January 19, 2014

by Deborah Atherton


A few days ago, as I was ending my day by playing a little game of Scrabble online, I was suddenly hit by an idea of how to fix a novel I have been totally unable to finish and send off.  “Go back to the short story!” a little voice in my head yelled (I had adapted the novel from a short story I had written a few years before.) 


I don’t know why these little voices always feel the need to yell—a soft whisper in my ear would have done just as well.  But the sensation is, as so many other people have often described it, startling.  Not exactly like jumping into your bathtub and having a revelation as did Archimedes, or having an apple fall off a tree and hit you on the head, a la Sir Isaac Newton, but not so unlike it either.  I did manage to finish my turn before I opened the short story and re-read it.  And yup, there were the scenes that would make all the difference in the novel—already written! But somehow I had forgotten about them for two years as I was mulling and procrastinating.  At this point, I don’t know if I made a conscious decision NOT to include them at some point, or had just entirely forgotten about them. 


So was I doing the right thing not sending the novel out when I was uneasy about it (although I couldn’t exactly say why?) And how do you tell if you are just holding yourself back or if there is a real problem that has a solution you just haven’t found yet?


I suppose one indication might be whether you are at a complete standstill with every project you’ve undertaken, or just stuck on one.  Because however absorbed we are in the Big Work of the moment, there are almost always other things to be done—most of us have more than one idea at a time, and have a few things on the back burner even we are most involved in finishing something major.  If you are at a complete creative standstill (and we’ve all been there) it is probably not because your little (loud) internal voice has not yet chosen to speak.  Something else is up; you are stopping yourself for some reason.  In the last month, I’ve had a few little breakthroughs—but I’ve also had the time, and given myself the space, to get there.


But this one surprised me; it came out of nowhere, when I was completely occupied with what to do with my “Q”—the last thing I was thinking of was how to fix the novel.  Sometimes it does pay to wait for your brain to make the connections it needs to make, and notify you.  Since almost all creative people are born procrastinators, this may be a dangerous conclusion to come to; but once in a while, putting it off does turn out to be right thing to do.  

Photo used by permission of Leo Reynolds. Some rights reserved by artist.

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