Writing vs. Real Life

by Susan Mary Malone

My writers often bemoan the fact that real life gets in the way of their creative endeavors. And this is true for us all. We are besieged at times by the good, the bad, and the ugly of this incarnation; by joys and sorrows, births and deaths; by the mundane of paying the light bill and getting the kids to school. By all of those things that can put the kibosh on our creativity and seem to drain our writing souls to the very core.

During these times, while the artist’s fields like fallow, our creativity may seem barren. But in reality, it is not actually even dormant. For far under the surface of the muck and mire, that creative light still glows, however faintly. Dimly perhaps, but the flicker of that flame never falters.

For it is indeed within the deep unconscious where the seeds of creativity flourish, forever finding fertile soil, awaiting a touch of life-giving water here, the shard of sunlight there, in order to spring up once again anew. Especially in the penning of fiction, it is imperative that we have these times of creative quiescence, times of artistic rest (whether chosen or forced upon us), which make us yearn for the fertility of creation.

It is from these times that the germ of an idea for a story takes root. That characters are created, plotlines burst into being. When working on novel development, I so often counsel my writers to let their subconscious minds do the work for them—to give themselves the space and time for that to happen. For it is from the depths that our works become rich with understanding, compassion, and love.

As Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells in the myth “La Calavera,” we have candles for each section of our lives—careers, family, love, creativity, health, etc.—at all times. And that on any given day (or month, or year) one candle burns brightly while another flickers dim, finally to fade and be done. It is just the cycle of life.

The resisting of one candle’s flame dying out merely stops our progress, although oh, how we try to con the gods into keeping them all burning at once! We, like the young doctor in the story, try desperately to turn reality on its head and keep everything going as we want it to, and damn the consequences. But the result of pushing all that water uphill is exhaustion, and the true death of creative nature.

So our job, as writers and novel editors, is to allow life’s flow to take us down the stream; to fjord the rapids, to steer around boulders, to not force when the winds grow still. In short, to trust the processes of life and creativity. Or, as a dear friend keeps telling me, to learn to float.

At some point, some time, either tomorrow or next year, the story will be there, waiting for your gaze; for the touch of your fingers to keyboard or pen; for your characters to jump again on-stage; for your artistry to sail downstream. As a book editor, my wish for you all is to ride the waters and understand that in time, all rivers truly do flow back to their creative source . . .