Writers in the World: Gathering Breadcrumbs

sunlit pathMy mom died two months ago tomorrow, after a long struggle with two progressively debilitating diseases. The last couple of years have been especially difficult for my family, yet during that time I continued to meet my deadlines for a trade book and numerous work-for-hire titles. I read and enjoyed books by other writers. I heard from the writers I mentored that my feedback was of great value to them.

But there was one thing I could not seem to do. The part of my brain that knows how to jumpstart a new writing project—because it’s fun, because it’s my oxygen, because it’s who I am in the world—is gone. It doesn’t feel like that part of me is just taking a needed rest, or laying low until trouble has found another door to darken; it feels like it has slipped out the back door of my imagination and moved on for good.

On the chance that you ever find yourself in this position, I can tell you some of the things that haven’t worked to fix this problem. Berating or shaming myself hasn’t helped. Throwing tantrums in my writing room hasn’t helped. Altogether ignoring the part of me that identifies as “writer” hasn’t helped.

But this past couple of weeks, I finally had the energy to go looking for that lost part of myself in a more positive fashion. And as soon as I got enough outside of my own head, I started to find some breadcrumbs on a trail that—who knows?—just may be the path to recovering my writing self.

The first breadcrumb came through a lunch with Laura Purdie Salas, the other half of the Mentors for Rent team. We get together on a regular basis to talk about mentoring and writing and to just catch up on each other’s lives. Laura is one of the most focused and disciplined writers I know; she has also been extremely empathetic during this time. And she made me an offer: when I was ready to commit to some kind of deliberate practice to try to jumpstart my creative brain, she was willing to check in to see how it was going for me. I decided to set aside one hour per work day on “speculative writing”—writing for which I have no contract and no guarantee of publication. And because I knew Laura was cheering for me behind the scenes, I was able to do those five hours, plus more, for Week 1. It may not sound like a lot, but it’s a huge thing for me right now.

The second breadcrumb came in the shower. Seemingly out of nowhere, I remembered a meditative writing prompt used by Christina Baldwin when I took a class from her many years ago. It started with picturing your creative brain as a room (this is not the same prompt, but you can find a similar one here). So the other morning, I asked myself what my “room” looked like at the moment, and yes indeed, it was completely empty of anything but dust. No imprints on the floor, even, where the furniture used to be. But here’s the amazing thing: the one thing that I found in the room in abundance, other than that dust? Sunlight!

The third breadcrumb came through another lunch, this time with Rosanne Bane (yes, note to self: picking up breadcrumbs may add extra weight). Rosanne acted as my creative coach for many years, and she encouraged me to remember that (as she says here), “There are six stages in the creative process and in only one of those six stages do you have your fingers on the keyboard or pen on the page.” So while I may not be generating a huge number of words on the page as of yet, there are many other things I can do during my hour-per-day, and at other times, that still count towards “being a writer.”

I’m not at the end of this path yet. I will likely find some sections of the journey where scavengers have already eaten the breadcrumbs and the way forward is obscured. I can’t yet tell you how this story will resolve itself. But for the first time in a long time, I found myself thinking about writing this week with a sense of discovery instead of a sense of loss.



About Lisa Bullard

children's book writer, book promoter, writing teacher, writer in the schools, mentor, author of Get Started in Writing for Children
This entry was posted in Lisa's Writing Life, Writers in the World. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Writers in the World: Gathering Breadcrumbs

  1. This post makes me SO happy! Congratulations, Lisa! I was giving you ’til tonight to check in about your goal, and I loved seeing this public declaration of your success.

  2. ldk says:

    Lisa, I’m so very sorry to hear about your mom. I can relate to what you must be going through. As you know, I went through the same thing almost two years ago. I was so heart-broken. I don’t think we ever really recover from losing a loved one. But, in January when I turned sixty, something inside me began to nudge me to move forward. You may remember the NIV I started a few years back? I started and stopped so many times because I couldn’t figure out what it was really about. I put it away, but it keeps tapping me on the shoulder. Somehow, the time away brought new insight and now I feel ready. I’ve been working on it little by little. I’m quite at the point for a critique but I’m getting there. I don’t know how long it will take, but my heart tells me this is story is the one.
    So, if someone like me (a non-professional writer) finds her way back on the path, YOU will find your way too. It may be that the story you need to tell is simmering and giving your heart time to repair for the journey. It’s late. I hope this makes sense. Hugs! Linda

    • Lisa Bullard says:

      Linda, I do remember how very difficult that time was for you. I am so glad to hear that you are now feeling ready to tackle a project that I know has so much power for you, and to know that I may get a look at it someday! And thank you so much for the words of encouragement you offer me–it means a lot!

  3. rosannebane says:

    Lisa, I’m delighted to have played the part of “Breadcrumb #3” in this act of your play! I remember how your face lit up when you told me about all the sunlight in your writing room. I am impressed with you showing up for “five hours a day plus more for Week 1” and I totally agree with your assessment that it’s a huge accomplishment. Meeting you for lunch was a big boost for me. Thanks for the inspiration to carve out a couple of days for a writing retreat. I wrote for an hour last Saturday; and I never write on weekends.

  4. Kelsi says:

    My heart goes out to you. I am sorry for your loss. I stopped writing after my first child was born and I was plagued with post-partum depression. I am happy for your successful week of writing and for that lovely image of a sunshine-filled room. Keep looking for those breadcrumbs..

    • Lisa Bullard says:

      Thank you so much, Kelsi, for these words of support! The writing life is always as much about “life” as it is about “writing,” that’s for sure!

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