Saturday, June 6, 2015

To Live a Creative Life


 
I sat down to begin chapter one of book two last week. The blank screen looked back at me . . . well, rather blankly. I had a three-page outline sitting right next to the computer, with all the important plot points so neatly delineated. I had envisioned the beginning multiple times in my head. Characters and voices and emotions and undertones and plots sang in my ears.

But my fingers, poised above the keys, were frozen.

What was I missing? This wasn’t writer’s block. I knew what should happen, or at least had a rough idea of it. The screen was blank, but my mind wasn’t. Hesitantly, I typed out a few sentences.

Beginnings are hard. You have no momentum yet, nothing tangible to spring off of. Even if an outline is in place, the question of where and how and when to start a story is a challenging one.

The sentences morphed into a few paragraphs. It felt odd, because I was juggling more characters in an opening scene than I was used to, and they all had specific emotional and mental states to bring across.

Is this too much of an info dump? I wondered. Should I have started with this character by herself, alone with her thoughts? Is lumping an entire family together at the start a bad idea? Does this sound right? Is this character being proactive enough? It seems like everything is just happening to her so far; she’s not taking action.

I deleted half of what I’d written.

A few days later, when I had time to sit down in my writer’s chair again, I picked up where I had cut the scene off. I tweaked things a bit and typed on. It felt a little less odd, but the questions and doubts still poked at my thoughts as the words spilled onto two pages . . . three pages . . . four.

Am I doing this right? Is what I have in my mind translating properly onto the page?

I fumbled around, feeling the scene out like a blind woman introducing herself to a new room, unsure if I was perceiving things correctly.

Book one has spent a long time in the editing stage. It was a baby born prematurely, and so required plenty of care and nourishment to bring it to full health. It’s almost ready now, and I don’t regret a single hour spent poring over those tattered pages. I grew so much as a writer through that process.

That being said, I’ve been in editor’s mode for quite some time. I drafted a novella or two in between edits (and those novellas were revised too!), but overall, my biggest writing focus of the last couple of years has been on editing. So to sit down and try to draft something new feels a bit strange.

But it’s a bit like riding a bike—you never really forget how.

It usually takes some time for me to slip back into the groove when I’ve taken a long break from writing, or when I switch gears. I’ve learned to be lenient with myself when that happens. This time, however, I had to do more than just let myself progress slowly—I had to turn off my inner editor.

With everything I put on the page, I struggled with the impulse to change it, to rework it. To make it better. This is something many writers struggle with, this voice of perfectionism in their heads. That voice is crippling, because it prevents progress, inhibits creativity, and stifles the story. First drafts are messy. Unless you’re the sort who makes a fifty-page outline, your first draft will be rough.

And that’s okay.

Accept that. Embrace it. Don’t be afraid to write messy—the beauty of the first draft is that it’s not final. The point is to get it onto the page, however ugly or sloppy the words are, so that you have something to work with later.

I saw a sign in a greenhouse a few days ago, and if it hadn’t been $23, I would’ve taken it home with me. It read:
 

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.

 
That resonated with me, because that was exactly the problem with my most recent writing efforts—I was scared of doing it wrong. Scared to skew the image I had in my head of the perfect story. Scared to see the words fall flat. Scared of not living up to the book before, of creating something that wasn’t better than its predecessor.

I’m telling my inner editor, in no uncertain terms, to shut up for now. “Go to your room. I don’t want to hear a peep out of you until you’ve thought about what you’ve done.” (More accurately, until I’m finished playing in the mud and I need some help fashioning the slop into pies!)

So who’s with me? Have you been listening to that voice that insists on immediate perfection? Are you ready to kick it in the teeth and write freely? Let’s do this together. Let’s lose our fear of being wrong, and live creatively. Polishing can come later.

26 comments :

  1. I am dealing with the exact same thing, my inner voice is the worst. I have a story I am dying to write, but of course nothing I write is good enough.

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    1. *hugs* Write it! I will personally lend you a roll of duct tape to slap over that voice's mouth. You got this, girl! <3

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    2. Ha ha, Thanks I needed that.
      <3

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  2. I can understand that. My inner editor likes to lean over my shoulder, cringe, and whisper in my ear: "Oooh, you will regret writing that..." To which I respond: "Do you mind? I'm writing!"

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    1. Exactly--and how debilitating is that, right? Loved your response. ^_^
      By the way, hello and welcome here! Always great to meet new people!

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  3. Meep, I feel you. o.o I'm a constant perfectionist, and beginnings are hard enough without THAT! But yes, we do need to lose our fear of doing it wrong... Great post!! :D

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    1. No kidding! Beginnings are usually such a trial and error sort of thing for me--I don't need my inner editor tearing it apart when it's just the first draft. :P
      Thanks, Deborah! (Maybe this can also add to the hoped-for unstuckness with Darkling Reflections...? *hopeful grin*)

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    2. Yes, trial and error! *helps you lock your inner editor inside a useful drawer*
      (Haha, we can hope. XD I'm writing other things [a good sign!] but will hopefully get back to it too. ^_^)

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    3. That is very useful. Thank you. XD *editor mutters inside drawer*
      (That is a good sign! And hooray! ^_^)

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  4. YES TO ALL THE THINGS. Just the whole post...YES. You put it perfectly!

    I'm always so excited to start a new book and delude myself to the idea that it's the funnest part of writing. But then every time I actually do I realize...this is HARD. I actually like a bit later in the book once that momentum is going and you're done with that dreaded first paragraph and the characters are established. The beginning is hard because, even if you have an entire outline and a bazillion notes and character bios galore, it's still REALLY your first time "meeting" those characters and stepping into that story. It takes a while to get settled in and comfortable.

    But then you add that to the inner editor plaguing you. *shakes head* No fun at all!

    I've kind of been in the same boat. I haven't been editing NEARLY as long as your amazing, dedicated self, but I did spend a good deal of time turning Burning Thorns into the best it could be. It's the first thing I've ever edited that thoroughly. And even though I finished it what? 6 months ago, I'm STILL kind of in editing mode while writing the novel. My inner editor seemed to have forgotten to turn off.

    I'm constantly having to remind myself that it's OKAY for the first draft to be messy, even encouraged. As long as I can get the words there then I'll have something to perfect later. I LOVE that quote on the sign you found, such perfect words!

    One of my favorite quotes is similar to what all you're saying:

    "I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles." -Shannon Hale

    Ever since I saw that it stuck with me.

    So sand now, castles later. We can do this! *fistpump*

    (Also it's so thrilling to hear you've started rewriting the second book! :D :D :D)

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  5. This is a beautiful post! Wow!
    I think we all understand what it is to run ourselves over when it comes to beginnings. I recently did that with /three/ of my WIPs that I'm working on, so I feel the pain. It feels like you aren't /integrated/ into the story, and it's hard to continue that way.
    I'm so proud of you for not giving up. I'm sure you're going to do a beautiful job, and I can't wait to read it! ;D Have you thought of having the quote made?
    -Elphie

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    1. Thanks, Elphie!
      Ouch, three? Bulldozing your own efforts is never a good feeling. Yes--being integrated into the story is so important! That's the perfect word for it.
      Thank you so much! ;D
      What do you mean by having it made? Like made into a sign (that's not $23)?

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  6. You're so right! It's so much fun once you have some momentum going, but the very beginning can be such a challenge. No matter how much you have planned, you still have to get situated in the actual story.

    Isn't it strange how that happens? You work so hard to polish something--going over it again and again and AGAIN--and suddenly when you turn your attention to something else, you find that your brain hasn't quite switched modes. I hope you can find the off switch!

    Exactly my thinking! Throw it all out onto the page, and then you have something to work with afterwards. It's just our perfectionist sides cringe at that messy first part of the process. XD

    That Shannon Hale quote is so fitting too! I think I've seen it before, probably on your blog. ^_^ Yes, wet sand now, and pretty castles later. This is the time we throw handfuls of damp sand into the buckets, getting the grains under our nails and all over our clothes. Later we'll make the castle. Love that. <3

    (Thank you!! :D :D :D It's still a really strange feeling, but it's good too!)

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    1. (Sorry, that was meant to be a reply to you, Christine, not a lonely comment all by itself. :P)

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  7. This is basically my problem every day. I write a sentence, and then edit it, and edit it, and edit it...
    I like the quote. Definitely putting it in my file of writing motivation. :)

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  8. Starting can definitely be hard. I've lost count the number of times I have re-imagined the first page of my novel. Which can be a problem when drafting. Like you said, the key is to turn off the perfectionism and just write. I'm putting that quote on living a creative life into my file of writerly motivation. :)

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    1. Ugh, that's so hard to get past sometimes, isn't it? Those days when the words just won't fall together like they should, and you keep tweaking and adjusting and rewording... :P Not fun.

      Glad you liked the quote! :) Ooh, a writerly motivation file sounds like a great idea.

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  9. This is great! I love that quote. When one is first drafting one must turn off the editor. You can't make something perfect that isn't there. You have to get out that first draft no matter how cruddy it may be. I'm currently in perfectionist mode because I'm editing, but I'm going to be first drafting again soon. Happy Writing!

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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    1. I love how you put that--"you can't make something perfect that isn't there." That sums it up so well. And yes, there is certainly a place for that perfectionist mode! Our writing would be awful if we skipped that step. XD Yay for editing, and for future drafting! Happy writing to you as well! :D

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  10. Aww! This is such an encouraging post! And that saying--wow. Inspiring post:)

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    1. Hi Olivia! Thanks so much. I'm glad you were encouraged. :) Thank you for stopping by!

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  11. Great post, Tracey! It even sort of works for me, the girl who is not a writer... I have to shut up my inner perfectionist when making new crafts. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be me. :)
    -Cece

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    1. It most definitely works for you, or for anyone who creates. And your crafty things are SO gorgeous. :D

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    2. I know this is SO late, but, I gotta say it anyway! Thanks so much!!!!! XD
      -Cece

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