This was a summer of profound drought. My little corner of Texas faced its second year of record temperatures, water rationing, and grass fires. Add to that a house full of rowdy children, a pending cross-country move, and two rounds of intense edits on my newly finished novel and I haven’t exactly been in peak creative form.
It was a daily reminder that real life and creativity are forced to coexist and writers have no choice but to write anyway. To block out the chaos and finish that chapter or that blog post. To work through Story on a macro level even when homebound with the Wild Rumpus. (My husband finally bought me a pair of studio-quality noise reduction headphones—a true lifesaver) The last few months were a lesson in pushing through a creative drought.
While juggling those edits and wild children and record temperatures I stumbled across an article by Neil Gaiman in which he interviewed Stephen King. Two fiction legends discussing creativity and their prolific careers and what happens when they reach for the words. I found this segment particularly comforting during those stressful editing sessions:
Neil Gaiman: I told him about the peculiarity of researching the story I was working on, that everything I needed, fictionally, was waiting for me when I went looking for it. He nods in agreement.
Stephen King: “Absolutely – you reach out and it's there. The time that it happened the clearest was when Ralph, my agent then, said to me 'This is a bit crazy, but do you have any kind of idea for something that could be a serialized novel like Dickens used to do?,' and I had a story that was sort of struggling for air. That was The Green Mile. And I knew if I did this I had to lock myself into it. I started writing it and I stayed ahead of the publication schedule pretty comfortably. Because...” he hesitates, tries to explain in a way that doesn't sound foolish, “...every time I needed something that something was right there to hand.
“When John Coffey goes to jail – he was going to be executed for murdering the two girls. I knew that he didn’t do it, but I didn’t know that the guy who did do it was going to be there, didn’t know anything about how it happened, but when I wrote it, it was all just there for me. You just take it. Everything just fits together like it existed before.”
“You reach out and it’s there,” King said. And it’s so true! Every time I’ve needed the words—really needed them—they were waiting for me. It was true of my edits this summer. And true of every blog post and short story and novel I’ve ever written.
That knowledge doesn’t make the process any easier. It doesn’t mean I can procrastinate. I still have to do my part—put my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. But it does give me hope that no matter the drought I’m in, the story is always waiting for me. Wanting to be written.
Question for you: what does your “drought” look like right now? Do you believe that if you reach for the words they will be there?
P.S. If you happen to be a fan of Neil Gaiman (I do wonder sometimes if there are people who aren’t) then do yourself a favor and watch his commencement address to the University of the Arts. It will make you laugh and cry and then you will get up and go write. Wise and wonderful words from one of the most talented authors of our generation.