In the standard set of questions that authors supposedly* get asked, one of the big ones is, “Where do you get your ideas?” According to Neil Gaiman, the standard flippant response is, “There’s a P.O. box in Schenectady.”  (I say supposedly because I think I’ve only been asked that question once. Most people just ask me, “Oh, what do you write?”)

But for a lot of authors, that question is mystifying because the answer is, “Everywhere. Anywhere. My brain never ever stops feeding me snippets of stories.” Or at least that would have been my answer. But my imagination seems to have shut off. It’s just not working right now. The stories are gone.

It’s a really strange and honestly quite unpleasant feeling. Maybe it’s a little like losing your vision, and I say this as someone whose need for glasses has been growing steadily over the years. I used to have perfect sight, 20/20. Now a black blur in the distance sets off all my “beware of dog” triggers until it gets closer and closer and closer and my eyes finally give me enough information to say, “Oh, Macie! That’s Macie! I love Macie!” and I can relax.

But now that I’ve written that, I can say that it’s nothing like losing my imagination. Losing my imagination is much more like losing a tooth. I keep poking at the hole and there’s nothing there. And it is not settling in to a new normal, where the hole becomes as familiar as the tooth once was, and it stops being weird. It keeps being weird. Where are the stories? Why doesn’t a song trigger them? Why doesn’t a dream keep going when I wake up? Why don’t I know what Cici does next?

Some authors believe the universe is giving us our stories. Elizabeth Gilbert, in Big Magic, or Lauren Sapala in The INFJ Writer, would probably suggest listening, waiting for the universe to murmur to me. I’ve been listening. The universe is feeling very, very quiet.

In my morning words the other day, I wrote this:

I’m running away from the existential pain of feeling like there’s no story in my soul that wants to come pouring out, or even being yanked out into existence. This is what it must feel like for people who ask, “but how do you think of those things?” The answer is, it comes to me. Until the day when it doesn’t come to me, not at all. There’s no story in my head. Maybe it’s because I was ignoring the stories that wanted to be written, the one about the former rock star, the one about the lottery winner, the one about the girl who went through portals with her sister, the one about the bazkide. Maybe I needed to not be ignoring those stories. But it felt like I had too many things to write and now it feels like I have nothing to write.

I miss the characters talking to me, I miss the puzzles popping into my head. Maybe it’s because I didn’t respect APM enough, because I didn’t go crazy for making it perfect… ohh, so desperate to play solitaire right now. Maybe it’s because I’m depressed at the lack of enthusiasm for APM. Maybe it’s because I liked it but only four people have bothered to leave a review and no one seems even interested in reading it. Maybe it’s because no one is laughing at my jokes, a big fat thud out into the universe, not even people interested enough to hate it. And you put yourself out there — not you, me — I put myself out there and it was ignored, and so I’m feeling burned. Metaphorically burned. But too hurt to want to create. Too sore to have that part of my brain eager to perform for other people. Yep, I’m a performer and no one has come to my show and so I’m ready to stop putting on my show. 

It’s a good realization, now I think I need to sit with it for a while. Not that I want to sit with it, I want to make my coffee and find my book and maybe play a lot of solitaire. But at the same time, I think I can let my heart feel this pain and that it’s okay to just feel the pain and not drive myself to create when the creativity muscle is hurting. On the other hand, work through pain, always a way to develop a muscle, right? Not always. Yeah, I don’t know. 

I wound up deciding to let the universe give me a sign. I was thinking — well, a job offer, that’s what I was thinking. My friend in Arcata telling me she knew someone who desperately needed a nanny; a headhunter related to my previous career reaching out on LinkedIn; a Help Wanted sign in the local bookstore.

The universe obligingly provided a sign yesterday, when my friend Lynda shared with me that her friend told her I was one of her favorite authors. Her friend writes fiction, teaches writing, has written books on writing, and has been publishing books since I was in high school, so… well, I cried, actually.

Then the universe gave me another sign when BookBub promptly rejected A Lonely Magic for a featured deal, for the fifth time. I wish I’d saved all the rejection emails, because I’m fairly sure they come in gradations: the previous one said, “you can apply again in 30 days and you can improve your application by making your book free or available on more retailers.” ALM is now free and available on all retailers, and this rejection said, “you can apply again in a few months.” Eh. I think I am done with BookBub. ALM has a beautiful cover, over 80 nice reviews on Amazon, and is free: if it’s not good enough for BookBub to think it worth sharing with its readers, so be it. Thanks, universe, I get the message.

This morning, the universe gave me another message in the form of a review on Cici: Five stars from a tough grader! It ends with: I can’t wait to read the next one. (Please, Sarah Wynde, hurry!) I cried again, to be honest. Thank you, Deb, the tough grader. I’m so grateful for the encouragement!

But I think the universe is delivering some very mixed messages. I guess right now, though, I will just keep listening.