Photo taken by Chris Collins
I hate to run, but I love to walk. The sheer thought of walking sends calm, reassuring messages to my normally anxious body. If I’m walking, even with no particular destination in mind, I can convince myself I am accomplishing something with that time. The same cannot be said for running on a treadmill or any other likewise piece of gym equipment.
So the other day, as I was wandering toward downtown Burbank, I came across a freeway overpass. It was late, maybe 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., so the sky was a dark blue and the cars whizzing by were nothing more than streaks of light. As I stood there watching the world speed past, I felt hypnotized. The universe had somehow found a way to show me what I had been feeling for so many months.
As writers, we dive into story so deep sometimes that we forget we still have to live in the realm of reality. Sometimes when I’m able to venture so far into the minds of my characters–think Being John Malkovich–that I get lost in my story, I may not speak to anyone for 48 hours. Tapping into that inner creativity is like being on some sort of drug: it’s addictive because it’s euphoric. But the feeling doesn’t last long; in fact, most days are plagued with “writer’s block”, which is like a mental prison without a judicial system or public defender to bail me out.
Those moments, the ones where I feel like I’m stuck in a kind of purgatory of thought, are like standing on that freeway overpass. Everyone below seems to be going somewhere–home from work, to a movie, out to dinner–and their lives are shifting so fast that by the time I register their existence, they’ve already vanished into a streak of red taillights.
I’ve spent two years on this book idly paying attention to the events happening around me (marriage, babies, graduate school, job promotions). Life seemed to move at the same speed as my fictional characters. Both seemed to develop and move forward, while I stood in-between the two worlds, unable to fully join either side. This is what being a novice writer feels like (and maybe a professional too, but I cannot vouch for them), and it’s terrifying.
But as I stood on that freeway overpass looking down on hundreds of cars as they flashed by, I realized I felt fortunate to be not moving, at least for the moment. I got be the girl standing at the top of that overpass, concocting theories about the lives they led in funny and interesting ways. I might even be the story someone re-told later that day. Someone below, for example, might see me and be inspired to write a thriller about a kick-ass girl getting ready to leap over the overpass railing and onto a moving car. To inspire a spark of creativity simply by being part of the world is the kind of cosmic karma that we both put out and wait to receive. Writing is about standing still as much as it is about chasing a story. Because we writer’s are the mere vessels through which creativity passes and sometimes not moving is how we find the great narratives.