Senior Web Editor and Debut Novelist, Meghann Foye Dishes on how learning the art of active non-attachment by getting a bridesmaid dress to zip was the key to her creative reawakening.
We all go through winter seasons in our creative process. When the stuff you’re turning out is just okay, but not great. It feels tough to put your butt in the seat, but you do it, knowing the effort will pay off down the line.
And then there are moments of total emotional meltdown, when the thought of putting pen to page, or in my case, fingers to keys, strikes waves of sheer terror. What you’re turning out is terrible. Or non-existent. And what’s worse is when it happens while you’re being paid to be creative every day for a living.
This exact season of sheer doom happened to me while I was working at a popular teen magazine the year I turned 30. In a sleep-deprivation-induced moment of stupidity, I’d forgotten to include our top advertiser’s logo on a page we’d promised to and it went to print without it. They threatened to pull their ads. The resulting mess left me feeling like my bosses now deemed me untrustworthy. Each time I passed in a page, I doubted myself and my process. Fear pangs haunted every subsequent word I wrote, and slowly I shut down writing completely. I covered it up by taking on more pages editing others. Try as I might, I couldn’t find my flow.
My inner muse had gone on strike.
Terrified about what this might mean for my creativity, my job and my rent money, I trudged on in fear, but without much idea of how to change things. I sought out the café’s excellent chocolate chip cookies to soothe my Imposter Syndrome flare-ups each day at 3 p.m. rather than trying to strike a détente.
It was all working for a while—hiding out from my inner writer—until my friend Weatherly asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. I bought the form-fitting fuchsia J. Crew dress online, and when it came, it was about 2 inches from zipping—damn those café cookies! The larger sizes were out of stock. It was either me forgoing the baked goods in favor of daily runs to try to fit into it, or sending my dress to my tailor who promised to create some sort of “side panel situation.”
Somehow my last bit of pride got the best of me, and I began running around the reservoir in Central Park near my little studio apartment each day in an effort to get the dress to zip. Somehow, miraculously, six months later at her wedding it did. And over time, ideas started stirring on those long runs. Secret ones, unrelated to the magazine stories I was editing. Ideas about life. My struggle as a single woman in her 30s while all my friends were beginning their families. I couldn’t stop them, but I didn’t know what to do with them.
Then, one day a few months past the wedding date, I found myself running the entire six-mile loop. For a little girl who was teased in gym class for being the last one to finish the President’s Challenge mile, this was huge. It just so happened to be the day of the New York City Marathon. As I watched the runners, another idea struck. If I could do six, maybe I could do 26? I came home, and in the mail was a postcard for Team in Training, an amazing charity that trains first time marathoners so they can help raise money for blood cancer research.
I signed up, and what do you know, the thought occurred to me to start a blog called Unlikeliest Marathoner thinking no one would read it. With each training run, I’d pen a short post. Sometimes it was about logistics. Most of the time, it was about feelings. My friends began to follow me. They connected with the humor and the humility and putting myself out there with a big challenge, they said.
Then, this time, about a year after that first shut-down moment, I was out Weatherly again and our other friends at a supper club we’d started. They all announced they were pregnant and would be taking maternity leave that summer. On the train right home I expressed my frustration with my continued burn out, my job woes and wanting my own maternity leave—just with no baby.
“You know what you need,” Weatherly said, laughing to herself, “You need a Me-ternity leave.”
“Haa,” I burst out, “I should totally fake being pregnant to get one,” and we laughed more, imagining how funny that would be, the weight of frustration transitioning into the natural comedic breaking point, and then something else happened…a flood gate.
As I walked home amid icy January sidewalk, I felt my own blood pumping with a new idea: a story about a burned-out, frustrated single magazine editor who fakes being pregnant to get the same rights as all the women on staff with kids.
I sat down at my laptop and didn’t look up until about 80 pages were there on screen. It was 2:30 a.m. Something had definitely re-awoken inside me.
Now that I was willing to talk, my inner writer had come back to the bargaining table.
A year later, I had a full draft. And a few more, a book deal.
Now, when I think back to that period where nothing was coming easy and how it eventually turned around, I honestly think I didn’t actually do anything. Well, besides run. And then write down everything that came to me without judgment.
When I talk to other writers about the same creative melt-down moments, I hear similar stories. Maybe it was the active non-attachment. Maybe it was getting my physical blood pumping again that reinvigorated my creative life blood. But, I’ve learned that there is this sort of “try, try, try and then give up and go do something else” thing that can work wonders when you are experiencing that frustrating feeling of being creatively stuck.
Like any good breakthrough, I was willing to listen, be open to the messages and then do my job. And my inner writer and I became friends again. Or, it was thanks to a fuchsia bridesmaid dress.
Whatever, it’s okay—the best chick lit usually is.
Meghann Foye is the Senior Web Editor at Redbookmag.com, where she covers topics such as parenting, relationships and infertility. Before that, she took her own Meternity from 2010 to 2012 when she quit her job to travel to China, Japan, India, Southeast Asia and Australia to pen freelance travel articles and begin this book. From Marblehead, Massachusetts, she currently lives in Jersey City. Meternity is her first novel.