Making space [for writing.]

“If I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (2015)

Is there such a thing as a creative hangover? A creative drought, perhaps? These were the things rolling about in my mind as I sat down a few weeks ago to write — I mean really write — for the first time in months.

I never expected that my Ph.D. dissertation would have left me as exhausted as it did. I well and truly thought that I would roll right into the next thing; researching, writing, creating in one seamless path. But that’s not been my experience at all.

Some time back I started to understand that my career as a historian would be what I call “academic-adjacent.” I am a college lecturer, yes. But my role at the community college is solely focused on teaching and student engagement and does not require a portfolio full of academic journal articles and publications with university presses. I like the opportunity to keep dipping my toes into the academic world via conferences and writing for academic audiences, but here’s the thing: I’ve always known that I wanted to be actively involved in my community and creating work that is academically rigorous, but widely readable and enjoyable.

Enough with the jargon, the pretentiousness, the wall that is often put up to keep historical work inaccessible.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t some amazing historians out there doing just that. I could list many academics that are dedicated to sharing their expertise with the general public, perhaps now more than ever. But it’s incredibly freeing to know that I can take on projects without worrying what my CV will look like as a result.

Back to the writing. I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do believe that we can give so much of ourselves away and not refill our creative wells that, in turn, there is not much left to give. I had exhausted myself over the course of the Ph.D., and then over the past year and a half as I adjusted to full-time teaching and coming to terms with rediscovering my own voice. It took a lot longer than I thought.

My current writing space at home (on a very clean day).

Eventually it came down to making space — both physically and mentally (perhaps even spiritually) — in order to feel at home with words again. As last semester came to a close, I realized how poorly I had treated my time. There were a lot of days and nights where large pockets of time could have been dedicated to pursuing creative work that, instead, I languished in the active destruction of my creativity — namely, through negative self-talk. I needed to find a way to both harness my time and open up my heart and mind to writing. I was done making excuses about how tired I was.

I don’t really have a perfect outline for what this process looks like. Since the start of the year I’ve been trying to see what sticks. It’s trial and error, really. What I do know, is that January 2020 has felt like one my most fulfilling creative months yet.

A few things I’ve tried in order to “make space” for writing:

  • Actually creating a dedicated workspace that I like, both in my home office corner and on campus.
  • Keeping track of how many days that I’ve taken time to write something — anything! — no matter how long or short.
  • Looking around me for inspiration — this could be getting out in nature, going on more walks with the dog, spending time with friends, etc.
  • Getting quiet — through yoga and meditation, or simply stopping to hear the birds outside.
  • And finally, READING. I’ve let myself have permission to read all the things, whatever they might be, to add to my creative well. Right now that’s a lot of fiction and some essays.

My writing life is not perfect by any means. However, I am giving myself permission to try new things, to “play” a bit with the words, and to be open to new possibilities. It’s been freeing. I can’t wait to see where it leads next!

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