Sunday, May 07, 2006

Treading Water

It can feel frustrating when you're not swimming in any direction, just treading water.

You might think that you should be accumulating pages or making headway in a story or discovering something new about a character or plot.

When that doesn't happen...and you no longer feel as if you're moving can begin to feel that you'll never move forward again.

Worse, if there's no forward motion, it must mean that you're moving backward, right?

And then, if you're like me, you might start to worry that you've lost all the months of work that were necessary to get to this point in a story.

But, lately, I've started thinking about treading water in a different light.

What if treading water isn't a stopping point of frustration, a failure to move forward, but a different kind of swimming?

A rest-stop on a long journey?

A respite?

A chance to take a breath and re-charge before going further?

What if treading water is like reaching a plateau on a mountainous climb?

If I can stop worrying for a moment about where I'm heading, I might be able to see this plateau as a place that I've worked hard to reach.

Simply by treading water, I can rest and look back over the distance that I've come to reach this point.

Sometimes, in order to go forward, we have to stop driving ourselves so hard.

We have to stop pushing before the wall blocking our path disappears... and a new road opens.

Part of the creative process, I suspect, requires these respites, these pauses.

What's scary is that we can't always plan for them.... and when they hit us out of the blue, they can have a chilling effect, like a sudden squall or thunderstorm that upsets our rhythm.

Rather than fight these temporary lulls in our writing, though, perhaps we can use them as opportunities to listen to our inner teacher.

What is your body telling you to do?

What do you hear in your heart?

Treading water can serve as a way for us to more fully experience where we've come from... and to understand where we're going.

Try shifting your perspective, even slightly, and see if you find yourself more buoyant after treading water, ready to swim off with renewed energy in a new direction.

For more insights into rest and creativity, check out these resources:

Special thanks to Jaye Martin, an instructor at Garden of the Heart Yoga Studio, for sharing his insights into reaching plateaus and viewing them in a positive light.

1 comment:

jo'r said...

Bruce, I like your metaphor of giving yourself an okay to take a breather when reaching a plateau on those hard, long ascents through a novel. I'm kind of at one now. When I think I'm procrastinating too long, and still can't move off the ledge, I like having a short story I can switch over to, and so keep going on some daily writing or reviewing. Sometimes the energy for the next ascent comes from working on something different (and shorter).