Ruminations on Writing: My Aging Brain and Trying to Keep it Shipshape and Yar During Session

So this year, I’ve decided that I’m going to try to not take a hiatus from writing during the legislative session. I’ve mentioned time and again how after a prolonged break from writing it feels like my writing muscle has atrophied and I need to build it up again.  It’s getting harder and harder to tone it back up these days.  Compounding the stress of session with the stress of writing might be the height of folly, and I’m sure there will be episodes of frustration and failure, but I think it’s something I should attempt.

I’ve noticed that those elusive, transcendent periods of writing flow, where the words and the story stream from mind to page in a euphoric epiphany of rightness are becoming not so much elusive as extinct.  I’ve waved the “Writing is Hard Work” banner at nearly every panel I’ve spoken on.  I know better than to expect cake.  But there have been vast stretches of time—months and months and months—where it seems all my hours of writing, day after day, have been spent groping for words that never come.  I’d almost forgotten what flow felt like until one day last month when I was working on an additional scene for Demon Queller, and I hit it.   Then it was totally, “Oh, yeah.  I remember this. This is what writing-love feels like. Where have you been, baby?”  And I realized that the last time I remembered hitting flow was…one year, no two, maybe could it have been even longer ago?  And that made me go buggy.

Part of it, I’m thinking, is an age thing.   My human suit is slowing down. I’m not as strong, limber, agile, or resilient as I used to be.  And that’s not even touching upon all the ways it’s surpassed “slowing” and gone straight to breaking down.  Of course,  my brain would be less spry as well.  I’m definitely having a harder time finding my words than I did ten years ago. Spending a lot more writing time staring off into space hunting for that one word on the tip of my tongue, and the corollary to that, poring through my thesaurus. I’ve also started collecting words and phrases—well, I’ve always collected them; I love English in all its myriad and quirky glory—but unusual, esoteric items, like “sermonication” (the act or practice of making speeches), and “dictionatical” (something which the dictionary authorizes or approves), and “wamble” (to move with wind).  These days, I’m setting down words like “unclouded” and “adroit” because I couldn’t come up with “unclouded” a couple days ago and don’t want to forget it again.

So yeah, there’s a certain rising sense of panic there.  My human suit’s breakdown I’m resigned to, but not my brain’s.  However, after a minor bit of hyperventilation, I reminded myself that most noteworthy artists and scientists throughout history have conceived of and created their innovative, groundbreaking, paradigm-shifting, genius masterpieces/hypotheses  in their youth.  As they got older, they expounded upon these, building upon their own brilliance rather than generating new sparks.  Obviously, there are exceptions.  But the trend is for youth to be the time of cutting-edge inspiration.  So it’s not just me.

Okay, must accept that I am no longer young and that my brain is less efficient, less facile, less capable than it was a decade ago.  Aside from having a minor freak-out and wailing at the unfairness of the cosmos, there’s not a lot I can do about getting older.  But there are things I can do to try to keep my brain limber and yar, the most important of which is to exercise it regularly. 

That episode of flow last month came after months and months of working on the novel, exercising and stretching my writing muscle daily.  Stands to reason that I managed to hit flow only after finally working out enough of the accumulated kinks to hit that higher gear of cognitive function. 

Must try to accrue fewer kinks, which means don’t stop writing, even during session.

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2 Responses to Ruminations on Writing: My Aging Brain and Trying to Keep it Shipshape and Yar During Session

  1. Jenn says:

    I wish you luck, especially as one who has not yet managed to set up that steady schedule. For me, the challenge is writing when I am on a tough deadline, combined with trying to get myself on a schedule when I am ‘supposed to be relaxing.’

    I would not beat up the human suit quite so fast. Getting out of flow – or the change in seasons can cause a real impediment. I also remember that you are on some top notch pharmaceuticals to fix your human suit problems. I would not be at all surprised if some of them were causing interference. I am sure it is nothing you cannot get over, but do not beat yourself up about it.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Thanks, Jenn! I’ve been speculating for a while whether my meds might be dampening my writing ability. But it’s a painful catch-22: without them, I can’t function on a day-to-day basis, much less try to write. Glargh.

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