Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Energy shifts

Sharon Wildwind

I had a great time over the weekend. So why do I feel so rotten?

On Saturday I went to a workshop on editing. Because it was held locally, there was none of the airport—customs—strange hotel bed—weird meals—time zone disorientation. The chairs in the meeting room were reasonably comfortable; the lunch was delightful; the weather outside was a spectacular fall day; and I hadn’t even joined people in the bar for a drink afterwards.

Sunday I woke up excited. I spent yesterday and today eliminating about 10,000 words from what had been a horribly bloated and—I had feared—completely irretrievable manuscript.

I should be ecstatic. I’m not.

I am in such a bad mood. I should have stayed home and gotten things done around the house. Our living room is a mess; it even smells bad. My office is falling apart. I can’t focus. I’m angry at everyone and everything.

Somehow it is up to me to make all of this right. I have to do the undone things. Make order out of chaos. Make everything all right in the world. Fix everything before I can get back to writing. It’s my fault that the whole world is out of balance; bringing it back to balance rests entirely on my shoulders.

I am tempted to
pick a fight
give up
rage at the living room
get angry
stop writing completely until I clean every room from top to bottom
spend time on anything but writing
lose myself in reading for 8 or 12 or 15 hours
piddle and piffle

I’ve blogged several times about going through Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way. I’ve completed the 12 weeks of exercises, but since it dawned on me at about week 10 or 11 that I hadn’t made that much progress, I decided to repeat the 12 weeks.

Something about my irrational feelings sounded strangely familiar. I thought I'd seen them in the past 12 weeks. Sure enough— Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Integrity. I was having an energy shift.

Which got me thinking about coming back from conventions and workshops. People frequently write about getting ready for a convention or what to do at a convention, but I don’t think I’ve seen many tips for coming back from an convention.

It seems to me that there are three layers in this process.

The first layer is recovering from choices we made. These choices usually involve staying up late, and putting more food and possibly alcohol in our bodies than we should have. We know the drill: drink lots of water, get some sleep, do some exercise, take hot baths or showers, detoxify, get a massage, stick to green and orange vegetables, multi-grain carbohydrates, and lean protein for a few days. In other words, get the body back on track.

The second layer is getting back in the routine. Yes, the job is waiting. Yes, it’s likely in a mess. Yes, you have eleventy-zillion e-mail messages to wade through. Yes, traffic is worse than you remember it. Yes, laundry and dishes and vacuuming and errands and dental appointments and check book balancing need doing. Yes, you can and will deal with all of this, though you’re likely to grumble while you’re doing it. Grumbling is permitted.

For the third layer, prepare yourself for an energy shift that has nothing to do with either of the first two layers. Something has moved in your creative process. I am convinced that creativity is a split creature, like Captain Kirk in The Enemy Within. Creativity-1 can do wonderful things, such as bid farewell to 10,000 extra words and turn an amorphous mass into something resembling a book.

Creativity-2 hates change. She rages. She decides that she has to stop everything to focus on why the living room smells bad. She has to make change the whole world right now. She has to read for hours to the exclusion of getting anything else done. She has to reorganize her entire life before she can possibly touch any creative endeavor. In short, she has to do everything in her power to keep you from changing because she likes things the way they were, thank you very much.

My three suggestions for getting through the third layer after you come back from a convention or workshop are

Limit your reading and/or TV/DVD watching for at least the first week. I have nothing scientific on which to base this, but I had to start somewhere, so I picked a 3:1 ratio. After I’ve done something creative for 3 hours, I’ll allow myself to read or watch DVDs for 1 hour.

Do not do major cleaning right now. This is not a good time to rearrange all the furniture in your office or to clean out your closets. Creativity-2 is trying to get you to do this so that you will be so tired that you can’t focus on change.

Create. Start something new. Revisit something old. Work in a different medium for a little while. Give yourself permission to play and see where it takes you.

Just in case someone is curious about how I got rid of all those words, I had my writing program compile a list of how often a word was used in the manuscript. I use Scrivener, which is a Macintosh program, but there are probably other programs out there that do the same thing.

I compared the number of times a word was used to the number of pages in the book. In my case the count was about 300, so I focused on words that had been used over 300 times because that meant they were likely to show up more than once on a page.

I didn’t bother with words like the, a, to, and, in, if, her, she, was, I, that, you, had, and he, each of which appeared over 1,000 times. I figured those would sort themselves out as I made other corrections.

Then I used the “find” feature to locate each time a word had been used and tried to eliminate that word by rewriting the sentence. The first word I went through “as” originally appeared 426 times. By the time I finished finding and changing, I had 21 appearances left. I’ve also done the following words: yes, no, make, thought, think, and there.

These are the words I still plan to check:

Quibbling words (words that have a tendency to weaken meaning in a sentence): only, any, just, still, might, yet.
[She still might go to the carnival on Saturday, only she hadn't made up her mind yet. For gosh sakes, have that woman make a decision! ]

Words that tend to represent weak actions: look, took, put, turn, told, tell, smile
[He turned to look at her and smiled as he put his hat on the table. Even though actions—turning, smiling, and putting a hat on the table—are described, this is not an action sentence.]
Quote for the week:

I wonder if our creative calling is sometimes something we fear, avoid, and, if we're lucky, end up being pulled into in spite of ourselves.
~Susan Wooldridge, author Poemcrazy and Foolsgold


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Wonderful post, Sharon. One element you didn't mention: for me, a workshop or conference or retreat is about connecting with other people--a huge charge of intense energy. One annual event I attended for many years used to give great advice about dealing with the inevitable crash: make plans to call or go to dinner with somebody from the weekend, do some kind of spiritually grounding activity. Sounds like you crashed. :)

evleroux said...

Sharon - Great post. I've battled this situation on a number of occasions, but now I'll be aware of what it is. Crash! I've read, became obsessive with house cleaning, ate lots of chocolate. Anything and everything to stale my writing. You get the idea. I think all of us have experienced the same thing a time or two. I've also found that meditation helps to calm and relax. Enabling you to focus again.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like this is a pretty recognizable situation. One of the real eye openers for me was to realize that I'd been overlaying these crash feelings onto going back to my job instead of recognizing that there were two separate situations involved here.

Julie Godfrey Miller said...

Wow, what a timely post. I haven't just returned from a convention, but have been taking an online class and was suddenly inspired to find the solutions to some major problems in my WIP. With that accomplished, I am now engaging in the behavior you described and have made an even bigger mess of my house in the process. I've got to try some strategies to get back in the groove.

Anonymous said...

It's okay, Julie, messes have a way of working themselves out. The important thing is not to let clean-up divert you from keeping the artistic fire going.

Patricia Winton said...

Wow. Have you been in my head? I didn't attend a convention, but I did a very successful research trip then came home to the blahs. I haven't done the Cameron book in years; maybe I should do it again. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Patricia, I don't think I've been in your head, but I'm sure it's a nice place to be.

Congrats on a successful research trip.

Norma Huss said...

Sharon, if you weren't in Patricia's head, you must have been in mine! Except I get the same blahs when I'm preparing to go somewhere, like on vacation, and I need to get all these things done first. So why do I wallow and do nothing and put myself even further behind? (I'm listening to you. I got take-out chicken for supper tonight. Instant meal.)

Alyx Morgan said...

LOVE this post, Sharon! I've been battling my own energy shift for a few weeks, so thank you for helping me define it.

Thank you also for mentioning The Artist's Way. I have the book, have worked through about half of the 12 weeks when I first read it, & am eager to remove the layers of dust & work through all of them this time.