A couple of weeks ago, Thing 1’s teacher announced a “Wax Museum” project. Students would research Revolutionary War figures and dress up as them. Costumes were supposed to be pulled together from things found around the house–nothing elaborate. I checked in with Thing 1.
Me: Who are you?
Thing 1: George Washington.
Me: Do you have any ideas about your costume?
Thing 1: I’m going to wear a khaki pants and a blue shirt over a white shirt.
Me [inside my head]: Riiiiiight. Just like George Washington. Well, at least you’ve made a decision and I don’t need to hot glue anything.
Me [out loud]: Great!
And it was great. Or at least it was something. Until 10pm the night before the wax museum. Kids were finally in bed. I was chatting online with a writer-mama-friend. All was peaceful. And then…
Thing 1 [magically teleporting from his bed into the doorway]: I need a costume.
Me [inside my head]: [inarticulate grumbling]
Me [out loud]: I thought you had a costume idea.
Thing 1: I don’t.
To say that I was annoyed would be a massive understatement. Meanwhile, Thing 2 was teleporting in and out of bed because he was dying of minor indigestion. Good times.
Thing 1 ended up with one of his dad’s blue shirts over a white tee shirt, rolled-up khakis, and what can only be described as a George Washington do-rag made from equal parts old tee shirt, toilet paper tubes, and desperation.
I felt like a rock star. Until Thing 1 scrutinized my work.
Thing 1: That doesn’t look like hair.
Me [barely not yelling at 11pm]: It’s your dad’s old tee shirt with toilet paper tubes hot-glued onto it. This is what you get.
Thing 1: It doesn’t look like hair.
Me: [existential crisis]
There was hostility. There was negotiation. 11:30pm rolled around. My husband worked some kind of parenting magic. Thing 1 stuffed tissue paper in the toilet paper tubes and proclaimed that now it looked like hair. Writer-mama-friend had scoured Pinterest and produced a picture of a kid George Washington costume with epaulettes, which were easily made from craft foam and colored paper. Thing 1 totally dug the epaulettes. He actually got excited about them. Everyone tells you to get a critique partner but no one tells you that not only will she save your novel, she may well save you from abandoning your child in the woods in the middle of the night.
As annoyed as I was, I also felt victorious. More than that, though, the desperate late-night crafting shook something loose. There’s something about switching creative gears that helps unlock the magic. The next morning when I sat down to work on revisions for Vessel, my work in progress, I looked over notes from my critique partners, as I usually do before beginning. And suddenly I realized what I needed to do. I needed to cut the entire last third of my novel.
It wasn’t working. At all. It wasn’t the right last third for this (or possibly any other) novel. I didn’t love it, but I couldn’t see that until that morning. And I think somehow it was the late-night panicked wig-making that shook something loose in my mind, forced me to think in a different way, loosened up my thought process so that I was finally ready to see what didn’t work. Making a George Washington wig at 10pm from a bunch of random crap requires some outside-the-box thinking–exactly the kind of thinking I needed to approach this revision.
So I cut the last 25,000 words. And it felt good.*
I find that I need creative endeavors outside of writing, outside the one I’m working to shape into a career. I need places where I can play without much or anything at stake. Creating begets more creating, spurs it on, shakes things loose and makes new things possible.
Do you create outside your main creative endeavor? What shape does that take, and how does it help shake the magic loose?
*I had a revelation at this point in the blog post, but it would take way too much time and get way too cluttery to explain it here and now, plus I need to get on these revisions, so next week I will tell you the story of how my Nana chopped up her wedding dress and what that has to do with anything.
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