Time Keeps on Ticking. Usually.
Welcome to our September 2022 edition.
With the coming of fall (for those of us in the northern hemisphere), we’re reminded again about the inevitability of time. “Time waits for no man.” Indeed. But if it could, in reality or otherwise, just briefly, perhaps changing everything in the time that follows?
We have four second-chance or time-bending stories plus a pair of non-fiction pieces aiming to get one’s creative juices restored, into the future.
The A Muse Bouche Review Team
Feature: Overtime (Renée Gendron) Fiction
Chronology (Marian L Thorpe) Fiction
Delayed Departure (Joseph P. Garland) Fiction
Once Upon A Time (Louise Sorensen) Fiction
Post-Burnout Recovery: It’s About More than Time (Crystal L. Kirkham) Non-Fiction
Writing Your Book Baby (Nicole Wells) Non-Fiction
September Team Showcase
Renée Gendron (@ReneeGendron)
TESSA HARRISON SPRINTED PAST the centre line and stopped the pass with her left foot. She dribbled the ball, kicked it through the legs of an opposing defender, then ran towards the penalty area.
The Ottawa Lightning’s keeper bounced on her feet, dancing left and right.
Tessa swung her leg back, planted her other foot into the turf, and kicked the ball.
Sharp pain radiated from her hamstring to her groin, and she collapsed forward clutching her leg. She rolled onto her back and angled her face towards the goal.
Come on…score. Come on…score. Come on…score. Twenty seconds on the championship game’s clock, the score was nil-nil.
The ball flew with speed and a slight curve.
The Lightning’s keeper dove left with arms outstretched and pushed the ball away from the net.
The referee blew the whistle, then indicated five minutes of stoppage time.
Tessa rolled onto her side and made to stand. Hot pain shot through her, and she cried out, clutching her hamstring. She flopped onto the grass, tears crowding the corners of her eyes and frustration clogging her throat.
“What’s wrong?” Warren jogged up to her, first aid kit in hand. His jaw line was all clinical and distant, but worry flooded his eyes.
She pounded the grass in frustration, then rolled onto her side towards her bench. Empty. All her teammates were crowded near her with little worry wrinkles between their eyebrows and on the corners of their mouths.
The air was humid and thick and drained energy like a giant black hole. The blaze of the stadium lights was like a 250,000-Watt interrogation lamp focused only on Tessa. The fans were on their feet, silent, watching, judging, anticipating.
She made to stand, but overwhelming pain rocked her to the ground.
Warren eased her onto her back. “Babe, what’s wrong?”
Everything. She was off her game, out of her mind, and in pain. “It’s my left leg. I pulled a muscle.”
A duo of stretcher bearers trotted from the sidelines.
She waved them off, but they kept advancing. Her side had already substituted the maximum three players. If Tessa couldn’t rally, her team would be down a player for stoppage time and in overtime. And if they lost, well, she’d be the cause.
There were many things unacceptable to Tessa—leaving a friend in need, missing Warren’s BBQs, skipping practice, and being the reason her team lost the game.
She sucked in a long breath through her teeth and cursed the weather for dehydrating her, cursed herself more for not drinking more electrolytes, and screamed at herself for neglecting the work done off-field to ensure the work done on-field was excellent.
Warren lifted her left leg, rested her ankle against his shoulder, and pulled.
The stiffness in her groin left, and she sighed, slow, long, and almost sexual. “That’s it.”
Warren changed the angle of the stretch, and her semitendinosus released.
“How’s that, babe?” His voice was rich and tense, and professional.
He eased her leg to the turf, and she stood.
She took a tentative step, testing the weight on her leg.
Warren looped an arm around her waist. “I’ve got you.”
“I’m fine.” She walked on, ignoring the queasiness in her stomach, the disappointment in her gut, and the aches in her muscles. She grabbed a water bottle, swallowed a sip, then spat out the rest.
Warren jogged alongside her.
Neither side scored during stoppage time, and the whistle blew for overtime.
Tessa strode into the locker room, then sunk onto the bench. Her teammates filled in, sweating, hard of breath, with gritty determination on their faces.
Coach Eklund stood in the centre of the room. “Their defenders are exhausted. Focus on lateral movement of the ball, make them run.”
Warren knelt in front of Tessa and padded the floor. “I need to ice you.”
Tessa slid from the bench and eased onto her back. “We need to strike deep. Their goalkeeper is gassed.”
Coach Eklund shook her head. “Can’t. That leaves us vulnerable to a counterattack.”
Warren applied an icepack to the back of Tessa’s thigh.
Tessa grimaced and cast her boyfriend a diamond-hard stare.
He shrugged it off, the way he did every time she had a knot that needed to be worked out, then winked in a I’ll-make-it-up-to-you-after-the-game look.
Damn Warren for being handsome, caring, funny, and good with his hands.
Tessa moved the ice pack a little to the left, and the stiff pain in her muscles eased. “We can’t penetrate their midfield.”
“Time’s up.” Coach Eklund clapped her hands. “Make their defenders work, then strike.”
Tessa’s teammates clapped, then filed onto the field.
Warren extended his hand and helped Tessa to her feet. “There’s another way.”
Her gaining wings on her feet and flying over the field or perhaps the Hand of God helping her like it did Maradona during the Argentina-England match at the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals. “What’s that?”
“Their midfielders are weak on sprints. Challenge them. Make them run the field.”
Tessa smoothed the front of her damp jersey. She pressed a kiss to Warren’s left cheek, then jogged onto the field. She squinted passed the blinding stadium lights and trotted onto the field. Somewhere behind her, Dad and her brothers shouted encouragements.
The referee summoned the captains to midfield, checked with the home side’s captain, then flipped the coin. The referee signalled the beginning of overtime.
Tessa’s captain kicked the ball behind her to a striker, and the match continued.
A pass from a striker on Tessa’s left, who kicked it to the stopper, who kicked it to the right defender.
Tentative play by tired players.
The midfielder to Tessa’s right punted the ball long, hard, and high downfield.
Tessa sprinted on tired legs down centerfield, controlled the ball, zigged, zagged, and kicked the it between the defender’s legs. She had speed, agility, and drive on her side and barreling towards the penalty mark.
“Left Centre D,” Warren’s voice roared over the rush of her pulse and the crowd’s applause.
She chipped the ball to her left with blind trust, then dipped, ducked, and dived to her right, drawing the defender with her.
Tessa’s left striker caught the pass, dribbled the ball with Lionel Messi’s skill, and kicked.
The ball arced with skill, precision, and speed and beat the Lightning keeper by two metres with one second left on the clock.
Tessa pumped her fists in the air, ran between the defenders, and charged for her striker. She enveloped her teammate with both arms and lifted her off the ground.
The crowd rose to their feet, cheered, jeered, and took photos of the moment.
Tessa’s pulse pounded, hard and fast. She summoned courage and speed and went to centrefield.
The opposing side lined up, and the striker kicked the ball behind her.
A shrill whistle blew. End of match.
Glorious victory, one-nil.
Tessa’s teammates converged to her position, their arms outstretched, their cheeks rounded in magnificent smiles. Their coaching and support staff streamed from the benches, a mixture of joy, elation, and ecstasy on their faces.
Somewhere, a trophy was produced and hoisted above the heads of the players.
Tessa fought against the jostling and tussling of her teammates and elbowed her way to Warren. She cupped his cheeks and pulled his mouth to hers, their lips locking in a celebratory embrace.
Marian L Thorpe (@marianlthorpe)
WHAT I SAID WHEN I realized I’d missed the train was very unprofessional. I’d kept trying to get away from the people who wanted to talk to me after my lecture, but I couldn’t be rude. The honorarium had been generous and a quiet word from the professor who’d invited me could open academic doors. So I smiled and chatted until what I thought was the last possible minute. And had my cabdriver not hit every red light between the lecture hall and the station—well, maybe I’d have made it.
Irritation flushed my cheeks and hunched my shoulders. The next train was in an hour, and every seat in the station’s tiny café was taken. At least I’d still get back in time to pick up Lucy from her nursery. The Costa Coffee across the road was equally busy, I discovered. Had everyone missed their trains? The rain had shifted into a damp mizzle, just enough to stop people—me included—from sitting outside at the patio tables or the benches outside the station.
I glanced at my watch. Yes, I still wear one, which shocks most people. It’s not even digital, and I’ve actually had kids in my first-year seminars tell me they don’t know how to read an analogue timepiece. So now I teach that, although in a jokey manner, as if I believe they all do know but it’s part of the syllabus. I don’t put it on a test.
Thinking of my first-years reminded me I had essays to mark. I’d planned on getting started on the train. The invitation to speak on Roman timekeeping had come with a first-class return ticket, so I could be sure of a seat with a table. I had six stapled printouts in my bag, and if the coffee shops weren’t so busy, I could have started.
I realized I was grinding my teeth. Why wasn’t time flexible? It was for the Romans. They simply divided the daylight hours into twelve sections, so an hour varied in length depending on the time of year. It didn’t really make for more ‘time’, or less, unless you needed daylight for your task. For those who did, time must have felt like it was mutable, although at the control of the seasons, or the gods.
I didn’t need daylight, just a dry place to sit, preferably with a table and enough light to read the essays. But I wasn’t going to get it until I was on the train. I looked around, my vision blurred by damp. A shop sign caught my eye: Chronos Antiques. With a name invoking the Greek god of time, maybe they’d really be antiques and not odds and ends I remembered from my grandmother’s kitchen. I could browse for a while in the dry, at least.
The bell tinkled as I entered. From behind a desk, a man looked up, grey-haired, spectacled. He looked exactly as an antique shop owner should look. The shop was crowded with items, as these shops always seem to be, but what was on display were truly antiques.
“Do you mind leaving your bag with me?” the proprietor asked. “It would perhaps be safer?”
He had a point. I certainly couldn’t afford to buy anything I accidentally bumped into and broke. I lifted the strap of my bag over my head and handed it to him. He smiled his approval and bent back to his accounts.
I browsed around for some minutes, appreciating the quality of what was on display, mostly porcelain. I stopped by a display cabinet of Wedgwood, including a rare crimson jug. The price tag, as much as my monthly salary, made me gulp. As I stood looking at it, first one clock and then another and another began to chime the half-hour. I followed the sound.
To find myself in a room full of clocks. Mantel clocks, long-case clocks, carriage clocks, ships’ chronometers. French, Swiss, German, English. I laughed in delight. If I’d known this was here, I would have arranged for a friend to pick Lucy up and keep her for the evening and booked myself on an even later train. I could have spent a couple of hours properly looking, not the cursory study which was all I had time for now.
My phone was in my bag, I realized. I went back to the counter. “May I retrieve my phone? And do you mind if I take some pictures of the clocks?”
The proprietor hesitated. “I’m not a dealer,” I said. “I just finished my doctorate on perceptions of time in antiquity. Clocks are both a hobby and a serious study. The pictures would be for personal use.”
“Was it you who was speaking at the museum today?”
“Yes, this afternoon. I missed my train home, or I’d never have found your shop.” I held out my hand and introduced myself. He shook it enthusiastically.
“I wanted to attend, but I couldn’t find anyone to mind the shop. You may certainly take pictures.”
I glanced at my watch again: I had twenty minutes. Back in the clock room, I began to take pictures, using the Notes app to document each one. At some point I heard the owner come in, but he didn’t say anything. I kept working.
“French mantel clock, perhaps 1780,” I said. I’d resorted to voice notes to save time.
“1784,” the owner said. “One of Robert Robin’s.”
“Truly?” Robin had been clockmaker to two kings, Louis XV and XVI. I’d only ever seen one of his clocks in a museum. “You have the provenance?”
“Indeed. I will show you.” He beckoned me back to his counter. From a cupboard underneath, he drew out a box, and from inside it, a set of photocopied papers. “The originals are in a safety-deposit box, you understand,” he said with an apologetic smile.
The clock’s history was neatly summarized: the noble family to whom it had belonged in France; its transfer out of that country as part of a dowry; the inventory of the great house whose contents were sold to pay death duties. I studied them, engrossed. The clocks began to chime again. The full hour.
“Oh, gods.” I looked over at the station in horror. My train left at one minute past the hour. I’d never make it – and now I’d have to call the nursery, beg them to keep my child, and pay the exorbitant extra charge. Which would eat up almost all the honorarium I’d earned today, and it had been earmarked for a new bed for Lucy. She’d outgrown her crib. London was so damned expensive, and my lecturer’s salary so low.
“What’s wrong?” the owner asked. I realized he could see the tears standing in my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve missed my train again, and—”
I explained. He listened, a faint smile on his lips.
“But you needn’t worry,” he said.
“No, I know, it’s futile. But I must ring the nursery.”
“That isn’t what I meant. Come with me.”
Frowning, I followed him back into the clock room. He went straight to one of the glass cases holding pocket watches. I hadn’t looked at them yet. He took a bunch of keys from his pocket and unlocked the case, reaching for the one in the exact centre. It looked extremely old, and unlike any I’d ever seen. He opened it.
“How much time do you need?”
“How much time?” I shook my head. “What do you mean?”
“How much time? To catch your train? Will a quarter of an hour be enough?”
“Well, yes—” I had to extricate myself from this mad old man, phone the nursery and plead with them. What was I going to do if they didn’t have anyone to stay late this evening?
Dizziness struck. For a moment I thought I was going to faint. A panic attack? Then the vertigo dissipated, although I still felt disoriented.
“There you go,” the old man said cheerfully. “Fifteen minutes. Don’t forget your bag.”
Around me, the clocks began to chime again—but they stopped at the three-quarters point. Every one of them, I saw as I looked around, showed the time as a quarter to the hour. But—
“Are you—” I couldn’t say it. I must be dreaming. Or hallucinating. “Are you—Greek?” I managed.
“I was,” he said. “Once. A very long time ago. Now go and catch your train.”
Joseph P. Garland (@JPGarlandAuthor)
SHE WAS QUIETER THAN NORMAL as we headed to JFK. She was, after all, going to grad school at Stanford. We’d talked about it and I agreed that it was a great opportunity she’d be a fool to pass up. “You’ll always regret not going,” I said. Every time she asked if I was “sure,” I said yes.
There were times when I almost believed that. In truth, I had mixed feelings about it. We’d been together for two years and lived together for one, when it made sense that we share the two-bedroom apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn neither of us could afford alone and both realized there was no one else we’d rather have as a roommate.
And it worked out really well as we both began our post-college lives. I had my job at an internet data-collection firm and she hers as a grunt at a publishing house, though neither of us were in the “office” more than a few times thanks to the pandemic. We had our work stations set up on the dining room table, side-by-side, and at times it seemed that that one year compressed a decade of marriage into it.
She’d always wanted to go to grad school and get an MFA. I was something of a geek and didn’t know what an MFA was or what it did or what it was good for, but it was her dream and that was good enough for me.
Even in our last year at Cornell we spoke about that dream of hers, but she put it off because she wanted a year in New York and through a family friend got the job at the publishing house. That it ended up being remote was a downer for her and for her ambitions of an office in midtown or near the Flatiron Building but she still felt part of a greater whole during her interminable Zoom calls.
For those and for mine, we set up a little “studio” in my bedroom (where truth be told I rarely slept) with a very Room-Rater-worthy background of classy if largely unread books as the backdrop mixed among various impressive looking knick-knacks. With the door closed for one, the other couldn’t hear what was going on.
In all this, she had applied to several schools, and in the end it was between NYU and Stanford.
And now here we are, on the Van Wyck Expressway heading to JFK and neither of us has much to say. Just banal words.
“You’ll call when you get to your room?”
“My ticket’s on my phone.”
“You’ll let me know when you get someone to take care of my share of the rent?”
“I envy the weather you’ll have.”
We pull up to the American terminal, and as she pays the cabbie I grab her suitcases out of the trunk. The line’s longer than I recall, but we finally get to the counter and she gets her bags checked and her seat and we start towards security.
“They won’t let you through without a ticket,” she reminds me, and as we get to the line for the metal detectors and she only has her backpack and bag for carry-on, she says, “It’s time.”
When there are only a couple of folks ahead of us we turn to each other and hug.
“I’ll miss you.”
“I’m not going anywhere. You’ll be back for Christmas, yes?”
“We’ll see. I may get too busy.”
This hits me. That was never part of the plan. Or so I thought.
She’s next for TSA and I give her a last hug. She says, “I’ll miss you” and I echo it and almost say more but don’t and then she drops her backpack and bag on the conveyor belt and removes her shoes and the push of those behind her washes me aside as I watch her go.
She looks back once and gives me a tepid wave before heading to her gate. Gate 17 for SFO.
* * * *
“You’re an asshole.”
I can’t say how often I’ve told myself that, but it’s rare that I do it out loud. A guy near me looks at me, rather pissedly, till I say, “I’m talking about myself. Sorry.”
He seems to accept that and continues through and out of the terminal.
I’m in no state to go back just yet and instead find an empty stool at a bar/lounge off to the side with a view to the field. The planes, her plane at least, is at Gate 17, one of the last ones. She’ll be boarding in half-an-hour. And gone half-an-hour later.
Gone, baby, gone.
I meant to say it. A thousand times I meant to say it, but somehow the “moment” never happened until she had to go through security. And when she was, I got nothing but the slightest wave.
So, yeah, I was—am—an asshole.
I sit with my scotch, though it’s still early afternoon, and empty stools on either side and several monitors behind the bartender. The one on the left gives the status of flights on the spur where her gate and flight are.
San Francisco SFO AA9390 1:00 Gate 17 On Time
It’s twelve-thirty, and I check the monitor between glances at SportsCenter on the center monitor and sips of my whisky.
San Francisco SFO AA9390 1:00 Gate 17 On Time
I’m catching a cab home cause I’m in no particular hurry to get back to what was until a couple of hours ago our place. What the hell.
“Bartender. I’ll have another.”
He shakes his head as he pours and I figure he’s seen it before, though I say nothing. I feel enough of a schmuck already and don’t think being told I’m not the first will be of much help.
San Francisco SFO AA9390 1:30 Gate 17 Delayed
Oh, taunting me. Her, or God’s, final nail.
She always wanted to go to grad school and suggested Stanford now and then. “Take advantage of the rare chance to live out west.” Who was I to stop her? So when she asked whether she should go I told her she had to. “You’ll always regret not going,” I told her. Having said it, having actually mouthed the words, and having her respond with a “If you’re okay with it” and me insisting I was, there was no turning back.
San Francisco SFO AA9390 1:50 Gate 17 Delayed
Delays won’t be a problem for her. She’ll get a cab at the airport and zip down to Palo Alto. There’s no one there for her. She’s just another New Yorker heading alone to the wilds of California.
But why hadn’t I said anything? Did she want me to? If I said something, said what I desperately wanted to say, would it have mattered? I really didn’t want to ruin the opportunity she was getting. Her dream degree at her dream place.
With me always too dependent on her. No, she never said anything particularly, but I knew I was a drag on her.
I thought the chance to tell her would arrive when she came east for Christmas. She couldn’t stay at “our” place, of course, since I have to find a new roommate—though truth be told I haven’t made much an effort on that front yet—but even if she went to her folks up outside Boston, I’m sure she’d stop in the City. Or I could head to Marblehead.
Then she dropped the I-might-get-too-busy bomb. And I let it pass. I was an asshole, saying nothing. Nada. Rien.
San Francisco SFO AA9390 XXXX Gate 17 Cancelled
I call to the bartender.
“What does it mean that flight 9390’s cancelled.”
“Who knows in this day and age? Maybe they can’t get a crew. It’s all screwed up. But that plane isn’t going anywhere. Whoever it is you’re thinking of is going to have to regroup. There’ll be plenty of folks here in just a minute while they try to figure how they’re going to book another flight. American’ll be no help.”
I take a last slug of my scotch, pay my tab, and walk to the security area.
Don’t be an asshole. Don’t be an asshole.
I tell myself this again and again. Don’t be an asshole.
People are flooding out, most looking at their phones, she among them. She’s nearly upon me when my phone rings. I pull it from my pocket and its ring sounds all around me. She looks up.
“I was just calling you,” she says, surprised at my being there.
“Don’t go,” I say.
“Don’t go. Please.”
Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)
A HOT HUMID SUMMER. The weekend. They were sitting on their deck in the small pool of shade offered by the trees. He, working on his crossword puzzle, she on her phone, following back people on Twitter.
A shrill whine filled the air. Zoomed closer. She swatted at a mosquito on her arm. It bit her but she crushed it. Looked for the body. No body. She went back to her phone.
Another shrill squeal, a high humming. It took her a moment to figure it out. “Hey,” she said to her husband. “You know that episode in Star Trek the original series, where aliens were going so fast that they made a high screaming humming whine? That’s what that sound I’m hearing sounds like. Do you hear it?”
He looked up. “Yeah, I hear it. I was just thinking the same thing.”
“Weird, eh? Wouldn’t it be amazing if there really were aliens lurking around, scoping us out, ready to abduct us or do evil experiments on our bodies?”
He chuckled. “Yeah, right. As if that’s going to happen.”
They went back to their reading and swatting mosquitoes. After a little while they both fell asleep.
When they awoke, the sun was a lot higher overhead, and the shade had almost moved past them. They got up and stretched, oddly refreshed. Three hours had passed, taking them from morning to noon. Normally, they didn’t sleep on the deck, the bugs were just too bad, but this time they’d gotten away with only a few bites each. Although one of the bites looked like a small piece, a tiny circle, had been extracted from each of their arms, the wounds and the skin around them were painless, even numb. They gave a few passionless scratches, and went into the house for lunch.
Their two visitors Zydney and Ssadelaide observed them fondly, opened their files under ‘Connor’ and ‘Pearl’ and checked their instruments to make sure the tracking chips they’d just implanted in their subjects were gathering data. To make up for the implants, the genetic samples they’d extracted, and the damage to their planet that their own species might or might not cause on the humans’ planet in the near or far future, depending on when and if they got around to it (it was a big universe after all), the inoculations they had administered while their subjects slept would help them live long and happy lives.
And if they had any trouble with the clones they were going to grow from the extracted genetic material, they could always revisit these humans to study where they’d gone wrong. And take another fresh sample. The florn was, as always, in the details. Having spent enough time on these two, they needed to hustle on to their next subjects. One never knew when one of their subject’s planets might be scheduled for demolition.
Pearl sat down in her favourite chair, snuggled with their cat Charlie, and fiddled with her recording device while Connor prepared lunch.
“Did you get any interesting data?” he called from the kitchen.
She plugged in an ear bud and listened. “Clear as a bell. You did a good job on this thing. I’m able to slow it way down.”
“Thanks. I live to serve. Do you want ice in your drink?”
“Yes. The usual.” She held her hand over one of the earbuds and listened intently. “It’s a good thing their language is so simple. They shot us up with happy juice again.”
“Good to know. I was starting to feel a little peaky.”
“It’s always nice to get a booster.” She put her device on the table beside her and picked up her newspaper. Charlie’s little engine fired up and his purring filled the room. Pearl stroked him absently. After lunch she’d get hopping on the data analysis. No time like the present to find out all the aliens were saying about them this time. What they’d been hearing so far hadn’t been a happiness, but they needed irrefutable evidence of extra-terrestrial visitors to avoid being labeled crackpots. And even then …
A galaxy away, K’Ratan finished checking on their long-range Earth experiment and flashed satisfaction. “Everything is proceeding splendidly. Our subjects have tagged the Earth creatures for their own long-range cloning and study.”
Ra’Lal flashed back, “Excellent. They’re showing great promise. A good choice for experimentation. Now what’s for lunch? You can get back to your work after we absorb energies.”
Many light years farther away, Binkie looked up from their science simulation and asked their primogenitor, “When can I get a real pet, Other? These simulations are so boring. I’m always three steps ahead of them.”
“You have to wait till you grow larger and absorb all the knowledge you need, Bink. Then you can start playing with the really interesting ones.”
“Why do I have to do this crappy science sim anyway?”
“It teaches responsibility, compassion, even empathy. All important attributes in an adult.”
“I experience none of those qualities at the moment.”
Other’s sound rose in volume, along with the height of its spumes. Youth were so immature. Aggravating. But on the other grasper, also delicious. So young, so juicy, so flavourful. Would the offset known as Bink need to be subsumed and Other start over with a more cooperative one? Other hoped this wasn’t the case. Bink was cute, in their own way. But really, there was no time to release another subset. Balancing the forces of the universe was a tricky proposition, no matter what any being said, and Binky had come too far in both studies and maturity to be easily replaced. “Precisely why you have to practice your sim.”
Binkie, noting Other’s raised volume and frothing ingestion orifice, and feeling urgency to ameliorate the situation in time to prevent Other from getting too excited and possibly even resorbing them, changed the conversational dynamic. “You don’t think that we might all be simulations that someone else is running, do you Other?” His flare carried a combination of hope and terror.
Despite the horror of that question, their parent’s currents almost overloaded at the sight of their child’s beautiful liquid visual apparatus.
Along with Other, all up the line of simulations came the answer to that terrifying question, with denial, a long and echoing, “Noooooooo.”
Farther up the line came a smug booming chortle from the author of all those simulations. But within a short time, as time was measured in its existence, the entity which had emitted the chortle was surprised to perceive what it thought was raucous laughter even farther up the line. It paused to listen carefully, but all it received was the echo of laughter, which might have been an echo, or just an echo of something else, or its imagination. A little unsettled, it chewed on that tidbit for an eon, or perhaps it was a moment.
And then, because time was of the essence, forgot about it.
Crystal L. Kirkham (@canuckclick)
BURNOUT IS SOMETHING that can affect any of us, and likely will at some point in our writing careers. It can be due to outside stressors or a fire lit by imposter syndrome. Either way, there comes a point where the burnout begins to fade, but sometimes the desire to write and create doesn’t magically reappear.
So, what can you do to start rebuilding the drive to write without triggering another potential burnout by putting undue stress on yourself?
This was a question I found myself contemplating lately after I struggled to push the impending burnout away only to come crashing down in a heap of horrible flames. This crash came with the inability to write for months. It’s the price I paid for not being willing to listen to the signs and give myself a break before things went south.
When I was in a position where I wanted to write again, I found myself struggling to focus and to find inspiration. The words and inspiration are nowhere to be found. When I talked about it to another author friend who had to stop writing due to severe health issues that are now resolved, they told me they were also struggling with getting back into the swing of writing and creating.
As we chatted about our similar struggles, we started talking about what steps we can take to ease ourselves back into doing what we love. For both of us, writing is a part of a chosen job, and not retriggering burnout is critical.
Create the space
This can be either a physical space or a time set aside or both! If things are bad and you don’t want to overwhelm yourself, start off at shorter time sessions once a week. See how it goes. If you don’t write but simply scroll through prompts, that’s fine. You’re trying to get back into the swing of writing and that can include time spent inspiring yourself.
This step is simply creating the habit and the opportunity. What happens next? Well…
Ignore your expectations
Do not expect the words that were dammed up inside to come pouring out simply because you want them to. In fact, don’t expect the words to be all that awesome when you’re a bit out of practice. Expect nothing.
If all you write for a session is. “Once upon a time” and nothing else, it’s a step in the right direction. They are still words on the page. If you eschew creative writing for more technical writing, then do that. I often find it easier to ease back into the habit of writing technical writing because it doesn’t demand creativity.
Don’t expect yourself to write like you used to. This is simply about reforming the writing habit and it doesn’t have to be anything in particular, just words coming from your mouth or fingertips to create anything.
Find a spark
If you really want to write creatively but are feeling as if there is nothing inspiring you to write, go looking for a spark; an idea that captures you. Scroll Pinterest or websites, hit up a writing friend and play a game of ‘what if’ and come up with increasingly silly plot ideas and whatnot.
Finding a spark is about finding inspiration anywhere you can. Even if it seems silly, write about it. Go ahead and allow yourself to be silly in search of your spark.
You just went through a hard, dry spell where you weren’t writing. It can take time to make the creative soil produce again. Be kind to yourself if not much is being written or if it isn’t as good as you would like. Be kind but find a balance between kindness and allowing yourself to make excuses for not trying.
If you are making excuses or avoiding the “space” you made for writing, consider if you are truly ready to get back in the grind or if you are putting too much pressure on yourself to write something “good”. Consider giving yourself a bit more time to recover.
That’s it. Those are the suggestions that arose from our conversation. Rinse and repeat as necessary, and I hope you find your recovery from burnout goes smoothly and easily.
MY NEWBORN WAS WAKING ME up every two hours, and in the early hours of morning, from one nursing to the next, when even the sun wasn’t up yet, I couldn’t sleep. I was writing.
As she got older, I wrote little snippets on my phone. A line or two from that rare intersection of baby-is-fine and inspiration-is-flowing.
I had a story that wanted to get out, and I was along for the ride. Three weeks later and I had my first book, while the notion of being an actual author was still fresh and mind-blowing.
My next book snuck up on me. As in, she was a sneaky little sucker that jumped in line. I was writing the follow-up in my somewhat inspirational and somewhat science fantasy series and got derailed, producing a comedic paranormal romance that thought it was a cozy mystery. With no pressure and letting my crazy have free reign, it was a fun detour.
The two books that followed required determination and grit, by turns coaxing each uncertain word and then threatening and forcing just to get the daily word count met. Ideas were drafted, new outlines were crafted, and readers were recruited. Once I scaled that mountain, I got so mired in editing quicksand, I wasn’t sure I’d extricate myself but I did. Then I had to wade into the big water, nearly drowning in a sea of self-promo and intimidating ad know-how. When my books went live, my joy was more the exhausted collapse and full-body exhale of a marathon winner – or a mother after a thirty hour labor.
And then came my last book baby. She was a sweetheart, patient and kind. Life walloped me and her birth was delayed time and time again. I changed the personalities of her characters, bloated her with new scenes and stripped her of others. I left her alone for months, then half a year. Through it all, she waited without pressure, without judgment.
What do I know of writing routine and ethics? Forty-odd years and I’m still trying to exercise regularly.
But I know about births, having birthed books and babies and having helped others birth their own books and their own babies. And I can tell you, every book is different. They are their own stories that have chosen you as their birthing vessel. You can fight it, you can delight in it, you can take a birthing analogy and really run with it. But you can’t stop.
Because then you’re no longer a vessel, you’re a dead-end. And those stories will find someone else to birth them, while the spark in you that came alive in you during the creative process will live in someone else.
If you want to be a writer, write. It’s the best way to hone your craft, the best way to promote your books (by writing more books), and the best way to find your satisfaction and happiness. Be it a few sentences once a day, or a 10k slog once a week, honor your calling and that story you carry, and push past the hurdles of fear and failure.
Every story will teach you something new if you let it. The key is not listening to that voice in your head that you normally do, that one with all the “should”s and “have-to”s. When you’re ready to write, just listen to the story.
New This Month: Renée Gendron‘s Ninth Star is available on Amazon.
Renée’s other books:
- Jaded Hearts
- Book 1 of the Outdoorsman Series
- Seven Points of Contact
- Heartened by Crime
- Heads and Tales. A supernatural/mythological anthology (contributor)
- Beneath The Twin Suns: An Anthology (editor)
- In The Red Room: A Crime Anthology With Heart (editor)
- Shopkeeper & Spoon: Tales of Important Spoons (editor)
Nicole Wells‘s The Worst Story Ever Written–that’s a title not a blurb–comes out later in September. She describes it (and she’d know) as “a bit of a Cinderella retelling … with an impoverished author and a snarky book fairy….Plus a murder mystery. PNR meets mystery swaddled in hilarity.” Nicole’s other stories of various and mixed genres are at NicoleWellsWrites.com
Joseph P. Garland has published a collection of his song lyrics as My Songs, also at Amazon. His new novel set in 1870s New York, entitled A Maid’s Life, will be published in early September. I Am Alex Locus and other novels and stories, contemporary and set in the Gilded Age, are described at Joseph’s Dermody House site.
Marian L Thorpe has six books in her on-going historical fantasy/alt history series Empire’s Legacy available; they can be found at her aptly-named website, MarianLThorpe.com. Her books are at Books2Read.
Louise Sorenson is the co-author of Duel Visions with Misha Burnett.
Crystal Kirkham‘s many books can be found on her website.