When I first moved to Nashville, I was determined to finish my first full-length book. Every evening after work, I’d hole up at the corner table at my favorite cafe and drink cup after cup of coffee, punching away at the keyboard on my laptop. As the months rolled by, the book took shape, transformed from an idea to a physical thing. Then, on a balmy June night in 2016, I cleared the last round of edits. The book was done.
The first moments of exhilaration following the completion of two years worth of work were followed by ones of panic.
After celebrating, the only thing to do seemed to write another book. Writing in the evenings had become part of my routine, and I wasn’t sure how else to fill the space that separated one work day from the next.
As soon as I started up a second book, though, I realized I had a problem: I didn’t have anything to write about. No one wants to read about my experience writing the first one. Because I’d been so consumed by the creative process of writing, I neglected to live a life worth writing about. As a nonfiction writer, that’s kind of an issue.
I remember the following weeks as I struggled with a massive creative block and little motivation. My new after work routine involved driving around my block for an hour, smoking cigarettes and debating whether or not to go into the corner bar by myself. At least something worth writing about might happen, I figured. But when I did go, nothing ever did happen. I only ended up smoking more cigarettes by myself, engaging in conversation with someone listless but willing, and stumbling home a little drunk.
I remember one night, laying on a mexican blanket on the floor of my bedroom, listening to the silence swell around me, thinking: I need to get out of here and do something.
A couple days later I found myself handing over my resume to the bar manager at a nice restaurant in a pricey area downtown. A friend of a friend had put a social media post seeking bartenders, and, in a new town without friends, a project or anything else to do, I figured a second job wouldn’t hurt. Tending bar had been my primary source of income before I’d moved to Nashville, anyway, and I missed conversations with strangers and never knowing what— or who— to expect during a night at work.
I wasn’t really writing in the months that followed, but I was relearning how to engage with life. I learned more than I’d previously known about cocktails and flavor profiles. I met guests who became regulars and introduced me to other opportunities Nashville had to offer. I began developing my own cocktails, syrups and tinctures. Most importantly, I was moved to write again.
Getting behind a bar and building cocktails is still the thing I love to do when writing feels bad. When I’m working on a drink, the only thing that matters is the build and that I get the balance right. When a guest tells me that what I’ve given them is the best old fashioned they’ve ever had or when I’m presenting a drink to a panel of judges, a nasty comment or a rejection letter from an editor is the last thing on my mind. I never know whether I’m going to get a big tip or win the grand prize to an absinthe distillery in France, but it hardly matters. The process is so enjoyable I couldn’t imagine not doing it. Making drinks is, in this way, almost like writing nonfiction.
This is why it’s so important for every creative person to have a secondary passion that requires the same focus, the same passion, the same obsession. Kerouac couldn’t travel enough. Hemingway loved to bake. Dali was a history nerd. It’s a tendency of obsession to produce creativity. A secondary passion alleviates the panic that sets in when we realize we’ve grown too attached to our process. It also gives us something to be inspired by.
Recently, I’ve found inspiration in travel. Someday I hope to participate in rainforest and exotic species conservation. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you love as long as your passions feed one another. They should excite you and allow you to breathe when you spend too much time with your face pressed against the surface of your art.