Letting the Urge Pass

I’ve been neglecting my drawing… pretty much this last year.  Between figuring out what was wrong with publishing (TM) and working on the new process to get words in front of readers, and the year of the great travels (okay, they weren’t great.  But they were continuous, at least a week and often two out of the house from May to September) I didn’t take any courses and I haven’t devoted much time to drawing since the New Year’s vacation almost a year ago now.  An afternoon here and there, but not much finished and no concerted effort.

This morning, as I sat at the breakfast table waiting for tea to kick my nervous system into a semblance of consciousness, I looked out at the large tree in front of the kitchen window and I thought with the cold morning light and the bits of snow it would be interesting to draw.

I didn’t do it, and I’m still craving it.  But drawing would involve finding my drawing kit (weirdly not on the desk with the pastels, I looked.  I need a different desk where I can organize things) and possibly three to four hours making small changes before I have a halfway functional sketch.  And today I HAVE to finish editing Darkship Renegades and a ton of other stuff, and I’m still recovering from whatever this crud was.  I keep creeping halfway to wellness then falling down again.

But as I got up to put the tea cup in the sink, thinking “I’ll get to work on writing.  The urge to draw will pass” I remembered a conversation with my dad about three years ago.  My dad’s first degree is in art, but he had to do commercial art and then engineering, to put food on the table.  (Pesky tables, always needing food.)  I think he was always a little disappointed that we didn’t have an inclination for art, or that I did, but gave it up at 14 to concentrate on writing.  So, I was showing him my drawings and explaining that after I got concussion 9 years ago, I got an almost unbearable urge to draw, so I went and took art lessons, and started drawing in my copious spare time.  (And no, I have no idea how severe concussion does that.  You figure it.)  And he said “If you ignore it long enough, the urge passes.  Now it’s gone.”

And you know, the way he said it, it was the saddest thing in the world.  He used to talk about pursuing art and his poetry in retirement, but he says now (of course, he retired at eighty) he just doesn’t have the drive anymore.

And then as I was coming up the stairs, I was thinking I treated my writing like that for years, too.  There was college to finish.  And then – even with my husband’s support of my writing – there was work, and then kids.

I probably would never have pushed seriously – a short story a year is NOT serious, even if one submits it and works hard at it – except I ended up in the hospital with near-lethal pneumonia (11 days in icu) fifteen years ago now.  The doctors thought I was going to die.  I thought I was going to die.  My husband was the only one who thought otherwise, and, as you see, he’s a very forceful man.

Anyway, lying there, contemplating the probability of death in the next few days, I thought of what I regretted most.  Of course, at the time the boys were four and one, and I was almost frantic with worry about them.  My husband is a wonderful father, but he’d have to work, which would leave the kids in the position I most didn’t want, in the position I’d promised myself we wouldn’t put them in when we were going through near-endless infertility treatments: being raised by hired strangers.  I worried, and felt very regretful that they probably wouldn’t even remember me.  I worried about our finances too, since these were the hardscrabble days, and while I was home I earned my pay in how I shopped, and buying furniture really cheap (used) then refinishing it (furnishing a whole house for about $500 and having it look decent is possible) or even making stuff.  Without me, the family lifestyle would tumble down several notches.

BUT hard behind that worry was worry about my writing.  I had all these started novels.  And written novels.  I had worlds and characters in my head no one else had read.  They would die with me.

For some reason this was as unbearable as the thought of orphan kids.  Which is why as soon as I recovered, I returned to writing with a vengeance and started treating it as a serious endeavor.

Have I sometimes wished I hadn’t?  Sometimes, in the last four/five years.  BUT now it’s starting to come back to what it’s supposed to do, and the rewards (trust me) outweigh all that.

So, what is this post about?  Am I telling you to do it before the urge passes?  I don’t know.  I’m not living your life.  For instance, I’m not going back downstairs to draw the tree, because I DO have editing to do.  I will however make a decision, going into the new year, of taking at least a couple of classes and trying (my best) to give a couple of hours to drawing or painting every week.  Because even though it will never be my main work, it is something that seems to help the writing (and vice-versa.)  And because I think the urge is precious.  And I don’t want it to go away.

21 thoughts on “Letting the Urge Pass

  1. Well said. Definitely words to take to heart. I’ve gotten more serious about my own writing in the last year because I started doing some simple arithmetic: My estimated age at death minus my current age = how much time I’ve wasted putting off writing to concentrate on more immediate things. Not a pleasant calculation.

  2. The burden of having too many interests is a good one to have. I know so many people that have none. Nearly all of the creative people I know are creative in multiple ways, and the decision to go one route or the other can be agonizing.

    As an art teacher, the best thing I learned about art was from an economics class. It was a stupid analogy about two groups of castaways on an island. Each group made reed mats and each harvested coconuts, but they also traded with the other. One group harvested more coconuts and made reed mats better than the other, so you would think they would have no need of trade with the other group at all, but if you “did the math” to use the cliche, it still made more sense for them to concentrate on the one thing they did best, and then trade that item for the other. Soon over time, one group would eventually concentrate on coconuts, while the other concentrated on reed mats. The value output of specialization is very real, and everybody makes these choices.

    I tell my students not to let their talents hurt them. Concentrate on the one aspect of your art and let go of the others. Very few of us can be great sculptors and great portrait painters. It’s a different skill set and the time you spend on one, detract from you making the other better.

  3. I’d stopped writing. Except for work. Where I wrote applications to government agencies.

    Then my health hit the point where I couldn’t work, and I had a choice. Watch Soap Operas all day, or find something else to do. So I went back to writing.

    Not all of it is any good, but it is better than watching television.


  4. There is a book called “Refuse to Choose” it is all about “Scanners”, people who have multiple talents and how they can learn to do it all. A really great book, that lets people like you and me know that its alright to be “Renaissance People”, that we still have value. Heinlein said, “Specialization is for insects”. While I don’t quite agree with that, there are some people who are very fulfilled with specialization, I am happy to know that I don’t have to be. (I am a Serial Master/Sybil). Thank you for reminding me that those urges aren’t a cop out, they are a reminder of how much more I can and should be.

    1. Ooh! Thank you for telling me about this book. Sounds fascinating for people like me. Kris Rusch calls it “hummingbird brain.”
      Sarah, I found this article poignant. My father died at age 57 and my husband said, “I never saw your father do anything for himself.” He was always working.
      I know tables need food, but for all of us and our creative urges, please don’t let the urge die. Even a few minutes a day add up.
      Two great poems: Langston Hughes’s A dream deferred
      Gwendolyn Brooks’s Kitchenette Building

  5. I haven’t gotten the oil paints out for years, the water colors for months. Computer generated art just isn’t the same.

    A new place opened about a mile away from the house. “Paint until you Faint” My husband and I are both looking into it. It’s more of a “paint party for kids” place, but it has adult evening sessions as well. We’ll probably try it out at least once.

  6. I have enjoyed having a number of creative outlets pretty much my whole life. I have always been interested in learning and trying new things, so I have about a dozen or so hobbies. Of course I don’t have time to pursue all of them every day, but I try to do something in each of them every once in awhile. Writing is the one I think I am the best at, and was finally able to turn if from a hobby to a profession, though I put it off about twenty years too long. Better late than never I always say. I also enjoy playing music, especially on harmonica, guitar, and Irish penny whistle flute. Music is the other art I would love to spend more time doing, and be able to get better at. I’ve tried other things, like stone sculpture, wood carving, drawing, painting, but I don’t seem to have a talent for the visual arts. I never know when I’ll find something else new and interesting to try out though, and maybe I’m really good at something that I just haven’t discovered yet. Either way, good or bad at it, I think doing anything creative or artistic opens your mind up in many ways that are beneficial to everything you do.

  7. It’s funny you should mention this. I’m not a writer. I do fairly decent technical writing, manuals and specs and such, as part of my software development job, but fiction, I’ve never done it. Had a few ideas now and again, but just haven’t put the work in to cement them.

    Last week, while laying in bed with a really bad case of the stomach flu, trying not to move, I had come into my head a magic system for a fantasy novel, a protagonist, a villain, some support characters, and a confrontation between them that would be appropriate for about 2/3 of the way through novel one of a trilogy. I have no plot for the novel other than ‘hero’s journey’, but the things that came into my head are fairly well defined.

    I was just thinking if I can avoid coming up with an actual plot I can probably avoid writing this thing, but otherwise I’m screwed.

    1. The novels get GOOD at getting around you. Truly. Yesterday my son came up with an idea and seconds later the character was in his head demanding to be written.

  8. There are all sorts of urges, and some of them are probably better allowed to pass. If, for instance, you feel a desire or compulsion to blow things up, suppressing the urge might be the best policy. “If it feels good, do it” sometimes makes a mess and annoys the neighbors.


      1. One might say that this is the “real” reason for books. To keep authors otherwise occupied so they don’t turn their destructive urges onto innocent bystanders. 😉

        1. Eric, I’d tell you no, but I know my other fellow authors (It’s early and I almost typed arthurs.) Without this outlet um… Well, let’s say Kate Paulk and I turned our minds to another joint endeavor, rather than writing. It’s not likely to be a charitable society. Let’s just say we have a “little” list. You need a magnifying glass to see it and a through ae takes up three volumes. And the sad thing is — we’re NICE. Our other colleagues… well….

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