Filling the Pen

This writing thing can really knock you on your butt sometimes.  Twice this year I got caught up in the maelstrom of negative thoughts, putting so much pressure on myself that I pushed myself to the brink of an abyss of anxiety.

Why does this happen?  I suspect it’s different for every writer, but for me it’s because I get caught up in the myth that it’s somehow easy for other people, and if I just push through and push through, somehow it will become easy for me too.  But the thing is that making art is hard, even if it doesn’t look it from the outside.  But even that thought didn’t help as I was driving toward the abyss last month, because I’d just tell myself that it was hard but that I should somehow be able to just get over it all and do it anyway.

And then a newsletter arrived in my mailbox, from my friend Steph Lagana, a lighthouse in the world, and it told me exactly what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it:

“And this is really important, DON’T DO IT BEFORE IT FEELS RIGHT. It doesn’t need to feel easy. In fact it could be really simple and feel SUPER @#$%&*$ SCARY. See above.  It also doesn’t need to make sense. It just needs to feel RIGHT.”

Read the full post here – maybe you need Steph’s wisdom too

And I suddenly understood why everything felt wrong with the writing project I had been working on.  Even though I loved the story, the characters, the premise, I was trying to do it at the wrong time.  I had been trying to write with an empty pen.

the-view-from-saturday-9780689817212_lgEarlier this year, I reread an old favorite with my son, The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg.  One of the characters, Noah, learns calligraphy, and one of the most important lessons he learns is this:

“Filling the pen is not what you do before you begin.  It is the beginning.” 

(My Sugar Quill people will appreciate the fact that this bit of wisdom appears on page 87.)

My head knew this; I even had several conversations about it with other authors back in October.  Yet still I pushed myself, trying to force this book into existence.  It wasn’t until I was at my wit’s end that I finally understood this with my heart and decided to take time off from writing altogether.

When I made that decision, it was like a weight had been lifted from my lungs.  And I realized the utter ridiculousness of the fear that had been driving my push forward: I was afraid that if I really took a break from writing, somehow I would never be able to start again.  This is ludicrous.  I have finished six novel manuscripts and nine nonfiction manuscripts; I’ve done it before and I can do it again.  And yet the fear persists, every single time.  The irony is that there was no way I could find my way back to writing until I let go of it for awhile.

So now I am focusing on the things that inspire me, so that, when the time is right, I can go back to that work in progress with joy and vigor.  Here are some of the things that have been filling my pen lately:


Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison

Whimsy with a conscience.  I truly love this book.




The Hamilton Mixtape

The phrase “sheer brilliance” just about sums it up.




The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Smart fantasy at its finest.




Winter Dreams for Christmas by R. Carlos Nakai and William Eaton

My  very favorite Christmas album, with haunting, beautiful arrangements of classic songs for cedar flute and guitar.



Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy – audiobook narrated by Eileen Stevens

A funny, heartwarming book, with a terrific narrator.




Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum – audiobook narrated by Jorjeana Marie

An insanely compelling audio book that kept me in the driveway to find out what happened next!



Downton Abbey

Thanks to Tobie Easton getting me hooked on this, I have mainlined most of the series over the last three months.




Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling – audiobook narrated by Jim Dale

Because any list of what inspires me naturally has to include Harry Potter, and this is the one my son and I are currently listening to.  On this listen, I am especially appreciating how well Narcissa Malfoy’s storyline is developed.


Fraggle Rock

Also a staple of my inspiration.  You can’t be uncheered by Fraggle Rock. Here’s one of my very favorite clips.  It always inspires me, so maybe it will inspire you too:



This entry was posted in On Life, On Writing, Recommended Reading. Bookmark the permalink.

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