It’s good to be back to the blog! It’s been a wonderful “learning time” during the three-month sabbatical. I won’t repeat what most of you received in my August newsletter. [Sign-up to the right.] Instead, today I want to talk about the nuts and bolts of creativity. Specifically, a writer’s creativity.
Creativity is a mysterious concept to most of us. We don’t really understand what it is, where it comes from, why it leaves us, and how to make it “work” consistently. We give it a lot of power over us because of this.
Does it have to be this way? I’ve learned over the past three months that the answer is a resounding NO!
The author of The Soul Tells a Story says “if I know from experience that inspiration arrives under certain conditions, I will make sure to re-create the conditions that invited it initially. Thus my early experience comes to determine how it is I will work.”
The first month of the sabbatical went pretty much how I expected. I had set up conditions in May to help me be productive on the novel, plus do a lot of craft study. I logged in a LOT of writing and studying hours. But then June… I had planned for school being out (grandchildren here), but then along came an unexpected chance to write adult mysteries. What a dream come true if I could do it! I have always loved mysteries–and have published many for children–so I wanted to submit a couple of ideas. It took me most of June, including once pulling an all-nighter after the grandchildren went home, but on June 30th I submitted two detailed chapter-by-chapter outlines.
I signed contracts for both adult mysteries in July! I am elated, but my creative writing routine in June didn’t look at ALL like my routine in May. No study to speak of, no progress on the middle-grade novel. Plus that all-nighter wiped me out for three or four days. (No wonder I stopped that practice after college!) But it got me to thinking in July, as the sabbatical was drawing to a close and I face actually producing the mysteries, just what conditions were the most conducive for creativity on a sustained basis.
Your Own Style
Each writer is different. I know writers who must be surrounded by noise and people or loud music in order to write. You find them in coffee shops, focused on their laptops. I am just the opposite, preferring quiet and solitude when I can get it.
But life didn’t get simpler as I got older. It gets more complex as you add in-laws and grandchildren. (If you want to read a terrific article about this, see “Encroachment” by Robin LaFevers.) In part, she said these two things:
The pressing demands of daily life have a rather sobering ability to suck all of the creative oxygen out of a room. They don’t even have to be big, catastrophic type demands. Sometimes simply the endless dripping of life’s mundanities can wear away our reserves until there is nothing left. There are just so very many ways to be pulled in the direction of others–in spite of how necessary facing inward is in order to give free voice to our creativity…
But within about five minutes of their departure [kids going to college], I quickly discovered there are lots and lots of additional ways to be pulled outward and become other focused.
- Extended family
- Financial pressures
- Mental and emotional clutter
- The internet
- Social media
- Gatekeepers: critique partners, agents, editors, reviewers
- The “market”
Take a Self-Inventory
All of those things can impact your creativity. If you’re not sure what conditions are best for your ability to create, think back to when you started writing. How did you work best then? What conditions did you just naturally create for yourself? What are the non-negotiables you must have for your creativity to flourish?
Here are some things to consider:
- Before writing, do you need some quiet time to think, meditate, or pray?
- Can you write at any time of day–or only at certain times?
- Can you write any place–or do you need your “office” to be the same each day? Can you write in the study room at the public library to improve concentration?
- Can you write in tiny bits of time–or does your creativity absolutely require large chunks of time? Does it vary depending on the stage of your book?
- How much socializing do you need in order to be your most creative? (This includes time with writers and non-writers alike, time to “talk shop” and time to just have fun.)
- When you are stuck, does it help to read a book on craft (viewpoint, research, inspiration, etc.) to get your creativity flowing again?
- Does reading other writers’ books help you be more creative–or does it make you feel anxious as you compare yourself to them?
- Do you need a healthier diet or more sleep for your creativity to be at its peak? Or do you work best on short naps and skipping meals?
- What kind of critique at what point in your project is helpful? What kind is the kiss of death to your creativity? (When is your ego more fragile?)
- Do you work best with a deadline, or do deadlines make you freeze up? Do you do well with six-month deadlines but choke on series deadlines set every two months?
- Can you be creative when dealing with emotional upset? Do you need to solve family problems before you can settle down to write?
Take Time to Know Yourself
As we’ve said before, just because conditions aren’t perfect doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. We’ve all had to produce work under some appalling conditions. But if you have a choice, it’s lovely to set up your life and home and schedule and diet and social life so that it most benefits YOU and your creativity. (And you probably have more choices than you think.)
Take time to answer the above questions. Life can take over! If you’ve been writing a long time, you may have forgotten what conditions kick started your writing in the first place.
I started writing when my oldest three kids were babies and toddlers. We had a farm in Iowa, lots of pets, big vegetable gardens, no Internet, few neighbors, lots of room inside the farmhouse and outside, lots of quiet and fresh air. It can’t have been as ideal as my memory makes it out to be, but it was very conducive to thinking and pondering and reading and writing.
At the beginning of my sabbatical, that old life bore little resemblance to my life today–so I planned ways to bring back some of those elements into my daily life. I loved having my children around me, and I’m happiest now when I’ve had plenty of contact with my four grandchildren. I loved living in the country then; now we live in a city, but next door to a park and greenbelt, so it is much the same if I just go outside more and enjoy the fresh air. Last weekend the grandchildren and I fed apples to the deer on the trail. I have a vegetable garden again, but it’s small enough to be fun.
The biggest change I see is having the Internet. I’m an introvert–preferring solitude and quiet when it’s time to write. Being online for any length of time is agitating to me, for some odd reason (even though I view very benign websites!) Afterwards, I find it hard to settle down and write.
During the sabbatical I experimented with staying offline until noon, having “no media days,” limiting email to checking it once or twice, but not actually responding to it till later in the day. I also wrote in places like the library without Internet access on my laptop. All those things increased both my creativity and my productivity on the novel. It doesn’t affect all writers this way, but it’s worth experimenting to find out what (if anything) it does for your creativity.
Now It’s Your Turn
What about you? What things do you suspect would help you coax your creativity out of hiding on a more regular basis? What changes are the hardest to make? What one change could you make today?