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Finding Your Meadow

Whenever I start my creative writing classes, I always ask my students what they think their strengths and weaknesses are. Inevitably, one of the most popular answers for a strength is: "I have so many ideas!" and yet, as the semester goes on, I hear about the constant fear of the dreaded Writer's Block. It's common, I think when you first start writing in a serious way to be flooded with ideas for new stories. I know I felt like I had an endless well of stories during my first few years in undergrad. Then, as I continued to write, I found that some stories had more juice than others. Some of them lead to dead ends, and some felt like they were going to be endless epics. I found myself feeling like I was either in a rainforest, surrounded by ideas and constantly bouncing from one project to another. Or else I was in a desert, completely devoid of a single story with legs. Obviously, we'd rather be in the rainforest than the desert, but the truth of the matter is that I'm always looking for a meadow. A space where I can stretch out and let an idea breathe before something else comes in to steal my focus.

Recently, I was talking to my writing group, and scrolling through writing Tik-Tok and Twitter and I noticed a sentiment that was shared by a lot of people. It's the problem that as a writer, you constantly have a million projects going at once, jumping ship from one story to another because new ideas just keep popping up. It's so nice to have stories raining down on you that we often think we have to write them all down because we never know when a drought is coming. I was prone to this particular writing paralysis when I was younger. I would start a story, then stop for a better idea (I thought), then jump ship again, and eventually have file after file of unfinished stories. As I've grown, I've tried to put firm boundaries in place to prevent this from happening. I have a long notes app on my phone with story ideas, but I never let myself start a new story until I've finished the one I'm currently working on.

This is how I find my meadow and stay focused. I've mentioned before that anyone can start a story, but it takes a writer to finish one. So many people will have a fresh idea, but never see it through because they just don't have the tenacity to see it through. Sometimes the constant rush of ideas in the rainforest phase can be just as detrimental to your writing as the creative desert. So, by forcing myself to spread out in the meadow and focus on a single project, I finish things easier.

Another reason finding the meadow betters my writing is that it helps me weed out the stories with legs vs those without. What I mean by "legs" is a story that will take me somewhere, and have meaning on multiple levels. There are some story ideas that just have a single dimension, and that's fine just for a fun warm-up, but it isn't what I want the writing I share to be about. I want my writing to have meaning and to surprise not only myself but my readers. So by making myself hold off and sit with an idea before I rush to my keyboard, I'm able to digest the idea fully. Then if a story keeps coming to mind when I'm doing mindless tasks like washing dishes or painting my nails, I know that's the one worth working on next.

By doing this, I ended up writing my first two books. As I was writing the first one, I had basically no ideas hovering around me. I had a single project in the middle of a creativity desert; it was the only thing keeping me going. I worried I would end up a one-hit wonder (if I was lucky) but just as I was coming to the end of the draft for my master's thesis, I got the idea for my second book. It was a year before I let myself begin writing that second idea. I was still working on edits for my first book, but with the second idea growing in the back of my brain, I slowly transformed my desert into a meadow. It wasn't until I sent out my first manuscript to beta readers, and it was out of my hands, that I started the second book.

So far, the same has been true when working on my second book. I had a few ideas trickle in while working on it, and I jotted them down and let them cook, but only one of those ideas has continued to pester me, begging to be written. It will eventually grow into my third book, but I still won't let myself write any of it down because I'm trying to stay focused on what's in front of me. I feel like if something is good it will stick around. I can't go chasing rainbows for fear they're going to disappear.

The rainforest phase is so tempting with the plentiful flow of creativity, but at a certain point, your cup overflows and you can't hold anything worthwhile. The desert is so many writer's biggest fear that we'll do just about anything to stay out of it. And like so many false dichotomies, there is always something in the middle we should be aiming for. So think about ways to find your meadow and build a fence around it to keep it safe from the rain and the drought.

Me circa 2014 in the English country side

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