My five-year-old son apparently hates change. Not all change, just the semi-permanent kind. He was elated this afternoon because he and his brother and dad had switched the kid-rooms around–now the boys share a bedroom, and have a big playroom that is exclusively for fun. Rough life, right?
But tonight, he was distraught. Waterworks, hysterics, that staccato hiccupping sobbing that is the anthem of the frustrated and overtired child–all because when bedtime came, he suddenly liked his old room better. You can’t reason with an exhausted five-year-old. Well, I can’t, anyway.
I’m exhausted, too. After a brief season of excited productivity, I am in a Writing Slump–a veritable literary Slough of Despond. I am not excited about writing. I’ve written my story into a hole, and I’m not sure how to extricate it. I’m not sure I even want to. It may not deserve to get out. I’m trying to remind myself of truly heinous published works I’ve read, particularly the one where the villain’s dog was female around chapter 3, and then male a few chapters later. The sex-change was not an intentional plot-point.
I’m stuck. My story is laying around on the computer, whining and sobbing. It doesn’t like where it is, but it’s refusing to move. My characters are considering forming a support group for Victims of Negligent Character Development, and all these gorgeous phrases I remember writing just aren’t as attractive now in the light of day. I’ve come off my writing high, and I can see right through them–if I met them in a bar, I wouldn’t pick them up.
There’s probably a Right Thing to Do in this situation–some magical trick of which I’m unaware. Something that Real Authors do to get themselves out of the Slough. But I don’t know what it is. So I’m going back to the beginning to see if I can bash my way through these first chapters and find out what they’re really about. I’m not sure I’ve been paying enough attention to them. Sorry, chapters.
Tonight, my five-year-old sobbed hysterically through the first twenty minutes of my writing hour. It was hard enough to focus on breathing, let alone writing. Some people have a near-magical ability to function despite screamy kid-sobbing. I don’t. That kind of high-pitched angry wailing shuts down all civilized parts of my brain. I got frustrated and angry too. Writing was not happening.
So I went and laid down next to my screamy little kid, and hugged him, and asked him questions to find out what was going on, and talked with him. I don’t always make great mommy-decisions, but I think tonight I did okay. And after a while, he calmed down. Finally, he fell asleep.
I went back to my story for an almost-hour of writing. I stepped back into it, and asked questions, and tried to answer them. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t fun. But I did it. If I have anything going for me, it’s sheer stubbornness.
The stillness at the end of the day is when the connections begin to surface. They’re always there, gliding ponderously beneath the chaos of the day, but at night they rise like whales, exhaling diamonds into the moonlight. I need to lay down with my story, snuggle up to it, love it for what it is, even as I work to help it grow and change. I need to acknowledge that I fight change, too, that all my son’s resistance is an unintentional gift from me to him. I don’t enjoy the Slump, just as he’s not comfortable yet in his new room. But we are where we are, and we can use our stubbornness to fight it, or to find our way through the dark swampy places of writing and life. And I have faith enough to believe that if we stick with it, it will get better.
4 thoughts on “Writer.mom in the Slough of Despond”
The Modernist Poets Club met tonight and decided that you should read William Carlos Williams's "Danse Russe." He begs that you not perceive his thoughts as lewd, but as sympathetic, one writer parent to another through time.
Greg, it's a great poem. Thanks for sharing; I wasn't familiar with it. There's just one little problem:"If I when my wife is sleepingand the baby and Kathleenare sleepingand the sun is a flame-white discin silken mistsabove shining trees,–" If the sun is that high in the sky, in a household with kids no one's sleeping!
I love the whales exhaling diamonds into the moonlight. What a great image.
Thanks, Catlover! I've recycled it from a children's story I wrote for my son a few years ago.
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