Feed the Muse


I’ve been having a good run lately. Work, work, work. Time alone to think and no traumas on the front burner.

When work is going smoothly, I cook. My family eats really well when I’m writing happily. Mushroom risotto with sautéed spinach. Baked chicken with olives and artichokes, with a quinoa feta salad. Chocolate chip banana bread.

Conversely, if the writing blows—your choices are frozen pizza or hard boiled eggs and baby carrots out of the bag for dinner?

The longer I write, the more aware I am of the connection between my inner world and the outer world—aka “reality.” The two worlds definitely relate to each other. In both lift and drag.

When the work stalls, sometimes I look up and realize I haven’t been out of my office in hours, days, weeks. My sister has been known to call and ask: “Have you eaten today?”

“Uhhhh. I think so?”

Eric Maisel, author of “Creativity for Life” says that creative mania is similar to other forms of mania, only not necessarily cause for institutionalization. (Yay.) Creative mania is a positive form of mania. It definitely makes life exciting.

And like other kinds of mania, it’s usually followed by a rest period. Low energy, fallow time. The creative winter. Hard boiled eggs and carrots, anyone?

I used to fight that shift. Lots of wailing and nashing of teeth. Can’t say I exactly embrace it now, but I do have the sense it’s all part of the package.

These days, I’ve developed a few tricks to feed my spirit when I’m in the creative winter:

1. Rest. Sleep is the first medicine. Try some crazy all day napping. Vacation hours. You only need one day. Pretend it’s olden times, when Sunday was a day of rest.

2. Go outside. Be reminded of the physical world. You can’t write about the world unless you feel it on your skin and in your bones now and then.

3. Clean your desk. Make room for a new idea by clearing up what’s around you physically. Dust. Vacuum. Take a loofa to the desk and slough off the old.

4. Read. Words follow words. When you’re stumped, go hang out in the library for a while and see if that doesn’t get the juices flowing.

5. Sweat. Okay, this is one of my least favorite options, when it involves going to the gym. But I think we can all think of sweaty non-gym related activities as well. Dwell on that thought for a moment…Ahhh. Nice.

Now, I’m off to cook. Ravioli and grilled asparagus? Or polenta and meatballs?
Next week, we may be eating oatmeal and Raman. It's not all quite as tasty, but it’s all good.

Comments

Wynter Daniels said…
Good advice for the care and feeding of the muse! I'm the opposite with meals for my family. I can lose myself in cooking something creative so I don't have to think about my WIP being in stagnate mode.
J Wachowski said…
That makes so much sense! Sublimation. I can't explain why I'm the opposite except whe I'm happy, I cook, I eat. When I'm unhappy, I don't cook & hardly eat. Go figure.
Toni Anderson said…
I'm like Jules in that I tend to go off food when I'm miserable :) Same thing though, we are affected by our moods, the ups and downs of life and 'creative mania'. I often forget breakfast and sometimes lunch.
I approve of your tricks. I'm a big believer in sleep and reading and being outside and and and everything you said. :)
Blythe Gifford said…
All true. Maybe it's time to clean the desk...
J Wachowski said…
Oh Toni--I did this writing retreat in the Fall and spent most of the first two days sleeping. What luxurious nourishment! It was like addding a Red Bull to my morning java!

And Blythe, I just cleaned mine & it helped. The toast crumbs were interfering with my sense of touch, they'd become so thick on the keyboard. :)
Marcelle Dubé said…
Forgetting to eat? Sorry, that's against the rules of my church. :-) When I need to recharge, I go for a long walk. It gets the blood going and changes the old air for fresh new air. And when I start a new writing project, I ritualistically clean off the desk and file away all the loose papers. Very satisfying.
Anonymous said…
Hey, Julie,
I now have 2 daughters (one is a vegan) back living at home, both are great cooks. But there is feast or famine here. Either the fridge is exploding with leftovers or things are scarce, with the exception of all those bottles/jars of sauces, and specialty flours for the vegan. I take advantage of their cooking sprees to work on my writing, or lately, judging contests.
Clean off my desk??? If I did that, then I'd look around me and find so many other areas that need cleaning that I'd never get back to writing! LOL
Sherry
J Wachowski said…
Hey Sherry, Sounds like you have the cycle down pat with the feast and famine. And daughters who cook--you did something very right!

I know what you mean about getting carried away withthe job. DH took me out to a movie Saturday to stop me from the crazed clean-up: "Just one more baseboard...to...scrub." I blame my beloved Dutch grandmother.
Julie Moffett said…
When I'm unhappy, I don't eat either. But I also don't cook (well) even when I'm happy. It's a fantasy that one day I'll take cooking lessons and be on a cooking reality show. Wow, author turned cook. Hmmm...
J Wachowski said…
Hey Miss J, dining out is always a good option!
I learned to cook as a kid--used to call my dad at work and ask him what meat to take out of the freezer for dinner. He'd tell me what to get started.
There was a lot of canned mushroom soup and hamburger going on back in those days. :)
J Wachowski said…
Marcelle--I so agree about the walks. With the winter we've had, it's no wonder people are crabby around here. Hard to get outside and walk without my nose turning red and dripping icicles!
Cathie Linz said…
Brilliant observations, as always Julie. I am a firm believer in sleep. Always have been. Cleaning off my desk...not so much.
J Wachowski said…
All you have to do is ask...my Dutch Grandma would love to get her hands on your desk and help you scrub! ;)
Cathie Linz said…
Thanks but no thanks. The sign above my desk says it all - A Messy Desk is the Sign of Genius. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Kelle Z Riley said…
Wow, did this post resonate with me. I've known about my own creative feast & famine cycles for a long time. Usually when I'm in the famine phase I just try to enjoy it, knowing that a creative rush will follow. It has taken me a long time to get to that point of acceptance. Thank you, Julie, for doing this post--now I know that I'm not alone in those cycles.

I'm on the edge of the knife right now--either my famine will continue to demand I rest and refresh, or a creative rush is about to start. Either way, I'm in good company!

kzr
Clare London said…
That's such good advice - and very heartening to hear other people facing the same rollercoaster :). Sometimes I imagine it's not a "down" period but a "down and out"! LOL

Food has always been important in our house - but I admit, the only time I *don't* eat is, indeed, when I'm very low :(. Great for the diet, not so good for the creative urges.
Betsy Horvath said…
Usually I don't forget to eat - LOL - but I don't take the time to eat well. I'm a diabetic - if I'm eating junk my mind, body and mood all go to heck and I can't write a darn thing. But if I don't get enough sleep, it's hard to resist reaching for the quick energy of sugar. It's all a vicious cycle. :P
Mike Keyton said…
Writing? Who cares about writing? I want to eat what you're eating!
Elise Warner said…
Jules...After reading the dinners you prepare on a good day,my appetite is raging. Good ideas for the down days too.
MaureenAMiller said…
I'm a weird author (understatement). I need to eat while I'm writing. I think it's the motion of chewing that helps me think.
Shirley Wells said…
I never, ever go off my food. Perish the thought. :)

I agree with the rest of it though. For me, the best thing is a good long walk with the dogs. Clearing the desk is another must. A tidy desk is a tidy mind - or so they say.
Deborah said…
Hmmm...I may need to clean my desk. But then the mess of that task suddenly makes writing much more appealing!
I do see some connection between increased creativity and my urge to get more creative with my cooking. Not sure, though, sometimes if it's mopping up the creative mania or an excuse to not write but unleash creativity in another way.
Regardless, please feel free to invite others over for the feasting times. ;)
PS I love Eric Maisel's work.

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