Friday, July 2, 2010

The drive to create

Last spring, I decided to write a novel. There was an idea I'd tried unsuccessfully to write as a play for years, and one day, while I was doing a massage, I began to think of the story as a novel instead of a play. Suddenly I had so many ideas that it was almost overwhelming. I couldn't wait to rush home and start writing. I had the next day off, so I ended up writing all night, and all the next day. That was at the beginning of April. By early July, I'd finished the first draft of my novel.

Looking back, I think there were a combination of things that put me in the mindset to pour all of my energy, my free time, my self into this project. First, I'd just been dumped. It wasn't a very serious or long-term relationship, but something about it hit me really hard. I was so depressed that I could hardly function. I desperately needed something to think about, something to have feelings about, other than the breakup. Once I started writing, I got over the pain of the breakup almost instantly. It was almost freaky.

A second factor was fear. I was afraid that if I stopped writing, I'd abandon the project. I've abandoned lots of projects in the past, but for some reason I knew it would be unthinkable to abandon this project. So I resolved to work on the novel every day. Even if I was suffering from total writer's block, I forced myself to open up the Word file and at least re-read what I'd written so far. That was usually enough to get me going again. One day, I remember I felt so blocked that all I did was type two new words, then I closed the file and went to bed. The next day I deleted those two words and wrote three thousand more.

I'd always thought of myself as a "theater person." All the writing I'd done since college was for theater. It was very strange for me to spend so much time in my own head, interacting only with my laptop. Everything about the process felt unnatural to me. But every single other thing in my life - my job, even basics like eating and sleeping - felt like an annoying distraction. I just needed to finish the novel. Somehow.

I'd had shorter periods of that kind of feverish compulsion in my life, but nothing like the months I spent writing the first draft of my novel. It's probably for the best that I'm not like that all the time - even if I didn't burn out, I'd become so detached from the world that I'd be left with nothing to reflect upon.

Still, I loved that crazy feeling. It reminds me of the characters in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, who become obsessed with Devil's Tower, though they don't know why. "This is important...this means something."

This is when you know you're an artist. People might think you're crazy. That's are crazy. If you can't get a little unbalanced when you're lost in the drive to create, you may have to ask yourself, is it important? Does it mean something?

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