When was the last time you gave your creative muse a solid week of your time?
I don’t believe I ever had before last week. But there I was, spending 7 hours a day at The Writer’s Center in Maryland, participating in what the instructor labeled a “writing staycation.” As in a “staycation,” we went home to our own beds at night, but there was no “vacation” here. It was work.
Ten of us arrived at 10 am on Monday morning, ready to spend dedicated time on our personal writing projects, and nine of us were still there at 5 pm on Friday afternoon. I can’t speak for the others, but my creative-writing productivity in that one week surpassed what I had accomplished in the last month, both in volume and quality.
Our instructor used the time to make finishing edits to her first novel. Another student worked on compiling into book form letters from an ancestor who was a Medal of Honor winner in the Civil War. Yet another student worked on a novella set at a 1990s competitive bridge tournament. We had an aspiring playwright and a lawyer/poet working on a book to advise law-school graduates how to harmoniously connect with the workplace.
We were productive. But something else happened last week. Through early-morning and late-afternoon creativity exercises guided by our instructor, a mid-afternoon walk along a nearby nature trail, and a variety of brown-bag lunch speakers, we become more than just a collection of autonomous solo creators.
We became a creative family of sorts, a support group and sounding board.
This was not a writer’s workshop. No one read their writing aloud or distributed written copies. As such, we offered no critique of others’ work.
We did share, throughout the week, the types of writing projects we were pursuing. We were not seeking feedback, however. Instead, we were offering a bit of ourselves, contributing to our bond.
On Friday, our instructor had us make some promises to our muses, commitments to carry forward from our week. We are going to support each other in this.
Later this week, I am meeting at a local coffee shop with one of the other participants. We will replicate the week by sitting beside each other, engrossed in our own writing but through our very presence holding each other to their commitment to their muse.
I am also in the process of assembling a writer’s group that will include one of the other participants.
In July, our instructor is having us to her home for brunch, to allow us to reconnect and share how we’ve stayed true to our muse.
I was on a creative high all week. Now, as I return to my routine, I am filled with anxiety, worried about a week lost from chasing much-needed freelance income. I had to decline a last-minute request to cover a local event for a publishing client, and my mind is filled with other unknown lost opportunities. A voice inside me is saying I was selfish to give my muse an entire week when I have a wife and children and bills.
I’ll soon have to work even harder to find balance between my muse and my professional obligations. In June I begin a low-residency MFA in Writing program with a 10-day residency in Montpelier, Vermont. There will be no income-generating writing then, only intense work followed by six months of MFA-related writing involving about 25 hours per week. That pattern will last for two years, with the expense not just of time but of tuition.
As loyal readers know, late last year I returned to an art-committed life. The word “commitment” is key. I need income, but I also need to embrace my creativity. Over time, I hope my creative writing and my MFA contribute to my financial well-being, but that hope doesn’t cover this month’s mortgage payment.
Still, I have no regrets about how I spent last week. I have a good sense now of what I am capable of when I give my muse free rein. I am committed to honoring her, and she understands that she shares me with other life commitments.