I walk into a classroom at the extraordinary early childhood center where I work, and watch a teacher kneeling or sitting at the height of one of her two-year-olds, one hand holding his, eyes meeting eyes.
Noah, I can see you’re having a hard time finding a way to play with Ari. Let’s make a plan for how you can do this. You could either play with a different toy, or wait until your friend finishes. Which one would you like to choose?
I get goosebumps listening. This signals: Important.
And there’s a lifting sensation in my chest – relief – and I see the same thing in the little one’s calmer face and body.
This kind of scene reminds me of how appreciative I am of the power of my brain to help me find pathways out of a place of confusion (What should I do now?) and frustration (I want something, but I don’t know how to get it!).
I was there this year. I’m pretty sure others have been there too (and I’m always grateful when I come across an open and honest post that describes these vulnerable part of our creative journey).
We adults find ourselves in parallel situations, not overwhelmed because we want to use the stethoscope from the doctor kit, but for other reasons that are as complex to us as the toys are to the two-year-old.
I found myself in this emotional environment this past year after an unpredictable disappointment, which I refuse to call it a disaster even though that’s how it felt at the time (I could never let myself put it in the same category as anything that involved human safety or life).
After recovering sufficiently from the shock, I put away a manuscript that was, and is, close to my heart. Then I turned on my journey to gaze into the empty spaces of Next.
And there, as I headed to the land of Next, I got lost.
Not right away, but ultimately.
At first, my brain filled with questions, all of which felt like I was digging into my own body and pulling out strings of things – anything, something! – that would be meaningful. I wrote poetry, revised picture books, wrote new work that I loved.
I told myself I didn’t care, because I was writing, and that’s what mattered to me.
And while that was true to some extent, I began to grow a little impatient.
But my next project evaded me. Nothing held. Nothing embedded itself in the parts of my brain that handle the heart and the cognition that unite for what feels like passionate belief in a work in progress. Nothing needed me.
I kept writing, but I knew this would not do for much longer. As I figuratively looked around at all the options I had pulled out of myself – picture books, poetry for adults, the couple dozen verses about a loss in my younger life that could be the centerpiece of middle grade or young adult fiction, or turn into a memoir – I began to feel confused and overwhelmed with too many options.
That’s when I knew I was lost.
That’s when I knew, like the early childhood teachers I have the honor of watching every day, that the lost part of me, the little girl inside the adult, needed a plan. And more than that, I needed and wanted help to create the plan.
The minute I contacted my chosen helpers to set up time to talk, I felt relief and hope.
The difference in creating my plan was that it had to be purposeful, crafted carefully to take into account the realities of the publishing business, a full-time day job that I love, financial concerns, and my introverted personality that no one much knows about except when it comes roaring to the front lines when I attend gatherings of writers.
This plan – very different than setting “goals,” by the way – created specific steps to accomplish in a fairly clear order – gives me plenty of work to fill the next few years.
The plan itself, and the connection with my plan-mentors, nudged me forward on a new path that carried me away from the intersection where I’d been stuck. I never felt unproductive, but I’d begun to feel like my daily writing was creating a nest, rather than helping me walk forward.
My new plan does not answer the question of what my next writing project will be. But perhaps that’s because I was not really finished with the previous one.
Rescued from my files, I’m about to begin yet another revision. What will happen to it, I do not know. But I feel for the first time in many months that every day I move my own story ahead.