Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating, by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road he wants to go, I would only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.
I was sure I’d lost my zest. I was pretty sure my gusto had flown the coop.
I tend to expect a lot of myself in terms of creative work. In the past I’ve enjoyed a high output of words and never thought that would change.
Until it did.
Last year, my body delivered its opinion of my expectations and how I handle stress by planting me in the hospital (10 days in March). I’m still working on the necessary lifestyle adjustments it was clear I needed, including my attitudes toward my own production. Overachievers beware.
I came out of the hospital with two goals: make meaning and find middle ground. So I started a course to become a creativity coach and I got some accountability for my expectations. It’s a good thing I did because November brought the removal of my cancerous thyroid (great news) and the issues of adjusting the replacement hormone, which is a surprisingly long process. Fatigue on a whole new level, folks. If I had gone through that without someone reminding me it would be a good idea to “adjust your expectations, Robyn!” I’d have fallen into my old ways pretty fast.
Mind over matter and “just do it” have been a big part of my life until this past year. I’ve got a whole new level of compassion and empathy for people struggling to get their creative work done. I’ve got a whole new picture of what we do to ourselves with unrealistic expectations, both high and low. I’m navigating toward that middle ground.
So it seems the zest is still there. The gusto hasn’t flown away. I have good habits in place and a craving to put words on paper. Not long ago I complained to my coach about not getting thing done well enough or fast enough. She laughed and pointed to the task list I sent her, reminding me I was getting things done. And I do. I’ve had an enormously productive six months.
Just not the way I used to.
And I need to be okay with that.
Because I still have my zest.
How is your gusto? Do you feel that zest regularly?
Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly–they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
The right words reveal our bony parts. They dig in and expose new thoughts, revelations, feelings. The right words can comfort or challenge, affirm or deliver a swift kick. The right words can change us entirely as we sit with them. The desire to write the right words is strong. How many of us miss the mark?
When I think of the works of Brene Brown, C.S. Lewis, Judith Glaser, or Margaret Atwood, I think of the subtle shift of my being because I read the right words at the right time.
How often have you read words that revealed your bony parts? Can you recall a book or piece of writing that pierced you? How long did those words stay with you?
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol I
This is another of my favorite quotes. It’s helped a lot in times of feeling my circumstances were never going to change for the better. Developing new eyes, a new way of looking at things, has been so helpful.
The main reason I love this quote is because most main characters come to a moment of decision, a moment when they look on their circumstances with new eyes and perspective. It’s so pivotal and integral to story telling, isn’t it? I think it’s also pivotal in life, but that’s me.
What have you discovered when you’ve gained a new perspective? How did it change you? Do you relish this moment in every novel as I do?
That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.
Humans are born with this amazing ability to replay scenes in our minds, to edit them, recast them, and alter actual events on our mental stage. It’s psychological benefits an be enormous (or destructive depending on the person).
Fiction is a bit like that. We can tell deep truths in stories that we can barely verbalize in the real world. We put our characters through emotional trials that are universal to humanity, allowing the readers to identify and invest in those characters from the front cover to the back. We can rewrite our own experiences and give our characters different reactions and results. That is just one way writing can be cathartic.
There is so much we say, both knowingly and unintentionally, in our work that is truth. What do you think of the quote? What does it bring to mind for you?
“I was sand, I was snow—written on, rewritten, smoothed over.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
I love the metaphors in the above quote, in part because of the way they convey this idea of starting over: Change that can be implemented with the swipe of a hand. New chances.
As I presume is the case with many writers, my own writing life is closely linked to the other parts—the mundane, the repetitive, the adventurous, the change. Big changes have transpired for me in the last year, and I have felt in numerous ways like a blank sheet. Like sand or snow. Ready for new words. My personal and professional lives have made giant leaps and I am hoping to propel my writing life forward using the same momentum to work on my novel, which means I need to try to make something more solid of my words.
I frequently fail to write without rewriting (at least in draft one), a task that is, unfortunately for me, quite crucial to actually completing a novel. Hence why I spend more time these days thinking about writing instead of actually doing it.
But still, I suppose I am taking small steps into the sand, leaving a footprint here on this blog. One word at a time. Written on, rewritten.
Here to stay.
Anything you’re writing or rewriting you would care to share? How do you fight your inner-editor?