Monday, October 28, 2013

"The Incurable Disease of Writing"

"Many suffer from the incurable disease of writing, and it becomes chronic in their sick minds." 
~ Juvenal

This is a story about how I attempted to "cure" myself from the "incurable disease of writing"...and failed.

If you follow this blog or my social-media posts, you will know that I spent the early part of the fall writing stage-musical adaptations of my three Q'ntana Trilogy stories. My plan had been to write at least two drafts of each script before tackling the next, with a suitable break between stories. What I felt called to do instead was to work straight through all three first drafts, back-to-back-to-back, with only a day off between The MoonQuest and The StarQuest and another one between The StarQuest and The SunQuest.

Unlike in my early years as a freelance journalist where my writing was skilled and craftsmanlike but written from the surface, my current creations rise up from profound, gut-wrenching inner places that challenge me as little else in my life ever has. In metaphysical terms, they are "energy activations" that force me to face my deepest fears and impel me to trust more fully and surrender more completely than I sometimes believe to be possible.

All my work now comes from that place -- fiction, memoir and books on writing alike. Yet nothing has ever activated me more intensely than The MoonQuest, The StarQuest and The SunQuest. And no writing experience has ever been more intense than working nonstop through all three stories, something I had never done before launching into my Q'ntana Trilogy Stage Musical Marathon.

When I finished first drafts of the three scripts a few weeks ago, I swore I would never write again. I wasn't kidding. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I was depressed. And, in moments, I was despairing. I was also broke. And I couldn't help but question the purpose of an enterprise that had left me so depleted in so many ways.

Days passed and I grew no less adamant. I would hang up my quill and keyboard and try my hand at something different, even though I couldn't imagine what that might be. As more days passed, I moved from hopeless to helpless to anger to resignation, traveling my own version of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grieving.

Then two things happened, almost simultaneously.

The first occurred as I was editing an interview I had done in August with mystery writer Ellen Hart for my "One-on-One Conversations with Creatives" series. As Ellen and I talked about her work, her characters and her craft, I began to feel myself pulled back into the writer's identity I had so recently pushed away.

A few hours later, a favorite story about Wrinkle in Time author Madeleine L'Engle popped into my head and wouldn't leave. The story, which I recount in Writer's Block Unblocked: 7 Surefire Ways to Free Up Your Writing and Creative Flow, talks about how the already-published L'Engle nearly quit writing after receiving repeated Wrinkle in Time rejections (including one from her then-publisher).

She tried to quit...but found that she couldn't. Here's the story, excerpted from Writer's Block Unblocked:

Toward the end of that two-year period [of rejections], L'Engle covered up her typewriter and decided to give up -- on A Wrinkle in Time and on writing. ... 
[Her] decision to throw in the towel was short-lived. Or, perhaps, a determined Muse caught L'Engle's towel and tossed it back at her: On her way downstairs to the kitchen, L'Engle had an epiphany -- an idea for a novel about failure. In a flash, she was back at her typewriter.
"That night," as she explained 30 years later in a PBS documentary, "I wrote in my journal, 'I'm a writer. That's who I am. That's what I am. That's what I have to do -- even if I'm never, ever published again.' And I had to take seriously the fact that I might never, ever be published again. ... It's easy to say I'm a writer now, but I said it when it was hard to say. And I meant it.”

L'Engle's words haunted me for days.  

I'm a writer. 
That's who I am. 
That's what I am. 
That's what I have to do. 

Wide awake or drifting off to sleep, reading a book or watching a movie, out for a walk or out in the car: No matter where I was or what I was doing, those four short sentences played over and over in my head. I couldn't escape them.

I'm a writer. 
That's who I am. 
That's what I am. 
That's what I have to do. 

In Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir, I share stories of how I resisted becoming a writer (in school, I hated writing and everything creative) and of how, once I finally surrendered to it, my writerly identity never completely left me. This time, for the first time, I willfully turned my back on it and said, "No more!"

In the end, though, like Madeleine L'Engle, I couldn't do it.

There's a scene in The SunQuest, The Q'ntana Trilogy's final book, where the main character tries to shrug off his destiny.

"That is your path," Yzythq'a insisted. "That is your destiny."
"No."
"You speak as though you believe you have a choice."
"Of course I have a choice," I countered with more certainty than I felt.
"You made your choice already," he said. “The moment you chose to return to Q’ntana, you made this choice, too."

How could I have thought my path would differ from Ben's when everything I write, however fantastical, is also autobiographical? In this world filled with an infinity of choices, I have no choice. As I write in The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write (and encourage others to read aloud for themselves), 

I am a writer.
I am a writer.
I am a writer.

Only in the past few days, have I finally surrendered again to something that is far from a disease. It is a way of being, a way of breathing, a way of moving through the world, a second skin...possibly even a first skin. I know that now, not from the intellectual place I have stated my surrender in the past, but from that same deep inner place my writing comes from. I know that, too, because it's in writing this piece that I feel it more deeply than I ever have before.

I am a writer. And, yes, it's incurable. 


What's your relationship with your writing? Has it changed over time? How? 

Remember that whether you're published or not, if the Muse calls and you're writing, you are a writer. Do you need some help believing that? Watch the video meditation, "You Are A Writer." Are you feeling judgmental about your writing? Watch the video meditation, "Let Judgment Go." The audio for both was drawn from my recording The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers


Find all the books mentioned in this post in the Kindle, Nook, iBook and Kobo stores, readable on your e-reader, tablet, computer and smartphone:
• The Q'ntana Trilogy (The MoonQuest, The StarQuest, The SunQuest; The MoonQuest is also available in paperback at Amazon.com)
• Writer's Block Unblocked: 7 Surefire Ways to Free Up Your Writing and Creative Flow
• The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write (also available in paperback at Amazon.com)
• Acts of Surrender: A Writer's Memoir

Get The Voice of the Muse Companion on CD at Amazon.com
or as an MP3 download from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play or CD Baby

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4 comments:

William Reichard said...

Mark David, this is inspiring as always. Reminds me of that Bruce Springsteen song ... "still, at the end of every hard day, people find some reason to believe." Who can say what the mystery is?

I say this as someone who only realized after he finished writing a book that it was basically a story about someone wanting to give up and refuse to be who he really was and about how hard it is not to do that. It takes constant work to listen for that encouragement from ourselves. It's a leap I've taken in part based on your example, my friend.

Many, many people, me included, will be glad you didn't quit.

The quest continues!

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks for this, Will, and for the eloquent blog post of your own that it inspired - http://thefethelement.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/writing-chooses-us/

JoAnn Melton said...

In the middle of a dark and stormy night, a voice clearly said, "JoAnn, this is your book." I didn't even turn around to look as it was a voice I've never heard before and I knew no one else was awake.

Mark David Gerson said...

JoAnn: The voice of your muse!