I just climbed out of the The Slough of Not Writing—a place of confusion, boredom, and stoic self-reliance.
During this time all kinds of projects were cached in my computer--a disorganized filing system that invariably shocks techno-people. And there were a lot floating around since I work from fragments that seem unviable, until--like shells releasing flowers underwater--something brings them to life.
And yet I was in the Slough, where time felt like pulled taffy and nothing had purpose. I surfed the Internet, pestered industrious people, and converted my computer into a movie screen.I was unemployed and possibly unemployable. I had fallen through a crack in the floorboards and could hear people above me walk to work. Just having sold a novel didn't make it easier. In fact it made it worse, because I couldn't wallow in angst about the publishing world.
Since some (not all) writers experience the Slough, much enthusaistic advice is given about getting out of it:
1. Keep a log
2. Write down your dreams.
3. Make an appointment with yourself everyday to go to a café with your computer and write anything.
4. Make an appointment with yourself everyday to go to a café with your computer and not write anything.
5. Finish a classic you only got a fourth of the way through.
6. Clip out interesting ideas from the newspaper.
7. Write down your fears.
8. Write down what your Inner Critic is saying to you.
9. Write about not writing!
Some of these are useful to other writers, but in my case it’s hopeless. I must wait.
While I wait, I tell myself that even though I may seem like a slacker, the invisible alchemist is churning out explosively creative work. It's just not time for me to see it. Meanwhile, my task is to live with Silence, like Zen masters or Carthusian monks.
But then I think of Anthony Trollope, who supposedly finished one novel at 8:20 in the morning before he had to work at the post office at 8:30 and used his extra ten minutes to start another. (And while he was writing novels, by the way, he revised Britain’s whole postal system and created the notion of postal routes, which countries all over the world now use.)
The forces that let me climb out of the Slough are a mystery. Eventually language—that restless bedfellow of silence—emerges. Some inchoate idea about a story takes shape. And at least one character shows up. I never know what releases this catch-spring. I only know that one day I'm working from scratch again, willing to be uncomfortable, driven and surprised. And thinking not just in terms of one story or the title of a novel, but the next book.
What I’ve written here isn’t the antidote #9, by the way, because when I’m in the Slough, I’m too disheartened to confess. Other writers may get comfort from #9, but my Slough is a place where misery doesn't love company and writing about it makes it worse.
Later, much later--when I'm writing--I tell myself I was right about the field lying fallow. While I was doing nothing, the inner alchemist never bothered to sleep. The underground chamber sparked with comets, light-shows, extraordinary characters, narratives about the tenth dimension. And while I was surfing the net, the creative powers were alive. Indeed, I was surfing the net in the service of their being alive! I was sacrificing self-respect for art!
And so the Slough--with its slow sense of time and lack of purpose--is subtly airbrushed and even viewed with nostalgia. The word slacker becomes alien. I forget about being under floorboards, hearing people walk to work.
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