I have been in a creative bubble for the past few weeks, focusing my mental energies on a creative project, namely a restructuring of my memoir manuscript. I didn’t know to call it that until I came across the term in Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, which I picked up at my new writing home, the Writers Workspace (WWS) on Chicago’s northside. Luckily for me, the WWS features a little library that I poke around in when I am taking a break from the writing desk. Incidentally, that is one thing I missed as writer-in-residence at the Hemingway Birthplace Home: A library that peaked my interest. While there were lots of wonderful old books about the house and I leafed through many of them, they just didn’t strike my fancy. (There weren’t any old volumes of Hemingway’s writing.)
I love reading what successful artists have to say about the creative process, and this book by one of America’s most prominent choreographers intrigued me, especially because it is written from the perspective of someone who is not a writer, nor a photographer, but someone who works in an entirely different discipline than I do. While she begins the chapter on “The Bubble” by citing a New Yorker interview with Philip Roth who truly works in a bubble as he secludes himself from the rest of the world by living alone and working in a studio in the woods every day, I appreciate that she says,
“Being in the bubble does not have to mean exiling yourself from people and the world. It is more a state of mind, a willingness to subtract anything that disconnects you from your work. It doesn’t have to be antisocial…
“Bubbles can exist amid chaos. They can be mobile: There’s nothing more hectic than a rock band on tour, but the confining schedule of planes, limos, hotels, backstage, and onstage becomes a bubble of sorts over the course of several months–and a touring songwriter, cut off from home, will often come back with a pile of new songs for the next disk.
“Even within our distracted existence we have to cultivate a version of the bubble if we want to work freely and with maximum fluency in making connections and harnessing our memory–and to maintain all this is a habit. It is the ideal state where nothing is wasted, where every detail feeds your art because it has nowhere else to go.” (p. 238-239)
Here’s my bubble: For six weeks this summer, Monday through Friday, I drive my son to summer school on the northside of the city. While he is at school, from 8:00 to 12:30, I am at the Writers Workspace, a short drive from the school. This gives me 3-4 hours of writing time. My other jobs are on summer hiatus, and I made sure to clear all other writing assignments off my plate, so I have been able to truly focus on this rewrite, something I had been dreading for a while. And guess what? It’s been easier than I thought it would be, mainly because I’ve been in the bubble. I’ve been able to live with this project, something I used to call “being in the zone.” But whatever it is called, it means that my brain is preoccupied with this project, and therefore ideas and solutions will come to my mind while I am, for example, chopping onions in the evening as I am cooking for my family.
I have never had 3-4 hours of focused writing time every weekday, except for the times I was granted a writer’s residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. And even then, my residency was only two weeks, so often I toiled all day long. I have found, however, that if I am working intently on a writing project, I tire after about four hours. My creative juices are depleted by then. Fortunately, this jives with my current routine. After four hours it’s time to pack up, pick up my son and embark on the rest of the day. I love that this bubble life is not an all or nothing proposition, that I have time for other stuff. Afternoons and evenings are devoted to being a mom and tending to everyday issues like going to the post office, dropping off donations at the charity shop, or making arrangements for my upcoming travels.
Here’s what I especially love about my bubble: That I know, as I pack up, that it will be there again the next day.