Playing Phone Tag With My Muse

Norman Vincent Peale once said that, “The cyclone derives its powers from a calm center. So does a person.” Mayhap that has been the root cause of my difficulty behind the keyboard as of late. For more weeks than I care to count, I’ve been, as my grandmother might say “riled up” about one thing or another. Struggles at work, time management problems, issues of over-commitment to various projects and groups–the list goes on and on. In fact, it often feels impossible to have a “calm center” anymore when life has its thumb on the scales and keeps them so unbalanced.

My novel, Paint by Numbers, was begun just prior to NaNoWriMo, and as a first time participant in that grand experiment in madness, I emerged victorious. Yes, I wrote over 50,000 words in thirty days, and I had a ball during every single minute of it.

That novel now sits at just under 56,000 words. Yes, since the NaNo binge, I’ve written next to nothing in it, about two chapters. Part of that problem had to do with the chapter dealing with faith, one I hadn’t anticipated having to write in a book about self-discovery and reclaiming one’s life. It feels awkward, stilted, and altogether slapdash, and I don’t want that to be the case. I got stuck there for quite some time, much like Artax in the Swamp of Sadness, and only recently did I return to the book. The larger issue, however, has to do with my time schedule and my motivation level as well as the requirements of my Diana Ross-like muse.

I work four days a week, which sounds pretty choice. However, those are ten hour days. Add the thirty-minute-each-way commute, and that means eleven hours of my day are spent doing things that are, for lack of a better term, cerebrally exhausting. I teach English at a technical college, so my days are a constant battle to motivate and aid students in everything ranging from technical questions to ones of subject matter, and after getting home at 6:20 or later most of those days, the last thing I’m ready to do is sit down and create a new chapter. In fact, I rarely have the wherewithal to read a book written by someone else. How pitiful.

In addition to being a teacher and a writer, I am also a musician (albeit not a very talented one). This means that I enjoy playing as well as writing, though I must work more diligently to be successful at it. Currently, I’m involved in my church’s orchestra, and that means Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings are off the table as far writing time is concerned. (However, I wouldn’t change that for anything. I love serving with my talent and spending time with the other players!) I’ve also recently joined a local wind ensemble to get more time behind the mouthpiece and to make friends in the area who share my passion, so Monday evenings vanished as well. Playing for pit orchestras and other events have also cut into my time and sapped some of my creativity, but I don’t want to give them up because I enjoy them too much and because it is something my husband and I can do together. We met in college in the music program, and it is something that always serves as a common denominator in our relationship.

That leaves Tuesday and Thursday evenings as well as the three day weekend. Writing on Fridays was working out for a while and served to help me fill up pages with words, but I’ve been using Fridays these last few weeks to recover from long weeks filled with work and multiple performances. (For example, with the Cinderella pit I mentioned in my last post, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings were devoted to pit as well as a 3:00 PM matinee on Sunday. This past Saturday was a double header. There’s no time to write when you’re flipping pages or trying to grab a meal between shows.) Add onto this the need to buy food, keep a relatively clean house, and spend a little time with family, friends, and pets, and my time for writing grows slimmer and slimmer. I tried to cut working out totally out of my schedule, but I can’t really do that much longer. Caring for my body will again become another thing that I need to get in at least three times a week.

So now, we come to the heart of my writing dilemma.

I have been writing as of late. Oh yes, yes I have. I’ve written several poems and a handful of short stories for various projects and groups I’m involved with, and two of the stories have been pretty darned good. However, I want to finish Paint By Numbers so badly it makes my teeth ache, and every time I have time and energy enough to devote to it, I sit down and nothing flows from the tap. At least not the way it did during NaNo. The difference was that I was focused utterly and completely on that book. My writing group suspended work for the handful of us brave (and/or stupid) enough to take on the challenge, and I could put aside all my other activities without guilt.

I didn’t care that I wasn’t working out and that my body was losing out a little, I wasn’t concerned with community bands or pit orchestras, parts of the house went to seed, and I was down to eating dry cereal and applesauce by the end. That was an acceptable lifestyle for me for a period of thirty days, but I couldn’t stay there forever, refusing to grow up like Peter Pan and his Lost Boys in Neverland. Some level of compromise must be attained to live a life worth writing about and having the time to actually write about it. I have yet to find that balance, and I don’t even know where to begin. I just know that I the book can’t stay in writer’s limbo indefinitely. Unlike the millions of zygotes “chilling out” in fertility clinics, I think this baby of mine has a limited shelf life. I don’t want to lose something that has real potential to the malaise of time.

 Ray Bradbury once said, “You fail only if you stop writing,” and I can happily say that I haven’t stopped in a very long time. I lost the fire years ago, and for far too long, that part of me lay dormant and almost dead. But she’s alive and awake and demanding attention now, my muse. I just have to figure out a way to appease her on a limited schedule, which is hard to do with a diva.

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