. I work in inspired bursts. A wind sprinter, not a marathoner. Trying to train myself to put on the harness and maintain the steady workaday gait of 1,000 words a day has been a spectacular failure for me.
I’ve read all the advice about The Writing Life. I marvel at writers who can get up every morning at 4:00 am and hit their daily word count target before they hop on a bus and go to work, or run their four children to school. I so admire writers who can tune out the world and be productive during “stolen hours” in coffee shops, on airplanes, in waiting rooms. I stand in awe of writers who sit down at the computer every day at their sacrosanct appointed time and, just like a regular job, keep working productively for a set number of hours or words before they push back their chair and go for a run, or a beer, or a well-deserved nap.
But I’m a square peg in that round hole.
And after eight months of our 5 writers experiment, I’ve learned something important (yes, I know I’m a slow learner).
I’ve learned that I seem to need a lot more new beginnings than some other people. To sustain my kind of momentum, I need to work with my own oddball cycle of inspiration and perspiration. More stroke and glide. More incremental goals (and rewards). More project-like stages. I need bursts of intensive, leave-me-alone time with the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. An hour or two at the keyboard doesn’t even get me started. Even a day is too short. My ideal burst is probably 3-4 days without any other tasks or duties or distractions or interruptions. After that, I have to get the hell away from my desk because I’m starting to write gibberish.
And then … after I’ve re-entered the real world for as long as it takes to catch up on the bill-paying, and hug the people I love, and tidy up the house, and drink a little too much wine, and get some exercise and recreation – all enjoyed absolutely guilt-free even though I’m not writing a word … then I’m ready for another new beginning.
So I’ve decided to stop beating myself up, stop doubting my calling, stop feeling that constant, nagging guilt of failing to get into a sensible, disciplined writing routine. Now that I think I have a handle on my own cycles, I’m going to run with it and see what happens. I’m going to try to create a series of eleventh hour deadlines, each one a virtual project that requires a new beginning, and see how many rabbits I can pull out of the hat.
As for our 5 writers challenge, this won’t be nearly enough to catch me up. No surprise there. It’s an eleventh hour solution to an eight-month problem.
But it’s a new beginning, and it feels like the sun coming out. A celebration of life renewed. I’m inspired again.