The week of the hurricane brought me an unplanned week off during which I worked steadily on a painting that I was doing for an upcoming auction. I didn’t recognize it as a rich opportunity to write until four or five days had passed. At which point, the muse tapped me on the shoulder. The conversation went something like this:
Muse: Hey, Kiini, I see you’re hard at work.
Me: Yeah, this painting is really coming along.
Muse: That’s great, really great. You worked all through the storm.
Me: Yeah, it’s been a while since I did a painting, you know. And I have this vision and I want to see if it’s going to work.
Muse: yeah, so you finished the background and you’re moving on to the foreground.
Me: Yeah, yeah.
Muse: so, when were you planning to return to your novel.
Muse: Your. Novel. The thing you were so relieved to have finally figured out. The thing I have given you so much inspiration for that all you have to do is sit down in front of it and the words come spilling out. The thing of your past that you are recovering for your future, that will be the foundation of your future greatness. The thing that you don’t have time to do during your regular life, so that you do it while standing. On the train. On your 30 minute commute. YOUR NOVEL!
Me: So it’s sitting right here…
Me: …and I thought I would…
Muse: Pick it up?!?
Me: … yeah, and….
Muse: Start writing?!?!
Me: … Um, yeah, I’m all over it. right after this french toast.
It’s incredible how frequently artists can go over the same territory. Figuring out a schedule, committing to a project, identifying opportunities, clarifying your vision. And for many of us, there is a curious phenomenon that happens when it’s time to get to work. Once you clear the space, manage the procrastination, and sit down to work, some writers find themselves very very very sleepy. Here’s one writer’s strategy for handling it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbGOg8VTOtQ&feature=plcp.
When it happened to me during the hurricane, I turned to the muse for guidance. The conversation unfolded like this:
Me: Ummm, Muse?
Me: So I did sit down…
Me: At the table.
Me: And I wrote.
Me: I got about a page in and I got sleepy.
Me: Very, very sleepy. Why does writing do that to me?
Muse: It’s your subconscious, trying to psyche you out.
Me: I know. So, what do I do?
Muse: What you always do, write through it.
Muse: Through it.
Me: I know, but…
Muse: You know that when you get gripped this sleepiness will disappear, so you gotta keep writing until it grips you and then you can stop disturbing me while I’m on my job.
Although it’s clear that the sleepiness is fabricated by some internal issues, it still hits like a ton of bricks and it still drags your focus away from your writing. You need strategies to navigate the trickery that your subconscious puts you through. One friend stated that by working on my painting, I was working on my writing. I insisted that it was two different things. Then this happened:
Muse: You again?
Me: Yeah, but it’s different this time.
Me: So, I took your advice, kinda.
Me: Yeah, well I didn’t go right to writing through it. I ate. Went to Zumba Sentao. It’s like a little Zumba, but there’s a chair and you… You’re not listening, are you?
Muse: I’m kinda busy, there’s a lot of you, you know. Get to the point.
Me: So I went to the gym, I did more painting, and ate, and I solved some conundrums with the narrative threads. I didn’t write that much more than I did the first time, but– A,#1, I’m not sleepy, B,#2, I’m making moves with the story, figuring out how to weave it all together, C,#3, I’m lucky I have other artists as friends, they have a lot of experience to share. Can you go visit them?
Muse: If they’re on my schedule, I’m visiting them. If not, we have to let the other muses handle it. Nobody wants someone else musing in their territory.
Me: Okay. But I just want you to know I think I’m getting wise to this sleep thing. When I have a problem to solve in the work, I get sleepy. So instead of actually going to sleep, I can attack some other activities and see if that helps.
Muse: Great a-ha moment. I’m happy for you. Now if you’ll excuse me.
Me: You’re going?
Muse: Look, I’ve given you enough inspiration to get through that whole section–all four chapters! But I know you have doubts about your stamina. Since you ain’t completed such a marathon as yet, I’m gonna visit you after this first chapter is done. Unless…
Me: I keep calling you while you’re trying to work?
Muse: Unless you keep calling me.
Me: Nope I think I’m good… (for now)
Me: I said I’m good. Goodnight.
This was the first time I had a painting going literally on the same surface as my writing. So I had the unique experience of literally moving between the two. And as I painted, I began to unravel ideas and find my way through new solutions in the writing. Turns out that the sleepiness may signal that there is more plot work or mental work to do before the writing. So while some may have different glasses of caffeine and others may go to a noisy coffee shop, I discovered that actually creating art when I get sleepy keeps me engaged in the developmental process.
It is mind-boggling that these struggles continue cyclically, and that the artist is constantly contorting to find new solutions to problems that recur and present themselves in various mutating ways. But do it we must. I am continuing on my path of hacking my way through the wilds of the subconscious to create a unique, cohesive piece of art. Blessings to you on circumnavigating all the sneaky ways that your subconscious throws up to keep you away from progress.
Be well. Be love[d].
Kiini Ibura Salaam