In this week’s post, Sara Etgen-Baker discusses how stepping out of one’s comfort zone–and writing routine–helps to inspire creativity.
In 2010 my mother-in-law gave me her rather simple but graceful antique secretarial desk. I was delighted to have it and cherished this nostalgic piece, for it both served and inspired me as I began my writing journey.
The antique desk easily fit into the tiny loft at the top of the stairs. The desk was comfortable; I felt so cozy, secure, and confident when I began each writing session. Although I quickly outgrew the desk, I was unwilling to give it up and acquire a larger one.
Despite the desk’s comfort and coziness, its limited storage capacity meant that I often scattered file folders and books on the small floor space around me. I also crave organization and closure, however, so after each writing session, I painstakingly gathered up the scattered tools of the trade and either placed them on a nearby shelf or in one of the desk’s three drawers until the next writing session. Because I’m also a creature of habit and routine, I repeated this process hundreds of times—much like a batter who comes to home plate and repeats a similar process each time he prepares to swing at the first pitch.
I accepted this process as the way that I entered into and exited my writing mode. Subconsciously, I convinced myself that the desk and the rhythm of my routine were my lucky charms, and I needed them to be successful.
A few years into my writing journey, we moved into a bigger home. Subsequently, I acquired my own office. My husband Bill offered on more than one occasion to buy me a new desk for my office, but I ignored his offers—like the day we stopped at the local office supply store.
Bill escorted me to the back of the showroom where he’d found what he thought was THE perfect desk for me. “I want to buy this for you, Sweetie. My writer needs a bigger desk.” He hugged me. “You know you deserve it. Besides, a bigger desk means bigger possibilities.”
“But I don’t want a bigger desk!” I turned and marched away. “I like my little desk.”
“I don’t understand. Why don’t you want a bigger desk?” He scurried to my side. “You must be afraid of something? What is it? You can tell me.”
“Whatever do you mean? I’m not afraid of anything. What makes you say that?” I folded my arms across my chest and looked him straight in the eyes. “Like I said, I really like my little desk. I’m satisfied with it. It inspires me. Besides, we just moved; I’ve experienced enough change. Changing to a bigger desk will just mess with my writing mojo. So don’t ask me again!”
He didn’t ask me again.
Then a few days later, while working in my new office, I looked around at the folders, books, and papers strewn all over my office floor. I riffled through several stacks and couldn’t find what I needed to meet a contest deadline. My heart raced, and beads of sweat appeared on my forehead—the telltale signs that I’ve allowed panic and fear to take hold. I leaned back in my chair, took a deep breath, and looked around my office. The room literally swallowed the tiny desk, making it look a wee bit insignificant and slightly out of place. Hmmm. Maybe I do need a bigger desk. But the idea of graduating to a bigger desk sent tiny shock waves through my brain.
Perhaps Bill was right. Was I afraid of something? If so, what was it?
Unable to continue writing, I closed my laptop, stood up, and paced around the room, focusing my attention on the certificates, awards, and checks that I’d framed and hung on the wall. When I began writing, I never imagined the success that now stared back at me. Each represented either an exciting moment or a significant step forward in my writing career. I was both thrilled and content with the level of success I’d achieved.
I closed my eyes and relived the vulnerability and fear I sometimes felt as a new writer. Often when I sat down to write, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to write or where I was going on my writing journey. But during the past few years, I trained myself to love both the ambiguity and the not knowing.
I smiled, returned to my chair, and retrieved C. Joy Bell C’s book of poetry, All Things Dance Like Dragonflies, from the bookshelf. I flipped through its pages, and her words about faith jumped off the page into my heart:
I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.
At that moment, I recognized that a bigger desk symbolized bigger projects, bigger possibilities, more challenging contests, and being once again suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight.
Bill was right, of course. I was afraid—afraid to force my complacent writing wings to once more unravel and begin a new flight. C. Joy Bell C’s words helped me grasp, at a deeper level, that once I spread my wings anew, I could trust that the winds of creativity would carry me further, where I needed to go.
So when my bigger desk arrived a few days later, I sat down at it, opened my laptop, and once again felt the miracle in the not knowing and the strength in the unfolding of my wings, confident in their ability to begin anew.
Sara Etgen-Baker has been a member of the Dallas Branch of NLAPW since 2014. She enjoys the support and fellowship her affiliation with NLAPW brings to her writing life. Her manuscripts have been published in various anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Wisdom Has A Voice, My Heroic Journey, Times They Were A Changing: Women Remember the 60s and 70s, and The Santa Claus Project. When not writing, Sara spends time with her husband, Bill, to whom she’s been married for 34 years. She may be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.