I often have a hard time resting when things around me are messy or chaotic. How that plays out in real life is that in any small amounts of time during the day I have to rest (few and far between, actually), I find myself cleaning or straightening so that everything is neat before I can sit down and rest. Folding clothes, picking up toys, sweeping crumbs–this all takes precedence. Now, I know sometimes house chores do need to come first, but sometimes a mental health break is more necessary than the to-do list. And I have such a hard time getting this across to myself. I do all those things to make the environment around me neater and less messy, to make my nest a little cozier so I can rest (usually read or write) better, but what actually happens is that I squander that rest time so that when I do actually sit down, I have five minutes until I need to wake Sela up or start dinner or pick Kate up from school. It happens time and time again, and honestly, it’s so frustrating.
This plays into my writing life as well. I tend to get to a place in my stories where things are flowing well, then all of the sudden, it feels like I hit a wall. The usual culprit is that I’ve been listening too much to the “rules,” to the illusive “they” who say you have to pack the story with action, stay out of the characters’ heads, use cliffhangers, ratchet up the tension, use third person, no, use first person, keep it light, add more depth. It all adds up to me freaking out and thinking I’ve written 114 pages of total crap that no one is going to want to read. So I usually start going back through the story and picking it apart, thinking I need to change the tense, use more or fewer POVs, maybe change the setting, add an extra character to add conflict, anything to make things work better. I can spin my wheels for weeks trying to make everything in those beginning pages perfect so I can make forward progress. “Only when everything is perfect and clean can I go forward with the rest of the story.”
It’s not a way to go through life and it’s not a way to write a novel. Well, it’s a way, but not a very good one. Sometimes, in both life and in writing, it’s necessary to forget about the mess and just press forward. Let yourself rest even if things around you aren’t perfect. Let yourself feel your way through a story–even stream of consciousness, if that’s how it comes–and worry about the fine-tuning and following the “rules” later.
(I put “rules” in quotation marks because there really are no hard and fast rules. Follow them, break them, it doesn’t matter as long as you tell a good story well.)
I recently read a quote by Anne Lamott that I LOVE: “Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” This reminds me that nothing is going to be perfect in this broken world. There will always be mess, emptiness, and discomfort. What matters is the constant pushing forward to the light. Trusting that the light will come, and it will illuminate all our dark corners.