Updated: May 8, 2022
It took me years to understand that there’s a process to my writing. Years. Like, twenty of them. I started writing long-form stories in high school, where I’d scribble in notebooks during study hall or after my homework was done. (Or in class, or instead of my homework …) In college, creative projects were my focus, as most of my classes were writing, drawing, photography and filmmaking.
After college, writing became something I did “outside of work,” or “in my spare time,” and often work would drain me so much that it was hard to get anything on the page. It took me a while to give my own deadlines as much credence as deadlines set for me by others. I was also caught up with my own imposter syndrome, convinced that others would not take my writing seriously because I was not the “professional creative” I set out to be. I was only production, by title. I spent a lot of time that I should have been writing trying to learn how to become a “professional creative,” and looking for outside validation, and my creative work suffered for it.
The interwebs are full of advice and tips on how to be a better, more productive creative person. I do think it’s helpful to look at The Creative Process from different angles and try new ways of doing things. I also think it’s easy to get so caught up in reading all the ways to be creative that you stop actually working and just read about how to do the work. (The Pinterest rabbit hole is a deep, bottomless chasm that I have spent far too much time free-falling in.) That perpetuates the anxiety that comes from not doing the work, which prompts me to then read more about how to do the work … it can become a relentless cycle.
But eventually, I figured out two critical key points: One – The Creative Process is ever-evolving, and Two – there is no one right Creative Process, there’s only the process that works for you.
Once that realization clicked, I felt the weight of the mountain of doubt I was carrying slip off of my shoulders. I felt proud of myself for that insight! And then I kicked myself for all the time I’d lost. And then I forgave myself because ultimately I learned from it.
(I’m a smart cookie! I’m also kind of dense. Chalk it up to my dual Gemini nature.)
My point is: I stopped making the process my focus, and instead concentrated my energy on the projects. And then I really got to work.
Focus is hard for me. I’ve always been a kid/tween/teen/young adult/not as young adult with far too many creative ideas in my head at any given time, most of them fleeting, but some that hold true potential. For example, right now, I am working on edits for Archwilde, and devoting my time and focus on that singular project. In my mind are three ideas for paintings that I would like to do, a rough draft of Book 2, and a murky space where a short story is starting to form for an anthology. The short story and the edits of Archwilde have defined deadlines, which I am working very hard to meet. The paintings really, really want to come to life, but will have to wait until I hit a road block in the edits. (That’s how I sort out my plot-knots, by rolling them around in my head while my hands and eyes are busy painting). At the moment, Book 2 is just a pile of notes and partially written scenes, and I won’t start writing that book in earnest until I’ve finished Archwilde.
Eventually I figured out my ‘flitting’ nature was not because I couldn’t focus on any one thing. Sometimes I have to shift gears to accommodate my own process and deadlines. Once I understood that, I was able to relax a little bit against the panic in my mind that tells me I’ll never get anything done. I have, and I do, when I work with my own process.
I tend to write best in the afternoon/evening. I’ve tried to get up and write in the morning but usually my brain takes at least an hour longer than my body to wake up, and I’ve found it’s best to go to the gym then. (That way, when my brain wakes up, it’s like “How did we get here? Are we done already? Cool! Let’s go get some cake.”) I get work-related stuff done the rest of the day, and in the afternoon/evening I get to writing.
When I sit down to write, it usually goes something like this:
Open up Word Doc that I’m working on.
Open Instagram. Scroll for a bit. Remember that I was working on something else. Set phone down once I’ve reached “You’re all caught up!” so I don’t miss as much with the stupid new algorithm.
Go Back to Word Doc. Read a scene or two, up to the point where I left off writing. Make some tweaks as I go. Pat self on back for all the writing I’ve already done. Reach the point where I’m supposed to start writing the new stuff.
Wasn’t there something on Pinterest I needed to look at? Or Amazon? I just remembered that I need to look for something that I don’t really need to get.
Go back to the Word Doc. Start and delete the same sentence five times.
Go to the kitchen, make some coffee. Find some cookies. Watch Instagram stories while I I wait for coffee to brew.
Bring coffee back to desk. Look at Word Doc while I sip. Get a sentence or two on the page. Sip some more coffee.
The cat is napping in the window and I cannot handle how cute he is. Get up and pet the cat, who is now super grumpy that I’m petting him. (But also purring really loudly. You don’t fool me, Fergus.)
Go grab a sweater or a throw blanket and sit back down.
Back to the Word Doc. Tweak the couple of sentences that I managed to write. Sip coffee. Type a little more.
Forget that I am sipping coffee as the words start to form on the page more and more.
(Weird trance-like void where the words flow and I forget that I am actually working.)
Reach for coffee – it is cold. Look at clock and realize I haven’t moved in an hour, except my fingers, which were typing furiously.
Get up and stretch, grumble about aches and pains, take Advil, warm up coffee, pet the cat, sit back down.
Go Back to Word Doc. Read back through what I just wrote. Make some tweaks as I go. Reach the point where I left off.
Start typing. The cat wakes up and decides to start begging for dinner by being destructive around the room. Keep trying to write. Remove cat from surfaces he’s not supposed to be on, every 10 minutes.
Repeat previous step for over an hour.
Give up and get cat dinner.
As long as I’m out there, I’ll make our dinner too.
Eat dinner, watch Netflix with The Husband.
Return to computer. Repeat Steps 1-5.
Finally get back into the writing zone, type until eyes start feeling like sand nuggets.
Close down computer and go to bed.
Lie awake for an hour with story rolling around in my head, but eyes too tired to type.
Sometimes, when I’m not feeling well or I am overloaded with life responsibilities, none of it gets done. Migraine days mean no staring at a screen and little desire to do anything but curl up with the cat and revel in my misery. Fibromyalgia brain fog days bring cognitive difficulty, and few words get put to paper, but at least I can paint or draw. Overloaded schedule days mean sometimes all I can do is roll through scenes in my mind before I drift off to sleep, or scribble sleepy, illegible notes in a notebook when I wake up. Even these situations are part of the process, though. They might be slow and mired in frustration, but they are still forward movement.
And forward movement is the goal.
If you are feeling like you aren’t the creative you would like to be, and you need The Creative Process to help fix that, I would recommend pouring yourself a nice cup or glass of something you enjoy, grabbing a notebook, and jotting down your own, personal creative process. Ask yourself:
What is it that you are already doing to move your creative project forward, even if it’s in small, incremental ways?
And what are you spending time on that is preventing you from doing more?
We all have life responsibilities that often take precedence, and that is okay. We all probably scroll through internet feeds too much, too. But is your quest to find the right process, or the validation of others, preventing you from making your own art? Maybe that time you’re spending on seeking those answers is time you could just be enjoying your own creativity.
Our own creative processes are ever-evolving. It took me 20 years to figure out that I didn’t have to fit into someone else’s idea of what a creative is, and I still struggle with Imposter Syndrome more often than I’d like. (Most of us who call ourselves creatives do!) But I’m starting to care less what others think, and just make my art for the joy of it.
Whether it’s taken you 20 years or two, it doesn’t matter, as long as you find you’re a-ha! moment and work with your own process. You can go ahead and kick yourself metaphorically if you want to, but only a little, and then give yourself a hug and a cookie and a moment of forgiveness. Your process has been there all along, like the ruby slippers’ magic. Click your heels and take yourself forward in whatever way works best for you, and don’t worry about “the right way.” Just focus on your own way and see what happens.
The preceding is a blog post from the archives, written in 2019, but still relevant to the writing and creative process of bringing Archwilde to fruition.