What do you do when you find yourself swimming through a Black Hole?
When, suddenly, you feel all your words being sucked out of you, along with your desire to write ...and your ideas for stories... and even your hope for the future?
When all you feel is darkness...and all that you see is darkness? And it's like sinking--or worse--like plummeting off a cliff into darkness...not knowing which way is up or down?
What do you do? Resist and fight back...or acquiesce and let yourself be overwhelmed by darkness?
Here's something to consider the next time you feel yourself swimming through a Black Hole: "God lets you write; he also lets you not write."
That's a quote attributed to Kurt Vonnegut in Hilma Wolitzer's The Company of Writers, a lucid book full of insights into the writing process.
Vonnegut isn't the only writer in Wolitzer's book who comments on the Black Holes of a writer's life. Here's what Joyce wrote to his brother in 1906: "No pen, no ink, no table, no room, no time, no quiet, no inclination."
Wolitzer herself observes: If the dictionary definition of a writer is "one who writes," doesn't it follow that you're no longer a writer if you're not writing?
"Not exactly," she writes.
"A considerable part of the process is the dreaming phase, when ideas and language and characters are simmering in the unconscious, not ready yet to rise up and coalesce into actual written prose. Some things can't be rushed: a certain amount of patience is required, as is the belief that waiting to write is in itself productive."
So...what if Black Holes are an integral--albeit painful--part of a writer's life?
They may come at unpredictable times simply because they're necessary to our growth and self-understanding as writers. (Eudora Welty, while caring for her ailing mother for fifteen years, wrote only three stories.)
Or they may appear after you've finished a major project and feel bereft at having it end... and no longer find yourself with the same compelling need to sit down at your desk every day. (Willa Cather, after a particularly fruitful period of work, was unable to keep up the same intensity and slowed down for five years.)
What if, as Wolitzer suggests, the Black Hole serves a purpose, and the darkness is an essential part of the writing process...a time to stop thinking, to stop writing, and to let yourself and your imagination float free?
What if the darkness, as hard as it feels, is not another form of the doldrums, nor writer's block, but a part of the writing process that's invisible...like a field with seeds growing quietly under the surface, pushing through the darkness toward the light?
What if, instead of trying to penetrate the darkness with words, you put down your pen and listen to the wind... and the waves lapping at the shore of your imagination... and the healing sounds of this earth?
What if you give yourself the gift of patience and let the well of words refill until you feel strong enough to pick up your pen again?
Until that moment arrives, you might read with abandon stories that you've never read before.
Or treat yourself to a new journal, or a cup of coffee at a glitzy cafe, or a bag of buttered popcorn at an afternoon matinee.
Consider what brings you joy.
Ask yourself what you are passionate about. What do you want to explore in the time you have left on this earth?
Listen closely to your heart.
Wait--without expecting anything.
The words are there, deep inside you, waiting to ripen.
Have faith in the process... and remember Faulkner's reassuring words: "If a story is in you, it has got to come out."
It's unpredictable and myserious, this search for stories, and not always easy. But in time the words will come, bubbling to the surface, and you'll find yourself swimming in clear water again.