Good day, True Believers!
This week's post sees a return to a discussion of the creative process in everyday life and will be free of references to the fact that we're about to become a fascist state ruled by private interests where everyone who ever expressed a dissenting opinion on the side of tolerance, peace and decency will be sent to relocation camps in an effort to create a eugenically engineered America that never existed. Nope, won't go there.
I digress. I've had some hard earned time off from work the last couple of weeks where I've had a chance to reflect a lot on my work, what I want to accomplish with my one month, one year and five year plans, creatively speaking.
Funny thing, I'd been waiting for this time off for quite some time and I really envisioned it as a chance to indulge in my writer's fantasy: up at five, writing furiously, meditating, walking, building stuff around the house, writing more, sharing buckets of work. Finishing about ten of the eighteen projects I've got laying around. I had the time coming. I had the ideas. I had the technology. And exactly nothing got done for almost a week.
It was amazing to watch from the inside, sort of an internal car accident, y'know? It was the result of a combination of just not being able to give myself permission to write in that actual moment of having pen to paper coupled with an inability to focus my moods and energies to any one project for a length of more than a few minutes.
What caused the block? It took some time, but I figured it out. Much of it was focus. Again, an overabundance of ideas is a good problem for a writer to have. But it can be maddening, trying to work on one thing when you feel the calling of another thing. Then you kind of reflect a moment on all that work you're dying to share and it just gets nuts. Another part of it was that I was just plain tired of working on The Assassin's Table, which was the center of my planned time off. Now fans of this work don't have to fret - I still have a few chapters to key in and keep up my semi-weekly postings. But I did, for the sake of the greater creative good, need to give myself to stop working on anything new for a bit. I'm pretty confident that I'll be able to dive back in pretty easily - the rest of the book is laid out and outlined.
Thing is, I was very torn as to what to work on. Part of the block had its roots in this negative voice deep inside that kept mocking me for writing these fairy stories with sword fights. Not when there's real stuff to write. Not when there's a deep literary novel worming its way through my brain, something I could brag about and admit to working on. (Really try telling someone you're writing a fantasy steampunk novel for young adults, photograph the look on their face and post it in the comments section. You'll see why I play those cards close to my chest.) Dealing with this dichotomy is pretty weird. I do think that my more serious work is worthy. But the joy I get from writing the greasy kid stuff, well... that's a whole different, more freewheeling kind of high.
One thing I found helpful to focus myself in this process was a re-read of The Artist's Way. A few of you may recall, I really dove into this book a couple of years ago. I'm less likely to call this a self-help book. It's more of a good pragmatic manual of exercises that can really help one identify why your creative work is important and finding the inner triggers of what may be stopping you in an effort to overcome them. I'll be honest, the book does take a few turns toward to spiritual, which didn't work for me, but that's just me. The core of the book is very good and I'd recommend you get a copy and spend some time with it.
So in this reflective process, I found I had to do a couple things. First, I stopped letting myself feed my notebook addiction. Too many notebooks was part of what killed my focus. I had to then give up two of the projects for the foreseeable future. One I totally abandoned - tore up the notebook, tossed int he trash and poured coffee grounds all over it. The other got shelved indefinitely.
Then I got pragmatic. Sure, I could just focus on cranking out a novel in a month, James Patterson style. But at what cost? Ignoring my kids, my wife and all the domestic responsibilities from making the bed to painting the kitchen. That wasn't going to work. Having creative endeavors in your life is about balance. If you tip the balance to just the creativity, well, that ain't balance, is it?
Then I remembered, you guessed it, something Neil Gaiman said. In an interview or an essay, he mentioned how Terry Pratchett wrote his first book The Colour of Magic by making sure he wrote 400 words a day. That's about 45 minutes worth of focused effort, which boils down to just about one printed page. Do that every day for a year and you've got a novel. Not bad, huh?
So I've ended up giving myself permission to keep with that, regardless of the project, literary or steampunk, serious or science fiction, memoir of a misspent life or adventure with jet powered motorcycles. Each morning, I link a notebook up with a fountain pen and just tell myself that today, I'm writing something. The front and back of a page in my notebook is anywhere from 350-500 words, depending on the notebook's structure. I make sure I stay true to the spirit of the project and my only requirement of myself is to make it way cool. Inches at a time, the work will come together. It's better to write 200-500 words than to be stuck.
I'm lucky in that if I have a gift, it's being able to pick up the narrative wherever I've left off, even if I haven't touched it in a year. Also, I'm lucky in that I can focus on writing wherever I am, pretty much. Sometimes that's in the yard having coffee or in my living room. I can write while waiting to pick the kids up from their activities or waiting for the chicken to cook on the grill. It's part gift, part habit, I guess.
So, I hope by sharing this, you've got some insights you can take to your your own expressive life. One thing I tell people over and over is that a thing doesn't need to be big to have an impact. Feeling blocked or stuck? Well, you're in good company. Have faith that it's not that the ideas are gone, they're just hiding or resting and will show up in good time.
Time isn't always a gift. It's what we do with that time. I'm doing my best to use it well and I do have a goal of sharing some new work before my vacations over. 500 words at a time, I'm getting there.
Finally, I want to thank you all, True Believers, and you know who you are. I know you're out there and that your support is steadfast. I am truly grateful for that. Your presence really keeps my going. We create to share our art, and I'm glad for all of you.
Okay, that was a lot of writing about writing. I think it's time we all get busy and make something, don't you think?
"Angry words won't stop the fight
Two wrongs won't make it right
A new heart is what I need..."
Hello, True Believers,
It's been a tough week in our nation, so this post will be a little more reflective, not preachy, yet something of a call to action with a focus on your creative life.
I've done a lot of thinking about the events of this week, and felt a need to speak to it, while still staying true to the spirit of this blog. It is not my intention to ever be political here, nor do I think this should be a pulpit where I get to hammer my opinions like the nut uncle ranting at the barbeque. It was always my intention for this blog to share insights into the creative process, inspire you to make art and appreciate the art around you more.
The week began with the loss of one of our greatest, Elie Wiesel. I think we need to start with his example. We must bear witness to the events this week. No sane person can see the things that happened this week and not think for a moment that what happened is a direct result of the faulty thinking that leads to polarization, that prevents openness and a real examination of the root problems that we as a nation must address, person by person, starting with ourselves. What passes for political debate right now, be it about guns, race, the role of law enforcement, the hidden poison of bias, is no more than a breakdown in the importance of critical thinking. It's not that we're not asking the right questions, it's that we're not asking questions. We are not bearing witness because we're not stopping to think and reflect and, most importantly, bring our higher selves to the discussion.
That's where art comes in. I believe that fully. Wiesel used the power of literature to share his experience and bear witness. Picasso poured everything he had into "Guernica", his greatest work, intended to bear witness to the suffering of his people. James Baldwin wrote deeply about being black in modern America.
I remember a friend of the teenaged me telling me about this little band from Ireland that was singing a lot about what was going on in the world. I bought that album and listened to it about ten times in a row. It's important for art to generate emotion, anger and outrage. It's important for art to take time to call us to action, to call us to sane action.
But more importantly, art is what brings us together as human beings. What made Wiesel's work so powerful was his ability to connect with the natural confusion a child experiences as he grows up. "Guernica" is an amazing work of shape, nuance and form. Baldwin writes beautifully as a human being in a way that shares the anger of his own experience in a way that helps us understand that experience. U2 used melody, passion and a knack for the poetic to get us to pay attention to what's going on around us. That is the power of art.
When you express yourself, by building a bookshelf, by writing a song or a play or a story, by painting or sculpting an image, what you're really doing is tapping into the universal connection that we all share as human beings. Even if you're bad at it, you're trying to bring yourself in touch with something higher, something we all share. If there's something we really need to do right now, it is to find that mutual connection we all share as members of humanity.
Art, your art, has the power to do that. Use it to connect with someone. Make it the bridge, or at least the stepping stone, to connecting with someone you might not like that much. Art is where we communicate that we all wish to avoid suffering and find happiness, every single one of us.
The smallest step makes a difference, word by word, brushstroke by brushstroke, note by note. Be brave.
If we don't, who will?
"Take this heart, and let it break..."
A man who loves to write.