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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Writer's Guilt

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Art is a jealous mistress.” For me, writing is more like my dog after I’ve come home from vacation. Whenever my husband and I are away from Maggie for more than two days, she gives us a guilt trip for a good forty-eight hours after we return. Eventually she reverts back to her usual, devoted self, following us around the house, sprawling on our laps, and giving us long, adoring glances. But on those days when she’s giving us the cold shoulder, it’s hard to have faith that she’ll come back to us.

Writing is the same for me. If I skip more than two days, it takes me so long to get back into my groove. The laptop screen stares blankly at me, as if to say, “What have you done for me lately?” At that moment, I think to myself, “That’s it. It’s over. I’ve lost the ability to write. Might as well close the laptop forever and take up decoupage.”

For the first two weeks of summer vacation, I was very loyal to my laptop, writing almost every day and averaging about six pages a day. Then I hit a wall. Every writer does eventually, sometimes in the form of a stumbling block, a hiccough in our plot line or a character we can’t quite wrap our head around. I’ve hit that kind of wall, too, but this one was more just a function of life getting the best of me.

Two days ago, I went for a long walk with my husband, did some homework for a course I’m taking, and sat in the yard with a book (Claire Cook’s Life’s a Beach, to mirror my wishful thinking). Yesterday I went out to lunch with a dear friend and thought I’d be home in time to get a few hours of writing in, but ended up having such a good time that I stayed out all afternoon. Today I went food shopping and cleaned the house for a Fourth of July party we’re hosting.

I know when I try to write tomorrow, I will stare forlornly at the screen for an hour, trying to recapture that writing energy of three days ago. I might write a pitiful paragraph or two that I’ll end up scrapping, and maybe, if I’m lucky, by the end of the day I’ll have written one page worth keeping. But the ideas will come back eventually; the words will return.

Now, I am sitting on my front stoop, listening to the competing stereos of my neighbors, smelling grills warm up all over town. I don’t hear a single lawnmower or see a single jogger on the road. People have taken the day off. Some time this summer, consider giving yourself a day off, too. From writing, or exercising, or whatever it is that you love, but tends to give you a guilt trip when it’s been neglected. It’ll still be there for you the next day; you might just have to work a little harder at winning back its devotion. But the dog will forgive you, the treadmill will get easier again, and your inspiration will return.

For today, throw that second hot dog on the grill. Put whipped cream on your strawberry and blueberry pound cake. (It would be un-American not to.) Enjoy the day, guilt-free. And have a safe and happy Fourth!

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