I took the dog for a long walk this morning, feeling guilty the whole time. The kids were at school, but the toddler was at daycare. Daycare is a choice, a place I send my child so that I can work. I feel judged for this. (I wouldn't if I worked in a law office or a store or something. But I work at home in my comfy sweatpants, so it feels like a fake job, even though I get paid for it.) I feel like, since I'm sending my little one to daycare, I'm supposed to be working EVERY SINGLE SECOND. Ergo, guilt while walking the dog.
The dog needs exercise or else she will destroy the whole house. (She's still sort of a puppy and she likes to chew things and dig up carpets.) I need exercise or else my pathetically out of shape body will cease to function entirely. (I'm not still a puppy, and apparently exercise matters once you're out of your dewy youth.) Neither of these facts get rid of the guilt.
I told myself that sitting in front of the computer isn't necessary to my work, which at this point is creating characters and plotting a few new ideas. I can do that while walking! Probably better than while sitting at home, because the internet is a distraction. While walking, I'm not reading other people's words, imbibing other people's ideas. I'm just thinking of my own ideas.
Here's the thing, though: I wasn't. I couldn't make my brain linger on any of my in-development projects at all. I couldn't think of a new project. All I could seem to do was look at the autumn leaves and admire how pretty the sun looked slanting through them. And worry about whether my sock was falling so far down that it would be sucked into my sneaker and start to hurt my instep. (Why can't I find socks that stay up? Do I have bizarrely shaped feet?) I couldn't manage to plot at all. I was a complete airhead, without a single meaningful thought in my noggin.
That's the trick: to let this state of utter stupidity be. To let it happen. To force the guilt away and allow myself to just look at the pretty leaves and worry about my socks. Sometimes this stupidity lasts for a day. Sometimes for two weeks. But it always ends, at the most unexpected and random times, with a solution. A new idea for a book. A plot twist. A character's backstory. The answer to a mystery I've been trying to plot for a year. Something, and something I can work with. How does it happen? I have no idea.
Melinda and I came to the conclusion a while back that procrastinating—by which we mean doing things like walking the dog or watching TV all day or just paying attention to daily life rather than trying to THINK OF IDEAS—was part of our artistic process. Without the periods of inaction, of stupidity, we'd never come up with solutions to our plot problems. We'd never find the right voice for our characters.
The best explanation we have is that our subconscious minds must be working on the characters and plots while our conscious minds are vegging. Maybe the subconscious needs quiet to work, and so it forces the conscious to shut up?
The point is, every time I enter a period of feeling this inability to think, I still feel guilty. I doubt that it will end with a work idea. That hasn't happened yet, but I still worry. So the lesson for this week is to try to have faith. That's right, faith in my own stupidity.