Years ago, in another life, I played the piano for a fellow music student who performed a catchy art song that began with the question in my title. The answer, by the way, was: “I’m gonna stand on the banks and watch the crawfish die, oh babe,” an image I didn’t fully understand until I moved to Louisiana years later.
I’m not sure why this snippet stuck with me through the years. Maybe my close association to the Shenandoah River and Valley through the Shenandoah Album novels brought this memory back. And that is the Shenandoah River behind me in the photo.
Maybe, too, the phrase remained alive because when I moved from music to writing, rivers running dry took on a whole new meaning for me.
Creativity in any form is like a river. Sometimes it rushes so fast, all we can do is leap out of the way before we drown. Sometimes it slows to such a sad trickle we have to trudge upstream to see what’s damming progress. Sometimes it dries up entirely.
I’ve never been able to predict what my own creative river will do. I can see patterns. Creativity flows fast and free at the beginning of a novel. Usually. Creativity begins to trickle by the middle. Most of the time. At the end creativity dries up and old-fashioned perseverance and instinct finish the novel for me. This is not a bad thing. If I’ve written 600 pages working toward my conclusion, and suddenly the river detours and takes me along with it, that new tributary may well lead to rocks and whitewater, certainly not toward bringing my book in on deadline. So dried up rivers have their place in the scheme of things.
I finished my latest novel, Happiness Key, at the end of October. I emailed it to my editor, hopped a plane for Houston where I signed books at the International Quilt Festival and at two lovely bookstores, then came home and immediately staged two parties.
Now, I’m finally ready to begin coaxing my trickling ol’ river back to health, so that I can begin the next novel with an enthusiastic gush of ideas. I’ve opened a new folder, and a few ideas have occurred to me already. More will come. I trust the process. The river will soon flow freely.
What do you do when your own river seems to be running dry? What restarts the flow for you? What keeps your imagination, your spirit, healthy? Please share if you have the time.
I’m going to pay attention to my own river in the next weeks and tell you my thoughts. But last night, depleted and alone for a few days, I sat in front of the television and watched three old episodes of Murder She Wrote–thank you, Hallmark channel–and followed those with The Bishop’s Wife, starring Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young. I spent these hours with Nemo, our beagle puppy, cuddled beside me and a baby blanket I’m knitting in easy reach.
Lesson One, for river health and renewal: Rest. Stop thinking. Figure out what makes you smile and indulge yourself.
I woke up this morning with a new idea. In the distance I can hear the sound of water flowing.