Writer’s Log, April 4th: Cartography

One of the biggest problems I have with the language around creativity is how frequently it refers to that which is beyond our control. Writers “wait for their muse,” or “suffer writer’s block,” or aren’t “picked up” by an agent, or editor, or publisher. This language isn’t just inaccurate; it’s prohibitive. In fact, I think that if we wish to encourage creative potential in ourselves and others, we must insist on an intentional reversal of such language. Instead of falling back on mystical, murky references to an overly romanticized (read: unrealistic) view of the creative process, we must ask ourselves: How can I take the power of my creativity back into my own hands, where it belongs?

Recently, I’ve realized that a lot of the work I’ve done to try to rewrite my own narrative on the creative process has to do with remapping the terrain itself. This has involved a close and vigilant reexamination of what gets me into my writing practice, as opposed to a passive reinforcement of what takes me out of it.

So, for instance, rather than even speak to the idea of a muse, I try to ask myself how I can work without waiting for inspiration. On any given day, then, how might I find a path into my writing without feeling I need to follow some shiny, ethereal guide? How can I carve out a modest ramble through my creative spaces even if the light is dim and the ground is parched? How can I find a way to make that magical in its own right?

Similarly, I find myself needing to reshape the topography of writing practice. As much as I’d love to be climbing magnificent mountains in the recesses of a writer’s colony that allows me to work without access to a phone for several months (or at least as much as I like to tell myself I would), the truth is, I’m lucky if I get 90 minutes. And let me tell you: it is SO easy to spend the lion’s share of that 90 minutes moaning about the hours I wish I had. So I’ve had to teach myself to stay vigilant about intentionally lowering my expectations. Drastically. And on several levels. I remind myself that I get nothing done by moaning and groaning about what I wish I could get done, and that sometimes, just five minutes a day is all I need to maintain that crucial, regular connection to my work.

And surprisingly, this often works. If I spend five minutes jotting down notes before I have to get in the car to go pick someone up from school, chances are my mind will be wandering through those notes as I’m driving, and that I’ll arrive at drop off waving a kid in with one hand while I’m scrabbling around in the glove box for a receipt to scribble on. And even on the days when I don’t get anything actually written, keeping my mind open and my curiosity front and center goes much further toward fertilizing the next day of work than would grumbling furiously as I head out to the car and experiencing 57 varieties of road rage along the way to pick up my poor, unassuming seventh grader. Winning!

So what kind of remapping can you do? What kind of messages are you reinforcing about your writing that are just not helping, or are only helping to keep you contained? How might you erase the high-walled maze you’ve been trapped within and see what else you can sketch on that newly blank page? Even if it’s just a rough, uneven dotted line you can walk on unsteady feet, isn’t possibility infinitely more liberating than certainty?

Art: “St. Brendan’s Isle,” Bernardo Buil, 1621

5 Replies to “Writer’s Log, April 4th: Cartography”

  1. Love this idea/practice!! Also the references to cartography (a passion of mine) and glove box (which led to an etymological hunt). I used to scramble around for receipts to write on but now dictate myself emails on my phone. I am less likely to lose those. And the bloopers sometimes created by misheard words sometimes enchant me.

    1. Elaine, why am I not surprised that cartography is a passion of your?! I’m so glad you enjoyed this, and that it inspired an etymological hunt. Miss you!

      1. Miss you, too. I was toying with the Stanford class but recognized the time difference would frustrate me. I am an early morning person. But just waiting for the right time. And still cherishing those classes we had.

  2. I love the concept of this practice! There are days when I stumble and wonder if I am brave enough to share a message I am passionate about that others may dislike, but the courage in the wild and free, remapped words is courage I can come back to when I need that spark again. <3

    1. Jaya, I think we ALL have those days, especially if we have the courage to take worthwhile risks. I hope you continue to persist!

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