by Lenore Myka
Myka, Lenore. “Breaking the Rules.” Poets & Writers, Sept/Oct 2018, p. 43-44.
Of course, all roads lead to fear, and that’s what this process was all about. I was terrified. If I quit the novel, I didn’t know what I’d do. I didn’t have another project waiting in the wings, not even a short story or an essay. What if I quit the novel and the faucet got turned off completely? What if I never wrote a single word ever again?
But here’s the thing: Humans are not what we do. Humans are everything we do, and feel, and think, with a dash of stardust thrown in. The same is true for writers.
One evening my husband and I were walking the dog when he made an observation about my writing.
“You’ve always written about places you’ve experienced firsthand,” he said. He was thinking, of course, about my story collection, which was inspired by the years I’d spent living in Romania, but also about the other stories I’d written and published and an essay I’d recently drafted and shared with him about our newly adopted state of Florida. I had worried that essay was a distraction from the novel. It was a hell of a lot of fun to write.
“With the novel you’re not really writing about a place you’ve experienced firsthand in that way.”
But I had experienced that steel town firsthand. So what was different this time? His words stuck with me, or at least three of them did: in that way. The way in which I’d experienced my ex was different from my other subjects. There was no love, no blood – and, most important, no curiosity.
My experience of those words reminded me of a time I’d broken my arm as a child. The broken bone had shifted, its jagged edges nearly spearing through the skin. For several hours I waited to have the bone reset, the pain so great my mom shook me from time to time, making sure I didn’t pass out. When the doctor finally came, he grabbed either side of my forearm and with a firm jerking motion snapped the bone into place. Just like that the pain disappeared.
On that walk with my husband, I felt something click inside me, accompanied by a whoosh of great relief. In this way my intuition came back.
The next morning I broke up with my novel. And the thing that I had most feared, something akin to a debilitating depression (as opposed to the low-grade variety I’d been nursing), did not happen. Instead I felt suddenly, elatedly, light. And hopeful – for the first time in six years.
I got up from my chair and walked out of my studio and did a little dance with the dog.
Then I set bout doing everything writers are not supposed to do. I stopped reading and watched a lot of TV instead. During the hours I should have been writing, I went to the beach or for walks or grocery shopping. I mulled over cookbooks, planning extravagant meals; I called friends. I slept in. I took on more hours at my job and found that for the first time in my writing career I did not feel resentful of it, but rather grateful for it.
I did not write a single word. Oddly I wasn’t worried about this. I told myself I’d give it a month and see how I felt at the end. If I needed to I’d take another month, and another. Maybe a whole year. I’d measure all this by how my gut felt.
Before the end of the month, I was writing again. My sister and her children had sent me a spiral-bound notebook – a drugstore Mead, college ruled, with an illustration of a smiling taco on it that said “Let’s taco ‘boutit.” It reminded me of the notebooks I used as a child, back when I wrote for sheer delight and pleasure about a young girl who looked and sounded a lot like me, and the horses she saved from wicked, cruel cowboys. I opened it up and began to write longhand with a fountain pen I’d purchased. I wrote about things I didn’t have much knowledge of – Florida, for one. My husband and I had recently moved there from Massachusetts, and I found the new environment I was in fascinating. I took notes on the way people drove (terribly, and without the use of turn signals), the wildlife (dolphins and manatees, bald eagles and roseate spoonbills, Poinciana and jacaranda), and the weather (humidity, hurricanes, heat). I did little research; I didn’t want it to influence or possibly mislead me. Though it wasn’t effortless, I wrote with relative ease. Flow returned. Depression lifted. I was in love again.
At this time I also began to lose my hearing in one ear and proceeded to disobey more writing advice. But writing about my doctors’ visits and the hearing tests, the changes in my body and the medical industry that at turns disappointed and provided breaths of relief, made me feel better.
There were other rules I rejected. I wrote whenever I wanted and when the spirit moved me. I did not set a schedule, did not wake up early. I waited for inspiration rather than insisting the butt be in the chair. There were days that went by when I didn’t write, but unlike in the past I didn’t panic about lost hours or feel guilty for the lack of production. I trusted that things would come to me in time. I gave myself space. I went for walks in the woods knowing the odds were good that by the time I was near the trail’s end, I’d feel inspiration’s hand on my shoulder.
During those dark days of the novel, I had gone blind to the world – or perhaps I’d stopped hearing it. Now, post-breakup, I was seeing it in Technicolor. Its voice was a symphony.