Back before I was married with kids and I had left my corporate job to freelance fulltime, I hit a snag. Despite having all the freedom in the world to make my own hours and pursue my own projects, I was finding myself sitting at my desk ALL day EVERY day whether I had any work to do or not. I’d sit there willing myself to be creative and productive. Even though we all know that sometimes trying harder just makes the thing you’re seeking even more elusive.
Then a writer friend told me that for the summer, she’d decided to take off one day a week to do something other than writing. My mind was blown. You can DO that? I mean, adults are ALLOWED to take days off just because they feel like it?! (It took me a while to grasp the benefits of self-employment, OK?) So I decided I’d do that, too. Every Monday I’d go to an art museum or a botanical garden or a concert or somewhere other than my desk and fill the well.
That’s the metaphor I embraced: because you can’t draw water from an empty well, right?
I actually don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in burnout. It happens to me on one of two occasions: 1) either I’ve just come off a stressful period of lots of work and deadlines, or 2) I’m in the midst of a long dry spell between projects. In both cases I think, “Cool. Now I have plenty of time to work on my own writing.” And in both cases, I find I can’t motivate myself, can’t get excited about anything, and can’t generate a creative idea to save my life.
This starts me down the road of self-loathing and fear. Will I ever get a paying assignment again? Am I just a hack, destined to fritter away my writing time watching “Cosby Show” reruns in my bathrobe? (As if! I WISH I could be that kind of slacker… sadly, my kids won’t allow it. Me to sit, I mean. Or to watch MY shows on TV.)
I don’t have the kind of time I used to as a single non-mom, but recently I decided I needed one of those “fill the well” days. With the kids elsewhere, I headed out with the simple goal of reading a book. For fun. Outside. By myself. Strangely, this filled me with anxiety. I’m long past the days of lounging around on the quad with a novel. Where should I go? Do they even allow 30-something moms who aren’t enrolled in classes on college campuses? I couldn’t chance it. And I didn’t want to go to a park where I’d see KIDS, for Pete’s sake. I was trying to get away from those!
There’s an outdoor space near us that I’ve always wanted to go to. But you have to go through a sketchy neighborhood to get there. And part of me felt guilty going without the kids. And I wasn’t sure it would be that great, anyway. What if it was all muddy and buggy? God, when did I get this LAME?! Didn’t Eleanor Roosevelt say “Do one thing every day that scares you”?
OK, Eleanor. You win. I did it. I went and it was perfect. Gorgeous. Serene. Quiet. I lounged in the grass and read my book. I sat on a bench and wrote in my journal. I breathed in the verdant air, soaked up the sunlight streaming through the amber-burnished leaves of early fall, and felt the well refilling at last.