Creative Cross-Training: Genealogy
Last month, I submitted my latest book manuscript to my publisher. I still have to get through the editing process before it’s published later this year, but like many writers, I’m already thinking about what book to work on next.
The problem is, I’m not one of those authors who can just jump right into the next project. Despite a plethora of ideas for my next book, my brain is a little tired. Plus it’s just nice to camp out in this season of actually being finished with something–so much of the writing life is a prolonged messy middle. The fear, though, is that I’ll stand still for so long that my writing muscles will atrophy–or I’ll lose readers.
It’s times like this I like to engage in some writerly cross-training. I like to run and (with all this time that not actively working on a book has opened up) I’ve been able to do more of it lately. But you can’t run every day, or at least I can’t. Every other day, I take an extra-long walk, or swim, or do some yoga. It keeps me moving, giving my running muscles a rest while working other parts of my body so that I’m stronger and more flexible overall.
Writers need to cross-train, too. We can’t be writing all the time–it’s not healthy, we’ll burn out.
For me, this means having tasks and activities that are like writing–that keep my creativity muscles agile and limber–but not. Also, they aren’t quite as creatively strenuous as a full-fledged writing project would be.
One such activity, for me, is genealogy–researching my family history. On and off for years now, I’ve been making progress on my family tree, tracing our various lineages back through the centuries. I use a combination of ancestry.com (buying monthly memberships only when I’m actively working on genealogy) and resources at local libraries and historical societies. When I travel, I’ll look at the map to see if I’ll be in the vicinity of any cemeteries where my ancestors are buried so I can go search for their graves.
It’s a rich way to engage the mind while resting those more generative creative juices rest. There are light research and note-taking, black and white photographs, antiquated names, forgotten stories, idyllic rural churchyards, and a thousand other things to nourish your imagination. It’s also an activity you can participate in bite-sized chunks–a date here, a name, newspaper clipping, or cemetery record there. No need to slave away for hours (unless you want to or develop a mild addiction to Ancestry.com, which I’ve heard happens to some people…)
So, if my editor calls, I’ll be in the cemetery.