Charming the Snakes
Like the priest who said, All of my sermons are about the things I need to work on, when I give writing advice, it's because I need to work on that same area.
I'm asking you to consider the possibility that the reason you haven't completed your poem, collage, book, thesis, letter to the editor . . . is because it's the wrong project. It isn't that you can't complete what you've begun; it’s because you are no longer excited about it, and on a visceral level you already know this. You just haven’t given yourself permission to dump the project.
I've had inspired projects where the muse skittered across the page so quickly I couldn't keep up with her. But once I became immersed in the project, I knew it wasn't going to be fleshed-out. I either didn't have the necessary stick-to-itiveness, the skill, or my desire waned to the point that facing the project was like looking into a pit of hissing snakes.
This past year, my desire to write poetry lessened considerably. I wasn't blocked. It was worse than that: I was disinterested. So I began writing a novel, and when that project started hissing at me, I quit. I loved my characters, I loved their long, clever conversations; but I didn't care enough to follow them to the ends of the earth, let alone the end of the book. So I abandoned them.
Out of nowhere (in other words, the thought was slithering around in my head all along and I'd ignored it) an idea came to me for a non-fiction book about writing and submitting poetry. The idea thrilled me. It incorporated everything I'd learned over the past ten years, while co-editing a small press poetry journal, as well as my own conflicted experiences in the uncertain world of publication.
The snake-hissing lessened considerably as I thought about the book's possible content, and stopped entirely when I began the writing, the editing, and the all-out believing that my fledgling project deserved. Instead of fearing the pit of snakes, I began playing my pungi until the snakes danced for me.
Ideas are exciting, like new love, all titillation and flirtation. Often these flirtations turn into concrete published poems and books. But sometimes we need to let go of the very thing we thought we loved, just stop in the middle of the endeavor and give it a big heave-ho into the abyss. It challenges what we've been instructed to do since preschool. It goes against our finish-everything-you-start mentality. And it feels wonderful.
If what you're working on doesn't thrill you, if the work seems too much like work, stop chastising yourself. Set it aside and consider something outside your normal venue. If you write poetry, try essays, if you write essays, try short stories. If you’re tired of writing, pick up a paint brush. Don't allow frustration or ennui to stop you from expressing yourself. Bust out your pungi and start playing.
My writing often deals with the environment, my poetry filled with allusions to natural and man-made disasters. I have unlimited hope though; there is just too much wonder in this world to become a defeatist. To quote Margaret J. Wheatley, '"Hopelessness has surprised me with patience."