January 12th, 2015

On Writing: Being Nestless

Kimberly Brock

photo credit: wiccked via photopin cc

photo credit: wiccked via photopin cc

You need a nest.

That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned this year about being a good writer, or a creative of any sort.

Up until this year, I thought I was an expert at nests. I am an introvert disguised as an extrovert and I want nothing so much as to curl up in a soft, safe place and reflect on the world around me and inside of me. I am an expert at settling and tucking and generally hunkering. I like this about myself. It is a sign of a content soul, in my opinion. And it has served me well. I was able to write a very nice little novel and see it published, face critics, build a platform and social media presence, arrange many appearances and speaking engagements, and remain relatively unscathed by the experience, all from my nest.

And then, I fell.

For me, I’d been one of the lucky ones who had somehow reached my forties with a sense of supreme security still intact, from which came a glorious nest that gave me the freedom to write without fear. Read that again. I had no fear. None. I mean, I had general fears like how something might happen to my children or I might become a widow before my time or my parents might die or I could get breast cancer or we could lose everything and have to move into a double-wide behind my parents’ house. That sort of thing.

But those were distant possibilities. I wasn’t really afraid in the present. I thought I’d already pulled through some pretty dodgy situations and I was sort of in the clear in my midlife. I’d fallen out of my first nest really early. I’d survived being born a preemie, the twin who lived. I’d survived alcoholism in my grandmother’s family. I’d survived abusive relationships. I’d survived an extensive spinal fusion. I’d had plenty of experience compared to Suzie Q. I had lots of true grit. I brought all of that to the page with an assurance in my breast that I was safe, high up off the dangerous ground I’d already covered, up in the clear, fluffed and feathered and ready to sharpen another quill and set to work on my next tale.

What no one ever told me was that birds instinctively know how to build nests because they’re going to need more than one to get through this life. People, too. Writers, especially.

Have you been there? Is it just me?

Do you know that place, that feeling that you can write about anything because you’re happy to let your imagination take you there? Any journey is one you’re willing to take, whether it’s one of extreme joy or challenge or misery? You’re willing and full of enthusiasm – not naivety. Naivety is sometimes what others will call this but it’s really something else. It’s your nest. You know that no matter how far you may fly, you can circle back. Nests, it turns out, are really a state of mind.

If you won’t or can’t take the journey that your writing demands, it’s not because you’re naïve. We write about all sorts of things we have no real experience with because we long to understand them, not because we are experts on the topic. No, if you won’t take the journey, it’s because you’re nestless.

So, there I sat on the ground. My life had taken a devastating blow and when I peered up at the damage and I was no longer certain the little wad of sticks I’d stuck together would hold my weight. I was without shelter, without comfort, without a home. And without all of those things, it happened that I could no longer follow the stories where they needed to go. I sat on the ground a long time.

On the ground, you learn there are plenty of folks who are just as happy to be there and you might try it out for yourself for a while. You’ll stop writing. You’ll wonder why you ever did to begin with and maybe decide it was really all a lot of trouble for nothing. But eventually, I promise you, you’ll miss the better view. Writers are just like that.

I read something this week and I wish I’d save the source. It was a piece of narrative from a new novel. It caught my attention because the character compared herself to a baby bird that has been knocked from the nest. Ah-ha! She gets it, I thought! And she did. She went on to say how she was returned to her nest by some benevolent hand but the experience wasn’t what she expected. Back in the nest, she was the odd bird. The other birds knew she’d been out because she smelled wrong. The character believed she smelled wrong. She was suddenly uncertain of herself.

Being knocked out of your nest will make you an odd bird even if you can get yourself back home. You won’t be the same and neither will your nest. The truth is, you might smell wrong. Your nest may smell wrong. It may not even hold the weight of you anymore. As a young writer, I’d always believed being an odd bird, an eccentric or a loner, was a requirement for literary greatness. You had to be weird to have anything original to say. I guess that could be true to some extent, but as weird as I felt, I also felt muted by self-doubt.

Nests, like stories, it seems, are made of courage.

Building a nest takes time. It’s a little familiar, actually. Stick by stick, rather than bird by bird. A little piece of ribbon here, a twist tie for good measure, maybe a bit of fishing line. Eventually, this new nest I’m creating will hold me and all the stories that will dare me to follow from my safe perch. Soon, I’ll have a safe place to roost again, a high place with a good view of things, where I can ponder and question and start to take stock of myself and my surroundings with a clear perspective.

And then, I’ll write.

Have you found yourself without a writing nest? How did you overcome it?

About Kimberly

Kimberly Brock

Kimberly Brock

Kimberly Brock is the award winning author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, THE RIVER WITCH (Bell Bridge Books, 2012). A former actor and special needs educator, Kimberly is the recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year 2013 Award. A literary work reminiscent of celebrated southern author Carson McCullers, THE RIVER WITCH has been chosen by two national book clubs. Kimberly’s writing has appeared in anthologies, blogs and magazines, including Writer Unboxed and Psychology Today. Kimberly served as the Blog Network Coordinator for She Reads, a national online book club from 2012 to 2014, actively spearheading several women’s literacy efforts. She lectures and leads workshops on the inherent power in telling our stories and is founder of Tinderbox Writer’s Workshop. She is also owner of Kimberly Brock Pilates. She lives in the foothills of north Atlanta with her husband and three children, where she is at work on her next novel. Visit her website at kimberlybrockbooks.com for more information and to find her blog. You can also find her Author page on Facebook at Kimberly Brock, or tweet her @kimberlydbrock.

47 comments to On Writing: Being Nestless

  • Kimberly – as I write a book that’s so close to the bone that it’s scared me for years, your post hit home.

    The good thing about being knocked out of the nest enough is learning that the nest is INSIDE you. No one can shake it there. You can’t fall from yourself – not for long.

    Sending you strength…

    • Laura, you’re going to write a book that will soar! I know it!

      And yes, it’s so true that the nest is inside you. That’s exactly what I meant about our security being a state of mind. I should add that it’s a state of HEART, as well. And nobody has more heart than you!

      #OddBirdsUnite

  • Hi, Kimberly. This was such an encouragement to me today, as I’m “on the ground,” right now, with you. Thank you for taking the time to write this, as I’m sure it will encourage others that they’ll be able to nest soon, too. You’re a good bird 🙂 Have a wonderful day.

    ~ Laurie Kozlowski

    • On the ground is AWFUL…And then, it’s not. It’s just on the ground. But not really where a bird belongs. Eventually you’ll start to look up and then you’ll work harder on the getting up and stop worrying so much about the being down. I hope that shift happens for you soon. Here’s to the high places! 😉

      • Yes! The one thing I’ve found about the ground . . . it’s a good place to push off from.

        Hang in, Ladies.

        • Pushing off is a skill we ALL need! Requires more courage than the leap, sometimes. To fall and take the risk of flying again, of trusting the nest to hold you up there, or going so far as to believe that if it doesn’t and you find yourself falling, you’ll survive. In life, as in writing, it’s all about perseverance. 🙂

        • Orly Konig-Lopez

          Oh that’s so true, Laura. And pushing off really does require more courage.

      • That shift has been happening, I work myself to the bone with two jobs, a daughter, and time is slim. But it’s always good to read posts like these and see a unique perspective of a person reaching out to others. That is brave. Thank you for the good thoughts. 🙂

        • I’m glad to hear you’re on the way up. I started this year thinking that I should just be busting out with all kinds of wisdom and eight or ten amazing novels with all the horrible material from my reality. Instead, I just felt like I weighed a thousand pounds and I couldn’t focus my thoughts to string together any kind of fictional work. A heavy life can really make it hard to relax into your creative mind. Multiple jobs and children, I get! I hope you find a way to take a deep breath and bring your voice to the page! xo

  • There are so many different “nests,” aren’t there? The emotional, financial, and physical. Emotionally, my nest feels strong, physically too, from the perspective of a place to write, with the physical support system that is my husband, and family. Financially, I built my nest from years of hard work, and patience. However, I see that nest (egg) slowly diminishing as I wait for a book sale. I still have some time, but it is finite. To that end, I Loved This Post, and hope my little nest (egg) will last until it can be refurbished. 🙂

    • You got it, toots! ALL the parts of life are made up of nests or the security that we can build for ourselves through finances or relationships or work. It’s a challenge to wait on publication, especially when we know our lives as creative don’t always pay off financially. Personally, I’ve barely made enough to pay for groceries off my writing, but I have found ways to bring in a little here and there by doing some freelance work. I was really slow to realize this and you’re probably way ahead of me (your comment is so sharp!) but you might find it helpful to dig for a few assignments at local lifestyle magazines or online sources. At the very least, it alleviates a little guilt at the time and tears we spend on the writing of our hearts! xo

  • What a brilliant and relatable post! It sure gave me the motivation to get on with my writing now 😀

  • Such a perfect metaphor – I relate to it well. I am also “an introvert disguised as an extrovert,” so much so that many people I regularly interact with are shocked to hear about my anxieties, the way I psych myself up for social interaction, and my “nests.” I actually tell people close to me “I’m retreating to my cave for awhile,” – but I think I like nest much better. Caves are pretty tough to shake – but I have recently realized how a small wind can shake my nest more than I had imagined – and also how quickly sharing it with someone else warms it up. I hope that knowing you are not alone gives you the confidence to fly when you’re ready.

    • Kimberly Brock

      Thank you for the encouragement, Katey! Don’t ever apologize for needing your nest or the time to retreat. It’s part of being a sensitive person and an observant one, that need to separate ourselves and ponder. It’s what makes us good writers!
      #OddBirdsUnite

  • Wow, this one really spoke to me! Thank you, Kimberly. Since I’m floating (so far) down from a nest at the moment, the timing couldn’t be better. Beautifully written, too.

    • Thank you for your kind response, Faith. Floating…that’s where I’m at these days, too. Sharing with this community is something that encourages me toward a sure landing. I hope it will do the same for you. xo
      #OddBirdsUnite

  • Such a wonderful post, I could relate to it on so many different levels. Thank you!

  • Ah yes, I can relate. First to the introvert masquerading as an extrovert and most especially to the touchstone of the nest. When we go deep in our writing we need to know we have a safe space to return to. My writing takes me out of the nest but I am unable to write with the full courage of expression if I’m not in a safe place in my metaphorical nest upon return. Lovely post.

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    Oh Kimberly! This post is so very perfect and timely in so many ways. Thank you for that ray of optimism on a droopy, icy Monday morning.

    Now I’m going to settle into my nest and focus on the positive!

  • Lovely. Thank you. I think I’m scrabbling to make my third nest. As a writer, anyway (not sure how many nests I’ve had on a full-life scale). My first nest was chasing a story and some characters that seemed to have so magically appeared. In that nest, I was all: “I don’t even have to show this to anybody. And I very well might not.”

    My second was (as you’ve probably guessed) showing it to someone. A few someones, actually. Then realizing it wasn’t fully formed, and that I didn’t know what it meant to me. I think I definitely ‘smelled wrong’ in that second nest. But I came to be at peace there. I felt like I’d finally made it pretty sturdy. And the middling view wasn’t half bad. I was able to take good long hard looks, both down and up the tree, at what my work meant to me and at how it might relate to others.

    Then came the day when a few people came and shook the damn tree. They shook it because they believed in me, believed I could fly. Oh, sure, I’ve swooped around a bit. But I think everyone knows I’m just gliding on the wind. I’m not fooling anyone, really. Least of all myself. I can’t really climb on my own, or maneuver very well, for that matter.

    So I have to build another nest. And I think I’m looking for the right branch. And I realize it’s got to be high. That’ll be more important than sturdiness. I’ve got to learn to fly up there. I’ve got to believe in my abilities to get there, even against the wind if need be. It’ll take practice, but that’ll come naturally, of course. And it’s not just a belief in my ability to fly there, but a belief that – no matter who shakes the tree, or what storms blow through – I am able to rebuild the nest. No scrabbling necessary. I’ve got all the resources I need. And I always will, if I believe. Faith and courage.

    • Swooping. I’m into it, Vaughn. This comment is complete testament to why swooping may just be your thing – the thing that makes you a unique and powerful voice. Seems to me that if you can swoop and scrabble, you’re ahead of the game! I’m going to love seeing what you produce this year!!
      #OddBirdsUnite #FaithandCourage

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Beautiful response, Vaughn!

  • Kimberly – your writing always resonates with me. A perfect read this morning. I am out of my nest. This is not the first time. My nest broke when my husband died six years ago. Out of that sadness I created a safe nest with my dogs, my writing, and my crazy antique shop (now closed) that supported other artists. I felt in charge, powerful, knew my purpose. Then this past year I had health issues (minor, but still have me off my game) and my nest no longer made me safe. Living alone with six dogs and health issues is scary, but I am working it out. Being more the needy one now and not as social as I was as that powerful person who set up things, shakes me to the bone. I feel people see me differently, but maybe I am just seeing myself differently. I am questioning all that I thought was solid. All the things that I thought made my life, my nest, my haven, are changing, still. This year I hope to sort it all out and come back stronger, Your post gives me faith all will be well! Thanks and hugs.( Hmm, writing this may be better than therapy!) You are great as always.

    • Barbara, you’ve been such an inspiration to ME this year! Being the person everyone comes to means that when you’re the one in need of support, you feel like…well, like the other birds will realize you smell wrong. I’ve felt that way all year and still do. My grandfather had chickens when I was little and my siblings and I would beg to take one of the fuzzy chicks out of the house for the day, to hold and cuddle. We had every intention of caring for them and returning them to the others, safe and loved. But he always told us it wouldn’t be good for the chicks. Eventually, he gave in and allowed us to each have a little bird for an afternoon. It was a terrible lesson. When a chick leaves the flock like that and then returns, that wrong smell alerts the other chicks that the prodigal bird is sick, a danger to the rest. They will chase it and peck at it until they kill it.

      All my life I’ve felt a little like that prodigal chick, waiting to get eaten up if I’m found out as an odd bird in any given flock. And sometimes, I hate to say, that’s happened. But more often than not, I realize we are ALL odd birds, us people. And the expectation of being beaten down for having gone through something is all in my own mind. Experiences aren’t signs of weakness, they are signs of life. We, Barbara, smell like life.
      Tuck that under your wing. xo
      #OddBirdsUnite

  • Dot

    Thank you SO much for this post! I was nestless for so long that I feared I would always be on the ground — and it’s a dangerous place sometimes, earthbound. Recently, though, I’ve established a spot on a little branch of my own — not very high up but at least I’m moving skyward– and am adding the bits of string and a twist tie or two to make it my new home. I needed the encouragement and the knowledge that I wasn’t the only introvert trying to fake extrovert. Your post gave me the boost that I so needed this morning. Again, thank you.

    • Kimberly Brock

      Personally, I prefer a little branch, Dot. I also like a tree full of other little birds. xo
      #OddBirdsUnite

  • Very apt, Kimberly. Thanks! It helped me articulate where I am at this point. 2014 was great — finished my mystery, was recruited by a new publisher for shorter fiction, more appearances than ever. (Why, yes, that is my horn you hear tooting and I am on the mouthpiece.) Now, thanks to you, I can say where I am.

    On the edge of the nest getting ready to jump. New book on the way. New novella, too.

    My guess is you have touched a nerve and helped a lot of writers. Thanks again.

  • Sharon Langston

    What in the world can I say to my favorite author? We are kindred spirits. (If they only knew…) You are amazing! Loved this article! I do not know why it shocked me to read that you are an introvert living as an extrovert!! Same here!! What wonderful insight you have. You are an “old soul.”
    I enjoyed reading the responses also. Take care! Let me know when the next book is out! Love, Sharon

  • Wendy Kelly

    There always seem to be storms shaking the boughs. Rebuilding the nest can be a struggle, but there are only two options, like you said: rebuild, or walk away. It’s nice to be soaring with the flock! Thank you for your words of encouragement, and good luck on your flight path, wherever it takes you.

  • Several times while reading this post I said, “Oh Kimberly.” Because the writing is (as always) authentic. It takes a while for writers to become authentic. We are busy trying to “be” what someone else expects of us, to “be” what the marketing machine demands of us and somehow along the way we get lost, singed, broken. Thank you for saying “rebuild or walk away.” I received a lot of negative comments about my blog post where I wrote about purging and throwing away the old. I simply can not be authentic if I continue to lug around the past bad writing. Truly, you have given me permission to sit, to preen, to wait until it is my time. Because when we are healed, when our nest is built, then we can write the story that is ours, the one that belongs to none other. As always, your words inspire me. I am so honored to call you friend. #TeamRebuild

    • I think being authentic is probably the best compliment anyone could pay me, so thank you for that, Renea. It’s most important to me in life and in writing. I find that navigating marketing really isn’t all that complicated if you are simply yourself. 🙂

      As for walking away – I think you’re wise to know the difference between the good stuff and the junk. I hold onto most of my writing pieces so I can look back and get a good laugh – kidding! Well, sort of. I keep what I think has merit. But I’m not very good at keeping piles of stuff, so I have to MAKE myself save things.

      As for lugging around the past, now that I can identify with in an emotional sense. This year has been a personal struggle watching loved ones combat addiction, recovery from abuse, dealing with my own obsessional thinking, triggers, fear and trauma. Stuff that would make a dreamy novel, IF I could write it. So for me, the idea of building a new nest and freshening things up is about perspective and courage and faith. Seems to me…we’re ALL on the same journey, eh? xo
      #TeamRebuild #OddBirdsUnite

  • Beautiful, soulful writing, as always Kimberly! So happy to find you here at WITS.

    I had a rather painful fall from my nest not once, but twice in the last year or so – spent too much time sitting stunned on the ground. I finally had to give myself permission to take those short bursts of flight, hope finding wings. One way I’ve hit upon to jump back into the writing world, is to re-invent myself. I’ve decided on a pseudonym to publish under. Just having this new persona, this new nest, if you will, has given me a lot of joy. I’m excited again about engaging with all my fellow writer friends that I’ve felt so distanced from lately.

    Sometimes we just need that time away, to heal, to molt and grow new feathers. 🙂
    So glad you are back in your stride. You and your writing deserve to shine!

    • Taking time to be stunned isn’t a bad thing, Darcy. I think the whole world would do well to take a little time like that on occasion. But you’re going to inspire those around you as you find your way back from the blows you’ve been dealt. And you’ll have so much to say about the hard stuff – universal stuff that will resonate with readers and make change. EVEN if you do it under a brand new name! And EVEN if you smell different from the other birds.

      Lord, there are a lot of bird metaphors, aren’t there? I think I’ve started something…lol
      #OddBirdsUnite

  • Tess Frost

    This resonated with me too – tho I am an extrovert living as an introvert. It isn’t easy, either way you feel as if a basic hunger is going unfed. One needs a place that you feel comfortable, solid, in control, confident. Sometimes it seems I barely set foot in that place before the nest falls apart. I am not a very good nest-builder I suspect!

    Then again, sometimes the ground is a good place to be because at least you cannot fall any further. Also, when I look around a lot of people are there with me. Sometimes I can help them get airborne again, and that feels good too, and makes me feel lighter, so I float a bit.

    Renea, about purging and throwing away – I believe it is one of the healthiest things one can do. My house is cluttered due to a general unwillingness to get rid of stuff. I am part of the problem too – “If we chuck that out today we will need it tomorrow” “We might find the pair sometime” “Maybe we can still fix it” – there are so many rationalisations as to why one does not throw things out. The result is that one loses things in the clutter, wastes time trying to find things in the clutter, has to live around the clutter, has to pick up the clutter to clean around and under it, has to re-pile it when it gets knocked over, has to clean extra stuff that got in the way when something gets spilled…. there is a LOT of extra stress attached to keeping stuff unnecessarily. This goes for physical and psychological clutter. I salute you for purging,

    In the case physical stuff I am starting to realise that part of the solution is to fail to acquire stuff in the first place 😉 But in writing that won’t work – the more the merrier – then chuck out the worst and keep the best. But DON’T hang onto it just because it is there. It is just clutter that will dilute, obscure and minimise your best. Like the japanese gardener who cut down an entire bed of chrysanthemums except for one, perfect bloom. Because its perfection was lost in the crowd.

  • nicki

    This resonated with me so much, I had to leave a comment when I normally don’t.
    I thought it was just me.
    I feel like I fall out of my nest every time I hit the publish button. Actually it feel like I leap out and take a free fall. Even when I get awesome feed back that I try and convince myself that, because I get great feedback, it must mean I write good stories. but for some reason, I always end up like an ostrich, shoving my head in the sand and blocking out the book world except to do the marketing. If published three stories, But each time I find that it takes me at least a month to climb back up that tree and plant myself back in that nest and another week to get the courage to put a story on paper (or Microsoft word). Once I’m there, letting the rhythm of the words flow, I’m golden, but each time it’s a process for me. Don’t get me wrong, the high of producing something I’m proud of, the messages from fans, the reviews, fuels me like wood to a fire, but every time I hit that publish button, it’s like taking an extinguisher to that fire.
    Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone <3