I have a print by one of my favorite artists, Brian Andreas, hanging in my office. If you don’t know Brian Andreas, he’s the creator of Story People – wildly creative combinations of art and “stories” – which he manages to tell through only a few words, while I have to ramble on for the entire length of a novel.
Here’s the story:
I used to wait for a sign, she said, before I did anything. Then one night I had a dream & an angel in black tights came to me & said, you can start any time now, & then I asked is this a sign? & the angel started laughing & I woke up. Now, I think the whole world is filled with signs, but if there’s no laughter, I know they’re not for me.
I don’t need lightning to strike the ground in front of me to figure things out, but I do like to consider signs. When my body is craving something I don’t usually eat (like red meat, f’rinstance), I look for the sign – what is my body telling me it wants? If something I wanted (or thought I did) doesn’t work out, is there a reason I’m better off without it?
It’s the same thing for me with writing. If I’m not motivated to work on a story, that’s usually a sign for me that it’s not a story I was meant to tell. And if I’m not in love with the story, you won’t be in love with the story, so what’s the point?
Granted, there are days when I am likely to want to sit on the couch and watch back-to-back episodes of Greek (am I the only person who LOVES that show? Srsly, disturbingly clever) while eating Ben & Jerry’s instead of writing, and that is no sign. Unless it’s a sign that I am seriously lazy, which I pretty much knew already.
But usually if I can’t peel myself away from the couch to write, it’s because I genuinely don’t want to, and that’s a big old sign to move on to something else. I have seen writers say, “There is no such thing as writer’s block.” I don’t agree. I think there absolutely is such a thing as writer’s block (and relationship block, and reader’s block, and job block).
Those blocks are all, to me, my heart’s way of telling me that thing is not what I was meant to be doing. And sometimes, you know what? Tough cookies. I have to do that thing I don’t want to do and power on through the block.
But sometimes, it’s a sign. A sign that I need to make a change. A different story, a different relationship, a different book, a different job.
What are the signs that let you know it’s time to change?
P.S. I’m in Boston on Thursday night at Newtonville Books with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. You’re coming, right?