Humans are creatures of habit. We find something that works and stick with it. Changes to the comfortable routine make most people nervous, and most endeavor to avoid them. And changes of our own making – that’s perhaps rarer still. But change is sometimes the best thing we didn’t know we needed.
This past November, I participated in my first NaNoWriMo and wrote 50,795 words exclusively at my desk. That’s what worked at the time. So after a break for the holidays, I returned to my desk, hoping the magic would be there waiting for me. It wasn’t. I’ll admit, I wallowed in frustration for a few days. What was wrong? Had the muse abandoned me? Then I decided getting frustrated wasn’t doing me any favors, so I unplugged my laptop and plopped on the couch. And wrote almost 2,000 words during my son’s nap time – scenes from my WIP’s finale, mind you, when I hadn’t even reached the midpoint. Most of the advice I’ve read advises against such habits, but it mattered more to me that I was writing. And the words flowed. I wrote the moments that spoke to me, the ones I could see in my mind like a movie scene unfolding on a screen.
With a pillow propped behind my back and a cat purring in my ear from his perch on the back of the couch, I added almost 20,000 words to my WIP. And then I got stuck. My computer sat unopened on my desk for several days. I complained. I excused. And then I started writing on my phone, in my Notes app, snippets of scenes, plot notes, lines of dialogue – anything and everything that came to mind. One night, when the house was dark and quiet, and my thoughts were once again swirling with my story, I opened Scrivener and added another scene. And I decided I had a new mantra: whatever works.
Whatever works. I’m not worrying about ‘should’ or ‘ought to.’ I’ll admit, writing out of order created a bit of extra work, as I’m now going back to fill in scenes and fix details so everything lines up and I can finish my draft. But I wouldn’t change what I did. Because it worked; it brought me that much closer to finishing my draft. And it got me thinking: we’re constantly discussing the creative process, and creativity, and chasing the muse, but in all that, have we perhaps forgotten the ‘creative’ part of ‘creative process?’
Creativity needn’t just apply to our words. What works for you one day may not work the next, and that’s okay. And what works for someone else may not work for you, and that’s okay too. There’s plenty of advice on the craft, and it’s easy, especially when you’re feeling discouraged, to think that if you could only do things the way he said or plot using her method, it would fix everything. But that’s the thing about the creative process – just like every story, it’s unique to the person writing it. Our unique experiences shape how we perceive our reality, how we deal with our day to day, and how we form and interpret expectations.
‘Should have’ and ‘ought to’ speak with loud voices. Whether external or internal, those expectations are skilled at making us feel guilty. That rigidity of thinking got to me. But when I gave myself permission to be flexible, to let go of my expectations, and got creative with how I approached my writing process, I made progress. Sometimes the best thing to do is let go, get out of our own way, and be open to whatever works.
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