We’re Just Gonna Give that Muse a Big Ol’ Push, Basically

I’m sitting at a desk littered with paperwork. I see two planners here (why two?! We’re in a pandemic. WHAT AM I POSSIBLY PLANNING), plus an old grocery list and a messy meal-planning list I’d scratched out on the back of yet another grocery list. There’s the disclosure statement for my mother’s property, the paperwork for her car, photos of my kids and business cards I pulled out of the last purse she used before she became homebound. In the middle of the mess, at my right elbow as I type this, is forty-eight pages of the manuscript I was working on before the summer hit. I loved this story–when I sat down to write it’d fly from my fingers, and now it’s been so long since I stepped away from it I worry I’ve lost the thread. In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about a story idea being a real thing that tries to find its teller: if one person doesn’t pluck the story out of the air and set it to paper, someone else will. That image frightens me, because it’s something I’ve always sort of believed–if I don’t write this, someone else will. If I don’t get this down, it will leave me.

I know what you’re thinking. Writers are weird.

When I get anxious, or when the to-do tasks feel little but massive and many, I get scatter-brained. It’s like the light to my decision-making skills just flips off, and that part of my brain goes dark. I’ve always been this way. It makes me feel young–immature, I mean–and at sea. But I also know that if I just start–just take one bit at a time and get that done, then the dominoes will start to fall. I just have to sidestep the dark part of my brain and keep going despite how large it seems to loom. It’ll flip back on eventually, once I stop letting that dark part get in my way.

I know other people are like this, but nobody ever talks about it: this anxiety-like shutdown. The brain overwhelm. I’d love to know if other people I know are this way, but again, not many acquaintances are wont to walk up to you in the Target parking lot and say, “Hey! Good to see you! Have I ever told you how I shut down when I’m anxious? IT’S SO FUN.” I’ve got a good friend I admire because she just gets s*** done. I can’t explain it what it’s like to know her: there’s never been a to-do list I’ve witnessed her not power through. She’s a planner, and an executor. She’s so consistent. It’s humbling, especially during those days I feel all I’m super good at is staring out the window while I’m trying to figure out how to step around the big brain dark place and get to what I need to do next.

Anxious brains are weird.

Bestselling author Sally Hepworth recently answered a question on Instagram about her writing schedule: she is the breadwinner of her family through her work writing novels, and is currently under pandemic lockdown in Australia with her husband and three school-aged children. Someone asked her how she worked, and she said that she can’t be like that mythical old man in a lake house sitting by himself with his whiskey, waiting for his muse to pay him a visit. She said that she’s a career novelist: she has to write every day, despite inspiration or motivation or creative impulse or any of that, because, well, it’s what she has to do. Bills need to be paid, so deadlines need to be met.

I wonder if she ever stares out the window, too.

I’m going to post this, and then I’m going to read through those forty-eight pages and start typing some new ones. It’s time. I’ve some calls to make later, some emails to return, but for now I’m going to dig into the work.

It just takes a push, you guys: I’ve relocated the thread to my story. Looks like the first domino is about to fall.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Renee Anderson | 21st Sep 20

    Yup I know about anxiety brain shut down!! I haven’t touched a camera since this whole pandemic/riots/election/whole world f***ed up mess started. I’m even having trouble writing this comment. My brain just won’t function right. Most days I wake up exhausted because I’m so tense when I do sleep. But it makes me really happy to hear you are back to writing and knocking over dominoes. Keep at it ’cause I want to read that next book!!

    • Leah Ferguson | 21st Sep 20

      Oh, I can empathize with this so much. I hope you get back to that camera soon–I miss seeing what you can do with it!

  2. Barbara Conrey | 21st Sep 20

    You’ve got this; I know you do!

  3. Diana Moser | 21st Sep 20

    Yes! I get this way too. It’s so frustrating and I feel like people (my husband) a judging me for it. I know they aren’t, right?… haha. I can’t say I’ve figured out a way to cope except, taking tiny baby steps forward. Thanks for your honesty. I don’t feel so.bad about myself.

    • Leah Ferguson | 21st Sep 20

      And you just made me feel better about myself, Diana! I think those baby steps *are* the way forward. We know what we’re doing! 😉

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