A Writer’s Experience
After working for over five years on this writing project, a blog I originally began in April 2011 in order to capture my Peace Corps experience and share it with people at home, I am ready to park it and will be posting the final conclusion in a day or two. My blog site, “Guatemala, Through My Eyes,” has been the forum I used to practice and refine my writing technique with each new post over the years, and it has evolved into something much more than I ever imagined when I started it. The end result will be a souvenir of three journeys I have taken where the physical locations I visited provided a setting for connection to people all around the world and growth as an artist, a woman, and a human being.
I never could have guessed the amount of time that this project would take when I started it. The writing process is unpredictable in that I never know when inspiration is going to show up – my responsibility is simply to create the space for it. I consider myself a vessel through which my muse, or my inspiration – which is not really me – can work. I didn’t have an end goal in mind when I began this project; I simply knew that I needed to get whatever was in my head out onto the pages. The most important thing has been to make a habit of writing so whichever ideas needed to come out did so at their appropriate timing as long as I took action to release them.
When people would ask me how long “such and such chapter” would take to finish, I could never give a straight answer because it was different every time. Some days I would create my workspace, open my document, and stare at my outline for five hours straight only to rearrange the flow of it and add a paragraph or two; other days I was on fire, burning through seven paragraphs in an hour and a half and feeling deeply satisfied afterward. The fastest pace I had was when I completed two chapters in four days, start to finish, while I was on an isolated island in Thailand. A different chapter had me toiling over it almost daily for nearly three months before it took shape, leaving me with very little focus for anything else. I would often work on multiple chapters at the same time, and some chapter ideas even stayed in my head for years until I finally sat down and tackled them – one of those chapters materialized in a day! And then there were a handful of times when big chunks of my work disappeared or didn’t save properly and I experienced temporary panic and devastation, but I don’t like to recall those days…
Some days I wish that my muse hadn’t picked me, but I cannot ignore her presence – it is all-consuming. The hardest thing has been to just get my butt in the seat and start writing, but once I begin, the outpouring comes naturally. My muse has had five years to occupy my mind space, and I have come to terms with the fact that she is not going anywhere until I wrap this thing up, although I don’t suspect that she’s in a rush to leave as she has made herself quite at home up there in my mind. I think I’m ready to send her on a vacation, though!
I have inevitably met with resistance along the way, as all artists do, which has challenged me to come up with ways to overcome it, although more often than not, I would seek out dead end distractions and create elaborate avoidance schemes, but the muse has stood her ground through all of it. I was recently enlightened to the concept that seeking support is a form of resistance, as friends/loved ones/followers cannot do much when it comes to getting my writing done because my muse does not communicate with them – but they have nevertheless been a great outlet for quality time and endless encouragement! At the end of the day, though, all the time I spent with my supporters could not be a substitute for the attention that my muse required.
In the past year as I have been battling the completion of this project, I read three books about creativity and the artist’s struggle: The War on Art, by Steven Pressfield, Creativity, Inc., by Amy Wallace & Ed Catmull, and Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Each one has offered a few key points to 1) help me understand that the resistance and inner angst associated with artistic creation are completely normal, and 2) provide tips on powering through to the end in a self-forgiving manner.
In Gilbert’s book, she discusses how we artists sometimes have to play the “trickster” card in order to entice inspiration to “join us for dinner.” One such trick I occasionally use is to get all dolled up, complete with hair and make-up plus a dress or high heels and take myself out to have a date night with my muse – just the two of us. Believe it or not, it works and has been very rewarding! Another trick I like to pull out of my hat sometimes is to spontaneously leave the country in order to escape the invisible chains of conventional society–the muse rolls her eyes at conformity–and to silence the expectations to live a secure, routine life. When there is enough distance that guilt is reduced to a far-off echo, the muse comes to life. Inspiration has little regard for time or space so in order to partner up with it, one must be willing to embrace the heaven-sent madness and engage with it in a different realm, apart from those that can be calculated and measured.
Putting the trickster aside, though, the bulk of the creative work I produce is just a matter of rolling up my sleeves and getting down to business. Work is work, and it doesn’t do itself. This project sure didn’t write itself – there was blood, sweat, tears, and plenty of coffee, tea, and wine associated with it! Granted, I couldn’t have done it without my muse, but in choosing to answer her call, I committed to the hard work she had in store for me. While it has been tortuous in some regards, it has also provided some of the best highs I have felt each time I complete the work. That makes it worth every second.
To be honest, I have been a little nervous to finish this project because I have grown accustomed to having my muse around and I am a little afraid of what will come next and how life will be without her. I am curious to see what new things will fill the big open space once my muse [for this project] moves out. It feels like a long goodbye, bittersweet, like parting ways with an old friend. I know it needs to happen because she will drive me crazy if I keep her around, but still, I have to admit I’m a little sad to move one, even though it is necessary for the next chapter to unfold.
Speaking of the next chapter, once I post the conclusion to this project, I plan to let it stew for a little while, then I will eventually get some other eyes on it to see if there is a common thread in these 55 chapters that I can turn into a book. It would require a lot of editing, shortening, and rearranging, but there is plenty of raw material to work with here! This will be my first official finished writing project. From what I have heard, supposedly the first work takes the longest and sells for nothing, but in order to get a second, there has to be a first. So this is it.
While I am awaiting the next muse to come a-knocking, I suppose I will make some career moves, earn some real income again, find a place to live, join a church, contribute to a new cause, study French, sing a song or two, I don’t know, marathon some TV shows or something, and relax a little. Family time without the pressure of writing will definitely be different and wonderful. I have a 3-week a trip to Europe planned for August/September to backpack with my brother, attend the wedding of one of my best friends from the Peace Corps, and visit some other travel friends who are currently in Europe, but this trip will be about spending time with loved ones, not about capturing every new experience on paper. I am grateful to be in a position where I can be open to whatever God has in store for me next…
End of Project Acknowledgements
From the early stages of this project until the very end of it, so many people played a role in some way, shape, or form, contributing to the progress, development, and evolution of its creation and storyline. I couldn’t have done this alone and I appreciate each and every person who had a hand in it or influenced the progression of the project. There are so many people that I want to thank that I do not even know where to start! I guess from the beginning…
To Karina and Robert, for making the suggestion to post updates on a blog in the first place, then for helping me to set up my blog. And for your faith, friendship, and example.
To Bethany, for making the joke that if I started writing a book after I completed my Peace Corps service that it would probably take me ten years. Well, I started it during my service, and it only took me five. I thought of you with every passing year! (And thank you for making my binder-book!)
To Kellie, Scott, and Gabbie, for gifting me with a MacBook Pro laptop right before I left for the Peace Corps; it was the tool that launched this project. And thank you for your mentorship, generosity, and shared love for Guatemala.
To the United States Peace Corps, for roping me into the adventure of a lifetime and giving me access to a world beyond what I knew existed. And for the constant support, protection, and guidance every step of the way, through the highs and lows. Special thanks to Juan Miguel R. And Kellie G., for walking by my side and advocating for me during one of the darkest parts of this journey.
To my family, for letting me go, even though it scared the bejeezus of out you. (This includes Dad, Teri, Mom, Kiki, all my brothers and sisters, plus aunts, uncles, cousins, and Gram.) And for your patience, even when you don’t understand why I did what I do, or when you get frustrated because I am constantly changing. I know that all of this comes from a place of love. I am grateful for how much you care and blessed to have a home wherever any of you are.
To my closest girl friends, Bethany, Elease, Linda, Kathy, Lauren, and Krista, for being totally on board with me becoming a madwoman, cheering me on, understanding that I “would come around” eventually, and for just being awesome, inspirational women in my life.
To my pseudo-family and those who have mentored me in some way or another along the way, for stepping up to offer guidance and support and for embracing me with open arms, always. There will always be a special place for you in my heart no matter where I am. This includes Bert, Cynthia, Sally & Pete, Meg, Sonja, Carol, Karl & Robin, Craig, Doug, and Evelyn, plus the Bruins, the Seeses, and the Moffitts/Browns. I’m a lucky gal…
To all the visitors I had during my Peace Corps service – Krista, Mari & Russell, Jeffrey, Mom, and Christina, for making it possible for me to see Guatemala through your eyes and for making the investment to learn about such a special place in the world.
To my adventurous friends at home who remained excited for all the travel stories and have even embarked on escapades of their own – especially Paul, Pedro, and Lino. And for my friends who periodically came in and out of the adventure but steadily supported nonetheless – Nauma, Scott, Angela, Alex, and Sean.
To my incredible travel buddies and unforgettable travel friends, especially Allan, Giuseppe, Mick, Lise, Rémi, Marcus, Thibault, and Marjolein, who were introduced to my “crazy” upon meeting me and accepted it immediately. (Crazy is suppressed at home, but in full swing abroad!) That authenticity has opened the doors to some amazing lifelong friendships, and I am so appreciative for the wit, the perspective, and the companionship that each one has continued to share with me since we met.
To all the people from the countries I visited during all of my time abroad, which spanned 15 countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia during the course of this project, for hosting me, for teaching me, and for welcoming me. (And also to the ones who tried to take advantage of me, for sharpening me.)
To all the families who collaborated with me for my dog sitting business/hobby when I’ve been in California, providing me with a quiet space to live while they were away so I could focus on my writing in exchange for caring for pets and plants. Some of these families include the Fischers, Sally & Pete, Elease & Miguel, Alisa & Paul, the Briggs, and the Bruins. Also, to all my friends and relatives who have let me crash their couch or spare bedroom for a couple days at a time here and there.
To my accountability partners who voluntarily stepped up to keep me motivated and moving because they knew how much this project meant to me – Linda, Kathy, Meg, Freddie, and Sam.
To those of you who weren’t afraid to offer constructive criticism: Bill B., for encouraging me to write shorter, more readable paragraphs; Russell B., for the positive feedback on creating interactive posts with links/videos; [Alisa’s] Paul, for pointing out my cathartic approach and influencing me to broaden the scope and educational aspect of my story; and Wes – for the tip on how high frequency of adverb usage could water down a message.
Special thanks to Mr. Gordon for flunking me in high school World History because I didn’t write my research papers; I learned that 1) my papers don’t write themselves, and 2) failing at something really wasn’t the end of the world. Thanks to Prof. Mahony for believing in my writing ability and what I was capable of doing, and for being so enthusiastic about the possibilities ahead of me. And to Prof. Xu for accepting my research paper on “The Psychology of Physical Touch” three and a half years late for my freshman JanTerm class in college, ironically titled, “The Destructive Passion.” Lastly, thanks to my many other English teachers over the years: K. Smith, C. Chandley, K. Rose, and L. Smith – there has been a little piece of what each of you taught me that has stayed with me to this day.
To my moms, for putting up with me being a pain in the butt and a stubbornly independent selective listener on occasion. And to the women who are not my official moms, but have loved me as if I were their own daughter, for seeing me for who I am, identifying my blind spots, occasionally calling me on my BS, and voicing their observations openly to me. Bert, Cynthia, Susan, Sally, and Gram. I listen to all of you more often than you know. And in particular, I appreciate Bert and Gram for believing in my calling as a writer even more than I sometimes do, for knowing that it is an integral part of who I am. I hear you. And it makes me want to be courageous.
Last but not least, I’d like to thank all my readers, those whom I know and those I don’t, for taking time to step out of your busy lives and take a vicarious vacation through one of my adventures. Some of my friends pass these posts on to their family members who have been dedicated readers from the beginning. A writer never knows the scope of her work, but in regard to the work I did, I can only hope that what I have written has been educational, inspirational, and maybe even a little entertaining for my readers. And to those of you who provided constant feedback (especially Karl and Cynthia!), thank you for being there.
I’d like to close with a prayer of thanks for God’s grace and guidance during this journey. I made a deal with Him before I joined the Peace Corps, telling Him that I would do my part and if it was in line with His plan for me, then I would walk through the doors he opened for me. There was no question about whether I would serve when I received the invitation to go to Guatemala; I knew that is where He meant for me to be. And while the journey wasn’t easy, He guided my path, protected me, and worked through me while I was there. It is sometimes difficult to let go, but I trust now that I am safe in God’s hands, and I pray that I can maintain the openness to His will for new beginnings…
Stay tuned for “A New Set of Eyes”…
All my love,