Twenty years ago, my father gave me a copy of Women Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews. I devoured this book. I was fascinated by the words these writers used to talk about their process, and about their relationship with writing. In some ways, I cared less about what they wrote than I did about what writing meant to them, its connection to who they were, and how it made meaning for them.
One interview stood out for me the most, and that was with the Irish writer Edna O’Brien, author of many novels and short stories. I returned to this interview again and again. Edna O’Brien was so herself, so full of contradictions and so open and accepting of them. The interviewer mentioned Philip Roth’s rumored habit of writing 365 days a year, and asked O’Brien if she shared this habit. O’Brien said that, actually, she did not write 365 days a year, because she wasn’t “that kind of writer”.
She also said that part of her process was moping. “Did Philip Roth say that he moped?” she asked.
I loved this. Permission to mope! I was twenty-one at the time, and for years I’d been trying to get rid of the part of myself that was mopey, the part of myself that actually needed time to just be with whatever I was feeling. Because no one in my life had ever given me permission to just feel bad, and to take that time. And, up until I read that interview with Edna O’Brien, I wasn’t able to give it to myself.
I didn’t know it could be okay to allow myself to feel like crap, let the feeling be there, and trust that this feeling would move and shift, as feelings do. I’d always been taught to get rid of that stuff — if I allowed myself to get in touch with it at all — and to move on from it as soon as possible.
Which hadn’t worked very well.
Because sometimes I need that. I need to putter around the house with these feelings and just give them space. I need to allow them to be, instead of engaging in the inner tug of war that happens when I feel a little mopey and I tell myself, “You don’t have any real reason to feel that way!”
As a creativity coach, a frequent refrain I hear from clients who feel sad, tired, or drained is, “I know I shouldn’t be letting this get in the way of my [writing, artwork, coaching — fill in the blank].”
We have this idea that “creating” means doing — all the time — and we’re somehow “lesser” writers or artists or coaches if we’re not always doing something that looks like creating. We get into either/or: I’m either doing it, or I’m not.
We don’t see the whole of our process — we might not even be aware of the whole of our process. The root system of a tree plunges deep, deep into the earth — but we only see the leaves, the trunk, the branches. And in winter, we don’t even see leaves.
What if we included all of ourselves in our process? What if we saw all of our emotions as helping our creative process, rather than hurting it?
In attending to, making space for, our own emotional core, we feed our creativity, over time.
We may have days that look like puttering, or moping, or just curling up on the couch, and not much else.
But that doesn’t mean we aren’t creating. We’re just in the unseen part of our process. We’re just underground for a while.
The holidays are a good time to remember this. We often feel frazzled, disconnected from ourselves, due to extra activities and the “stuff” the holidays can bring up for many of us. What part of your process are you in right now? Can you give yourself permission to be there, or at least, to notice where you are? Can you make room for whatever’s coming up?
Happy Holidays to my beautiful readers, clients, and friends.
And here’s a great opportunity for more permission-building insights: My friend and mentor, the wonderful writer and coach Jenna Avery, is offering a free teleseries on Creative Productivity, starting this Wednesday, Dec. 19! You can check it out and sign up, here.
Image is Ice Tree © Brent Hatcher | Dreamstime.com