Writing Through Burn-out


Double rainbow over my neighborhood.

Double rainbow over my neighborhood.

Last month I wrote about realizing that I’ve worn my creative self down so much over the past five years that I’m “ground to dust,” as a friend put it. It’s not that I’m sick of writing; I’m just sick of doing the sort of writing I get paid for. That writing feels like drudgery to me right now. It doesn’t refill my creative well or my spirit.

So as I work on the remaining assignments I’ve promised I’ll finish, I’ve been thinking about why I write and what I love. (Which would include the double rainbow in the photo above that graced my view last night–without the rain we need, but still a glorious sight.)

Tonight, as I was looking up a quote from my memoir, Walking Nature Home, for a friend, I came across this passage that sums up the kind of writing that does feed my spirit:

Our truest and most compelling writing comes from deep within, conscious or unconscious knowledge that is innately part of who we are. For me that is the set of relationships that make up what we call nature: who sleeps with whom, who eats whom, who cooperates and competes, and who cannot survive without whom. I know these stories both from the rigorous observation of field ecology and the experience of intimacy in my kinship with other species. –Susan J. Tweit, Walking Nature Home

It is that intimate kinship with other species that sustains me these days. Not that the human community isn’t wonderful too. But right now the company of other species is more restful–equally fascinating and nurturing, without being quite so demanding as people can be.

For example, here two photos of wildflowers I shot this evening in the restored mountain prairie that is beginning to flourish in my post-industrial-dump yard. Watching these plants re-colonize a very-much-altered landscape they clearly still recognize and embrace brings me a great deal of reassurance and joy.

The rough blazing-star at the foot of my front steps has dozens of flowers open this evening. Notice the tiny hunting spider with front legs extended on the middle flower of this group, waiting patiently to catch one of the small flies that pollinate these starry blossoms.

The rough blazing-star at the foot of my front steps has dozens of flowers open this evening. Notice the tiny hunting spider with front legs extended on the middle flower of this group, waiting patiently to catch one of the small flies that pollinate these starry blossoms.

And here's wholeleaf indian paintbrush, one of my favorite wildflowers because it won't just sprout anywhere. A hummingbird was feeding at this cluster of flowers before I shot the photo (I wasn't quick enough to catch the hummer).

And here’s wholeleaf indian paintbrush, one of my favorite wildflowers because it only sprouts where its favorite native grass and sagebrush flourish as well. A hummingbird was feeding at this cluster of flowers before I shot the photo (I wasn’t quick enough to catch the hummer).

That these native plants can return to this blighted site, it seems to me, that they sprout from the seeds I carefully spread, grow, bloom, and reweave the relationships with other species that make a healthy prairie community, is evidence that we can restore this beleaguered earth. Bit by bit, day by day.

If these wildflowers can flourish in a place that was for a century an informal railroad-track-side dump; if their lives and the relationships they sustain can return the beauty of this land, my thinking goes, I too can revive and crawl out of this deep slump of the soul, this weariness to the bone.

I just need to remember to go outside. To watch the community of the land go about its exquisitely complicated business, full of inter-weavings and interdependencies, right out my front door.

Those wildflowers are the voices I want to listen to and the stories I want to write. They are the metaphorical pots of gold at the end of the double-rainbow in my heart, the tangerine sunset that fills me with awe.

When I begin telling these stories, I believe my delight in playing with words and narrative, with articulating the love I feel for this glorious blue planet–battered as it may be–will return full force.

Prompt: What stories and voices speak to you so urgently that you must tell them? What kind of writing feeds your soul?

(This post was originally published on my blog.)

A tangerine sunset from my side deck...

A tangerine sunset from my side deck…

8 responses to “Writing Through Burn-out

  1. I’ve learned so much from you, Susan, since we first met through Story Circle years ago – and it seems like I learn more all the time. I have been feeling a shift inside myself, as well, and perhaps it’s time for me to listen to and honor the change that is waiting for me.
    I look forward to reading your writings, I know I have a lot more to learn from your strong, compassionate, passionate voice.
    Thank you.

  2. Bless you! And you’re welcome. I am grateful that we connected through this community of women writers, and I look forward to reading Yemeni Journey whenever you finish with it. You have so much to say, and your story will enrich our understanding of the world.

  3. Susan–thank you for such an inspirational post. I am grateful to know that other writers find their creative spirit while out in nature. Over the past few months I’ve been diligently working on my novel; although it’s been a daunting task, I keep myself fresh by journeying outside my door every morning for either a quick jog or brisk walk. I literally leave my novel behind and focus on the sights, sounds, and smells that surround. That detachment from one world and attachment to another somehow connects me with a source beyond me that guides me through the words and process. I’ve grown through these daily journeys and through my writing. I never dreamed that writing fiction would make me a better person, but it has. I love being a writer.

  4. Sara, Isn’t it amazing how we respond to the out-of-doors, the more natural the better, at so many levels? We know via reproducible research that nature exposure is good for us physically and physiologically, lowering our blood pressure and our heart rate, and generally calming and refreshing our physical systems. It’s harder to measure the affects on creativity and spirit, but they are definitely at least as powerful. Kudos to you for knowing that and making time outside part of your writing process–and on growing through your fiction!

  5. Delight! It’s all about following the joy!

  6. Michael _ Jeanne Schecter

    Hi Susan, I loved your writing. Did you know that the Indian Paintbrush, when made into a flower essence is used to promote creativity? How lovely for you to have it in your presence with the work you do. Jeannie

    Date: Sun, 6 Sep 2015 11:57:10 +0000 To: schecterzeeb@hotmail.com

    • Hi, Jeanne, and thank you! I did not know that, and I’m not sure I could ever pick my paintbrush flower spikes to distill into an essence (the hummingbirds love them too much). Perhaps that essence just wafts through the air as well, right into my office as I write… 🙂

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