On my creative writing journey, and especially whilst working on my first novel, I found myself succumbing to stumbling blocks of doubt about craft, doubts about my own abilities, doubts about the viability of my chosen themes and a zillion other little niggles. But I kept plugging away and tried to negotiate these pitfalls as best I could. I have to say, now I’m writing the second novel (whilst working on publication of the first, and it’s almost there – picture me wiping sweat from my brow!) things are so much better, the flow is so much better and I was recently reflecting upon why. What’s changed? Or more to the point, what’s changed in me and my approach, both inwardly and outwardly?
So I thought I’d think about this, as I know from reading other writers’ blog posts that the second novel is usually a smoother ride than the first. Maybe we share some points of change, I don’t know, but for what it’s worth, I’m going to list the strategies I eventually adopted to safeguard my creative writing flow.
I’ve chose the term ‘safeguarding’ instinctively and when I looked up the definition, it’s a perfect fit. We are looking at ways to protect, to defend, to keep safe, to keep secure our own writer’s voice. Safe from what? Well, that’s where the strategies come in – ways of thinking, feeling and doing to take on board concerning yourself and your writing, to counter many external sources, to help you trust yourself more and allow your right-brain creativity to do its thing, without too much left-brained criticism and troublemaking, sabotaging your efforts. We must be like the swan in the picture, paddling away underneath the water in the right way to keep the ride smooth and nurturing for what we bring into the world. This isn’t to say criticism hasn’t got its place, of course it has, that’s how we improve our work, but the work must come to fruition first. Most of the creative people I know have enough self criticism to fill a football stadium so we can afford to focus on the nurturing process.
So here are the bumpy bits of the swan’s journey I discovered along the way that I hope you find useful:
Write for yourself first and second for your imagined reader. If you write about what you love, what fascinates you, what you know about and want to talk about, then you will communicate that in your writing to the reader. It will help you keep going, and it means you will relish the writing – the most important thing of all. It will keep you true to your art, you are staying authentic. It will also free you up, because when writing for yourself you’re not worrying about what people may think, and in doing all this you’re reducing any harmful inner conflicts that will arise if you force yourself to go against your own nature. And as you write for yourself, you can keep that one special ‘Dear reader’ in mind.
Expect to feel anxious when you sit down to write – I’ve read somewhere that creative, right-brain orientated people tend by nature to be more anxious than left-brain orientated people. So expect it to be there, because when we first sit down to write it’s our right brain that needs to get started. But trust that the anxiety will disappear as soon as you become engaged and immersed. Learning how to manage this apprehension is what the professionals have learned, they write despite these feelings. They get on with the work.
Dump your ideas of perfection – this is huge. I found myself wanting to express something in a perfect (in my own eyes) way. Everything had to be ‘just so’, so I did far too much editing in the early stages, way too much, which well interrupted the coveted flow. Now, I don’t take this approach. I have learned that there is no ‘perfect’, because there are so many variables of expressing you can come up with – there’s an infinite universe of them. So how can you pick just the ‘right’ one? Learn to be good enough, not perfect, and you’ll keep moving.
Beware of too much information – a biggie for me! After learning the craft, and after collecting a few helpful ‘on writing’ books you can trust, then try and let go of constant consultation. This is quite an insidious thing that can creep up on you as you go online to check this, to check that…and you can end up accumulating a mounting pile of print outs that you just might need, but what can also so easily happen is you can become confused, you can tie yourself up in knots with the varying opinions, the varying should do’s, the varying should not’s, all the intricate rules that are made to follow but also made to be broken, and when all this happens, your flow inevitably becomes interrupted as the wind buffets the swan around, and the little ones clutch hold trying not to fall off. There is a wealth of generously given information on writing out there, more, I think, than in any other kind of craft, I’m just saying, be careful how you navigate it and build up trust in your own knowledge and your own abilities. Here is a post I did previously on too much information.
Don’t compare yourself to other writers – and here I mean when you compare and feel lacking. We all tend to focus on our perceived ‘weaknesses’, more than our strengths, so we’re not even comparing in a balanced way. We’re more likely to feel dejected and filled with self doubt when we’re reading some amazing author who writes so beautifully, just the way we wish we could write. These are our heroes. But you are you, your writing is yours, your voice is your voice. Keep reading, keep writing, you can make your own writing work, and there’s room for us all.
Be careful who you tell your ideas to and who you ask for critical feedback – I feel it should be a person/persons you already trust with your feelings, so that you know that they care and will do their best for you, who will not try to sway you to their way of thinking. They should be people who you respect, and whose knowledge of the world you respect, who respect your knowledge of the world in turn, then you are more likely to take their criticism in a constructive way. They should have no hidden agenda going on whereby their feedback is intended to put you down, or plump up their own feathers. This may sounds harsh, but self protection is important for your creative flow, and nothing can stop this more than taking unconstructive criticism too much to heart. I’m not saying you don’t need criticism, it’s more a case of learning to take it the right way, when you are ready, and from people whose opinion counts for you. How many brilliant ideas, I wonder, have been nipped right in the bud by disparaging reactions …and just remember one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
Don’t take rejection personally – I know, I know, that old chestnut. So how not to? Well, I have managed this one whilst approaching agents and publishers. Hurray! But I did prepare myself because I knew I needed to because I’m the sensitive type, as many artists are, and I didn’t want my emotional strings pulled by total strangers just doing their job, who have their own house agendas and issues going on. So I kept it as business like as I could. I read about writer rejections on-line. I recorded the results of my submissions. I gave the process a time limit. I took some positivity from some helpful and reassuring comments, like a gull foraging for some tasty scraps. And in the end I knew I’d done a good a job as possible and that the process would be so much easier next time.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – have other interests, other passions to protect you from over-investing in your writing. Over-investing is where you want and need to see tangible results for all your efforts, where ‘success’ becomes a necessary outcome, not just viewed as a pleasurable bonus. It takes practice not to over-invest, but if there are other very important areas of your life which you put yourself into, then you’re protecting your creative drive from shrivelling under too much focus and conditional expectations.
Don’t be too hard on yourself about a writing schedule – we are encouraged to think we must write every day, that the wheels will stop turning if we don’t, that they’ll become rusty and squeaky from lack of use. Well, writing is supposed to be a pleasure not a penance. Yes, we need to be self-disciplined, and you’ll know yourself what level that needs to be at in relation to yourself, and of course we have to keep up our productivity, but we can do that without whipping ourselves over an over when we’ve done something else instead. And remember, even when we’re not writing, we’re probably mulling over writing related matters at the back of our mind – all to the good.
Trust yourself – trust yourself to write, to learn, to develop, to enjoy – and as one of my favourite writers, Stephen King, says ‘Don’t care too much what others may think. Read a lot. Write a lot.’
So it’s basically about taking care of yourself and your creativity so that you can write with a real confidence that comes from knowing that good writing is difficult, but you’ve learned the craft, and you’re carrying on learning, that you are doing it nonetheless to the best of your ability, you are trusting your own creative writing to flow, and most of all, that you are enjoying the journey.
(pic courtesy of pixabay)