I'm Rebecca Mahoney, a freelance journalist, fiction writer & manuscript editor who likes to chat about books & writing, share editing tips, and muse about the freelance life. Visit my full website at rebeccamahoney.com.
Recently, I took a rare morning off and drove to Boston to visit the New England Aquarium. Though it was Saturday, I felt guilty as I drove down there, like a kid playing hooky from school – I had a magazine story to write, a new manuscript to begin editing, feedback to compile for the writing group I mentor, and, oh yeah, that book I’m writing.
But once I was there, wandering among the blue-green tanks, drinking it all in—the sting rays gliding through the water, the leathery limbs of the giant sea turtles, the jellyfish silently pulsing in their dark tanks—I felt the stress and guilt melt away. Even better, I felt my brain moving in a new direction for the first time in weeks. I’m passionate about marine conservation, and I started to brainstorm an essay. A conversation with one of the divers made me think of a possible story idea for a magazine. I had a thought about one of the characters in the novel I’m writing, and I found myself scribbling it down on the back of my ticket, writing by the filtered green light of the giant ocean tank as an eel zipped past.
By the time I left, I felt restored, as though I’d just had a terrific massage. When I got home, I went back to work with a renewed vigor. And it wasn’t just because I’d taken a day off; it was because I had refilled my reservoir.
Creative people, self-employed people; the nature of our lives means that we’re constantly drawing from our internal wellspring, tapping our minds for ideas, pouring our souls into our creative projects, summoning the energy and focus that art and work requires. Writing and editing for a living or as a serious interest means we can’t afford to wait for inspiration to float down from on high and grace us with her perfume; we’ve got to be creative on demand, to find the focus and attention that good writing and editing requires. And so we tap our personal reservoirs, over and over and over again.
Is it any wonder that lately I’ve felt parched?
As writers, we know that the only way to get that novel or memoir written is to dedicate time to actually writing it. As freelancers, it’s easy to feel like we should be working all the time, even when it’s not for a specific project—to be marketing and blogging and pitching and brainstorming and tweeting. We’re always operating under a default pressure: If we’re not working and/or writing, we’re wasting time.
This is a lousy, reservoir-depleting way to live. I know. It’s how I’ve been living for months now, feeling pulled in more directions than the octopus in the aquarium, living in the hot, narrow space between deadlines and my to-do list, feeling less and less creative and growing ever more thirsty. And it’s time to change that.
Everyone has his or her own sources of renewal; for me, it’s about travel and great books, conversations with my writer friends, an afternoon at a museum or gallery, story-oriented podcasts like Serial and This American Life, cooking a pot of homemade aromatic soup, taking a long walk in the woods or along the beach. It’s not just about taking a day off, which could be spent in a thousand different ways, but about trying to tap into new sources of inspiration, to drink from the wellspring of creativity—art, nature, poetry, surrounding yourself with smart, creative people and projects.
The challenge is to make time for it—even to schedule that off time, as this wonderful blogger talks about on Bugs and Fishes—and to value it, every bit as much as the time we spend in front of our computer or on our work.
Life is waiting. Drink up.