Butt in seat – now what?

The most oft-heard advice for would-be writers is, “Put your butt in the chair and do the work.” It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But what happens when you put your butt in the chair and your mind remains blank? NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenges writers to crank out 50,000 words during the month of November. I’ve written about this before, so rather than bore you with it again, I’ll just point you to that post so you can refresh your memory. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

When I wrote that post, three years ago, my imagination was all fired up and I was a writing machine. I’ve completed NaNoWriMo four times and each time I’ve emerged with content that I liked enough to continue working with it until it evolved into a passable manuscript. Last year, when NaNoWriMo rolled around, I was struggling to complete one of those manuscripts and my critique group convinced me that my time would be better spent finishing it, rather than creating yet another work-in-progress. I ended up frittering away the month and doing neither.

This year I was determined not to let November pass by without giving NaNoWriMo my best effort. It’s early days yet, but I’ve reached the conclusion that my best efforts are not going to be enough. I don’t have it in me. And when I say “it” I mean anything. During NaNoWriMo, if you’re stuck, you’re encouraged to type any words you can think up until you get your mojo back. No word source is forbidden; if you have to copy the phone book, go for it. I applaud that approach in concept and happily began the month without a plot in mind, instead, I captured my thoughts and feelings about what was going on in my life, whatever was top of mind at the moment I began to write. But it didn’t take long for me to lose my stomach for that exercise.

It’s not that there isn’t anything to say, quite the contrary. Life has been emotionally rich (not in a good way) and working overtime to provide me with great stories. My father’s been ill, my mom’s been ill, and at the same time, my boy cat, Boo, had to spend some time in the hospital. He came home and spent another few weeks with us before we finally put him to sleep a few days ago. Somewhere in there I had a fight with my sister. I apologized via email. She refused to accept my apology. (Tell me that that situation isn’t ripe with story potential.)

So you see, my problem is not a dearth of thoughts, or feelings, or events. My problem is that whatever inner mechanism turns those things into energy to run the creative engine is broken. I can put my butt in the seat, but I can’t do the work. Maybe when my parents’ situation stabilizes, and my daughter’s college applications are done, and I’m finished mourning the loss of my Boo-cat, the creative engine will kick back into gear.

boo on lap at hospital


11 responses to “Butt in seat – now what?

  1. I think with writing that there’s discipline, and there’s focus, and then there’s “to everything there is a season.” Last year, two years ago, three years ago — it was your season to write, or write fresh. This year it is your season to try, somehow, with the very full plate you’ve been handled, a veritable PLATTER, that does not include space for the NaNoWriMo appetizer. Next year!

  2. I think of you often – during these trying times – Judy! I know these challenges are only contributing to the multifaceted you!

  3. I’m sorry about Boo. And sisters, well they are another story all together. I hope your parents are continuing to get healthy. Hannah, college? Egad!

  4. Grief and worry are not a time to be creative, unless it is spontaneous. I spent the months after my mother’s death attending my solo performance workshop and just writing and writing about everything that happened that summer during her illness and death. Since it was over, I could do that. And I couldn’t do anything else, because I just didn’t care about anything else. In the end, I had a 20-minute piece that is meaningful to me. And I realized I couldn’t have written it later, because now the job is not to dwell on that time and turn my mind to happier memories. But having gotten it down, I created a “story” about it that I can share and might be meaningful to others who have gone through something similar. I guess what I’m saying is, give yourself a break. There will be other Novembers. Perhaps you can make March your November. Write if it eases you, about whatever floats through your mind, and if it doesn’t, find something else that does. The creativity and inspiration will return someday, I promise.

  5. Love your blog. Mad that gmail hides my alerts in the Social media tab, which makes it lost among the 10,000+ alerts I unknowingly stacked up after starting a project/job that involves following a bunch of geeks on Google+. Every time I got to clean out the posts, I find tons of interesting science/math/outer space updates, though. But it’s the stuff about “real life” that you write about that is the most meaningful.

  6. Some times we’re too spent to write emotionally, but this will actually make us better writers later. These experiences will have silver linings in your future. I’m sorry you lost your cat. When we lost pets, it leave a hole. I hope things improve with your family on all fronts. I hope you find some way to write through this soon, but it looks like this post has already been cathartic.

  7. Oh my, we just lost a kitty too, only three years old, to cancer, one of our foursome (from same litter), so I mourn with you.

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