Ever since my book came out in June, I’ve been struggling with the idea of progress. Book launch, book tour, book talk: it all takes over your brain, so that even the days in between an event or an essay being published or a Q&A that’s due, you hover in a fog. It’s not quite tired, it’s not quite anxious, it’s just the afterglow of those feelings.
Working on a new project in that period is hard. Anyone with a book coming out this year—or ever—will probably shake their head in rueful agreement about this. You write a couple of pages and you feel ecstatic; then you spend a week coming to hate those pages bitterly and deleting them line by line.
Artists—in the public imagination, anyway—are supposed to be free spirited. The opposite of a workaholic in a suit, following your ideas wherever they take you, not caring about the future so much as the moment. But the funny thing is, that image of the carefree artist assumes the artist is productive. That their work comes easily because of the free spirit, when in fact the opposite is true. I’m happiest when I’m working well. I’m most free, then. But I can’t force the feeling of freedom.
It’s not fun to feel like you’re outside the flow. You see people tweeting about how exciting their work in progress is, how many words they wrote that morning, and you frown. (Even though you know that tweeting about writing is…also not writing.) Your love for your own work is still there, but it’s somehow under water. You hear the sound of it through the shallows, through the deep, and you have to push through something heavier than usual—heavier than air—to reach it.
But that’s part of writing too. I am just starting to come out of a long period of futile deletion, which has been eating at me. I can’t force it, no matter how hard I’ve tried: sometimes the rage and the tears and the angst are part of the art. Not a good part, but an inescapable one.
All I can do is show up to my desk every morning and work, and so that’s what I do.
If you would like to take a look at some of the books that surround me while I lay on the floor and wail about my feelings, I shared some pictures of & thoughts on my bookshelves for The Coil.