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From the day I first discovered her lurking in my head, my muse, Gertrude, and I shared a terrific relationship. That is, until recently.
After five blissful years and seven and a half completed manuscripts, Gertrude took an unapproved vacation. No warning, no disagreement to precipitate her departure. One day she was there, the next she’d disappeared. Ideas no longer flowed from my brain to my fingertips. I spent weeks staring at a blank page in my Word document. Day and night, regardless of where I was–the supermarket, my son’s baseball game, in bed–a voice echoed: “What happens next?” And for the first time in my writing life, no answer came to me.
I tried all the methods fellow writers advised.
“Write anything-even if it’s garbage. You can always go back and revise later…” Oh, yeah? How does one revise “xruwbpw lepmtn 3dnibn?”
“Maybe you’re telling the story from the wrong POV.” Well, unless the dining room table wants to chime in about my characters, I’ve run out of heads to hop into.
“When your tale gets slow, drop a dead body into the action.” I could kill off the entire population of China, but it wouldn’t make a dent in the cement in my brain.
“Reread the works of your favorite authors. See if you can incorporate any of their methods into your own story.” I now know every word of Bertrice Small’s THE KADIN, but I still can’t write a grocery list on my own. Maybe Bertrice would consider writing my story for me? Okay, maybe not.
“Try a spreadsheet or full outline.” I never made it past the little boxes on the spreadsheet (though it did come in handy at tax time) and since the outline required me to actually write, well, you can pretty much guess what happened there?
“Change scenery. Go to your local bookstore or coffee bar to write.” I came home with $300 worth of new books (and a mega-caffeine high from too many caramel lattes) but nothing written in my AlphaSmart.
I was getting desperate. And lonely. What did people who didn’t have stories running in their heads do with all that useless silent time? Traffic jams aren’t nearly as much fun if you can’t brew a plot involving the guy with the bad toupee in the car next to you. And forget Motor Vehicle! How is anyone expected to just sit on those spine-crushing wooden benches waiting for eons while the numbers on the LCD display slowly crawl from 34 to the impossible 896 you’re clutching in your fist?
The pink haze through which I’d always seen the world had dissipated, leaving me in a funk of gray. I felt barren, useless. The only thing that kept me from jumping off a bridge was the realization that, in my present state, I couldn’t write a decent suicide note.
Then it hit me. Maybe I was trying too hard to write. What if I ignored Gertrude the way she ignored me?
I’d take a vacation! A vacation from writing. Makes sense, right? Even the toughest professions allow their employees a brief interlude to clear the cobwebs and recharge the batteries. And just because I could write anything, anywhere, and anytime didn’t mean I should.
So how does one take a vacation from writing? Clearly, I’d need some ground rules to keep me on the right path. Here’s what I came up with:
My vacation was a little unorthodox, I admit, especially since after seven years of being a stay-at-home mom, I returned to the outside workforce as a full-time employee. (Talk about breaking out of the box!) And while a new job filled the empty hours, I still feared I’d never write again.
Undaunted, I kept myself open for opportunities that might arise, and after four months of relative silence, Gertrude suddenly began whispering about this great idea for a new story line. I made her stew for several more weeks while I remained on vacation–just to remind her who was boss of our little operation.
Today, I’m happy to report, we’re back in sync, stronger and more secure than ever.
So take that vacation, clear your head, and revel in being Jane Q. Public rather than Jane Q. Writer for a while. Eventually, your Muse will return to you–but only if you leave the door open.