Getting a great, new creative idea is like being newly in love. You’re filled with rapturous energy. You make grand plans. You can’t stop thinking about your beloved idea.
Actually hunkering down to make said idea happen is more like being in a long-term relationship. You’re still in love, perhaps more deeply than ever. But you realize now that this thing is going to take work.
After two years of work, I find myself with with a 300 page first draft of an urban fantasy novel. The relationship metaphors feel apt. I’ve made the commitment to write for the long haul, to write every day (or at least five days a week) not just when I’m inspired, to finish what I start. It’s a radically different approach to creativity. And when you write for the long haul, you have to keep re-inspiring yourself. Because, inevitably, seeing any long term, book-length project to completion means you are going to loose that initial spark of inspiration. You have to fall in love with your idea all over again…and again….and again.
How do you do that? Well, here are a few tricks that work for me. Hopefully they’ll be helpful to someone else. You can apply them to writing (or to any other delicious relationships in your life 🙂
Trick #1) Keep going on dates
Sometimes, once you’ve gotten all cozy with your relationship or your writing project, it’s easy to settle into a routine. You realize you haven’t gone on a date in a while. It’s time to remedy that.
So take your writing out on a date!
I’m thinking of Julia Cameron’s idea of “artist dates” from the book The Artist’s Way. I’ve read that book several times over the years, and the most helpful thing I took away from it was the ritual of regular artist dates. I think they’re helpful for anyone, but ESPECIALLY helpful if you’re working on a long term project and are burning out. If you haven’t read the book, and are wondering what the heck an “artist date” is, here’s a link:
Above all, artist dates are meant to be fun. Not something that should be fun, something that actually is fun for you (i.e. don’t drag your muse to the museum, if she’d really rather go disco bowling). New ideas tend to percolate when you’re focusing on something else, particularly something enjoyable. I find creative play is the best cure for writer’s block.
#2) Start the day off right
Just like that conversation with your sweetheart as you’re both getting ready to leave in the morning can set the tone for the entire day that follows, I can’t underestimate the power of starting the day off right with writing. I don’t know if the following will work for you, but it’s made all the difference for me (it’s the only reason I actually finished a 300 page draft):
If I am going to accomplish my writing goals, I need to write first thing when I get up in the morning. Otherwise, the day gets hijacked by a zillion, nit picky little “To Do” items and I arrive in the evening exhausted, cranky and just wanting to veg out in front of “Doctor Who”. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that brilliant British TV show, but you know what I mean…)
Now, I define “morning” generously. It doesn’t need to be in the actual “a.m”. I know that many of us (including myself) are not morning people, or work nights, or have insomnia, etc… etc… I define “morning” as whenever you wake up. If that’s 3:00 in the afternoon, fine. “Morning” means that as soon as I finish brushing my teeth or whatever else you do to get ready (my morning routine includes TM meditation) etc … I start writing. I set a goal, either in pages or in time, of how much writing I wish to accomplish. And I make sure to be finished before I move on to the other work I have to do that day.
It doesn’t have to be a long time or a lot of pages. For me, I’ve found that a consistent, steady pace finishes stories faster than a frenzied profusion of creativity, followed by a crash and burn (I spent the first twenty five years of my life working that way)
When I finish that “morning” writing, I start my day with a sense of accomplishment. Whatever else happens today, at least I wrote. It’s enormously psychologically satisfying.
Writing is a paradox; it’s the most solitary of activities, and you can’t do it alone. What I mean by that is that writers need community as much as (maybe even more than) other people. Just like runners have “running buddies”, writers benefit from “writing buddies”: people who are positive, who believe in you and your writing, and who are on a parallel path, engaged in their own creative work.
I have been lucky to have such a creative support system with a dear friend of mine. We have been getting together for “writer meeting” approximately once a week for the past two years. We meet to discuss our writing, set goals, and nudge each other to meet them. When ready (and I put emphasis on when ready, because I don’t think you can rush this process) we share our work and get constructive feedback.
These writer meetings usually take place over fabulous food – because we’re foodies, and because writer meetings, like artist dates, are all the more useful if they’re playful, sensuous, fun.
Without this supportive friendship, that manuscript would probably have stopped being written on page thirty or so, stuffed in a drawer and forgotten, just like my files of other novel ‘beginnings’. So thank you, my dear, for keeping me on the path.
I hope that you have someone like this in your life, or can reach out and find someone. And p.s. I am happy to be that ‘someone’ for you too 😉
Hope the above ‘tricks’ are helpful. Please share you own ‘tricks’ in the ‘comments’ section.
How do you keep yourself going over the long haul of a creative work?