World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

I’m Not Stagnant – I’m Vernalizing

on December 4, 2013

WIP It Wednesdays: When No Work’s in Progress

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Sometimes the right words come along when you need them.

I have been flagellating myself a lot lately for not writing anything but comments on student papers and the occasional blog post for over a month now. I tried to reignite my work in progress yesterday, and if my writing had made a sound, the neighbors would have heard the tortured screech of a rusty chainsaw cutting nothing and breaking down repeatedly – and they would have called the police, thinking something horrific was going on inside my house. I deleted everything I wrote and went for a walk, heavy with the feeling that I WOULD NEVER AGAIN BE ABLE TO WRITE ANYTHING. EVER. AGAIN.

And then I remembered a Tumblr post I had glanced at that talked about dormancy in creativity, so I Googled “dormancy and creativity” and found this wonderful sermon by Reverend Myke Johnson. He points out that “there are many plants in our landscape that will not flower without going through a time of cold.” This is called “‘vernalizing’” and artists do it just as plants do (and doesn’t “vernalizing” sound a whole lot better than “blocked”?) Image

He paraphrases Julia Alvarez, one of my favorite writers, and her assertion that her process is similar to the Greek myth of Persephone. Like Persephone, Alavrez says she has to go into the “underworld” for a period before approaching a new project. She’s accepted and even welcomes the “darkness” she has to face to create again; she knows she will write again, just as Persephone always reemerged in springtime.

It’s helping me right now to think that I am not hopelessly stagnating. Maybe I am just in tune with nature. I look outside and the world has gone cold and grey and, apparently, dead or sleeping. But I know that it’s not. I know that in a few months the grass will be greener and the trees alive with blossoms. I’ll rise again, as well – and hopefully well before springtime.

Before coming across this advice, I had two methods of my own to keep my sanity and confidence in these times of vernalization, and I’ll end by sharing them, in the hope that they may help someone else.

One:  When in doubt, walk. I am a big believer in walking as a form of meditation; even as I have Lady Gaga’s “Applause” in my earbuds, I am thinking more clearly and sometimes the answers come to me. (The endorphins help, too). And, underneath the insistent bass of my iTunes playlist, I hear other things. Last week I heard the voice of a character in another work in progress, one I set aside over a year ago. But there she was, talking to me, telling me she wanted to come back, and I am going to listen to her. I’m putting aside my stalled work in progress because there’s another story tugging on my elbow right now, and I want to honor that (how’s that for Romantic artsy-fartsy mysticism?)

Which brings me to two: I always have a couple of projects in the pipeline that I can turn to when I get stalled on what I’m working on. I used to think that this was evidence of my infantile attention span, but it has actually proven to be sanity-saving for me. Instead of despairing entirely that this WIP will never get done, I can set it aside and pick up another and carve away at that for awhile. I have a full draft of it, and I knew it needed some major reorganization but I dreaded that. Not any more.  I[‘m ready for it now. So as soon as this semester ends, I’m back to the book I set aside to send Snark and Circumstance on one last round of queries (which turned out pretty well in the end!). I’ll let you know what happens. 

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