Conjuring Clarity

 I work with writers and other creative types in a variety of ways, including one-hour sessions that help them to gain clarity about their work.  I do this through this very website and at events like Room to Write in Nashville, where I am the resident "book doctor" on call to guide writers.

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What I find over and over again is that confusion is common amongst us and it causes angst.   The two of these together make up that state often known as writer's block.

We're confused about:

Which project to write

How to write it.

When to write it.

Who to write it to.

How to get it out in the world once its written.

And this causes angst:

Because confusion creates paralysis.

Over and over again, I see this paralysis in writers.  But once we wade through the vast confusions our brains sometimes present us with, clarity rules.  And suddenly writing happens.

How can you gain clarity, short of hiring me or attending a retreat?  Here are some tips:

1.  Corral Multiple Projects.  We right-brained types have a lot of ideas, and every new idea is always the best one yet.  This riot of ideas is wonderful, and the envy of many left-brainers.  But it can also cause us not to finish projects.  Learn how many projects you can handle at once (its three for most people) and stick with that number.  Make notes of new ideas that occur and trust that you'll get to them in due time.

2.  Trust the Internal.  The world is an external-led machine.  We respond to telephone calls, tweets and emails that interrupt our flow.  We worry about what others think of us.  We decide we shouldn't do a project because its too controversial, too sweet, too whatever.  Instead of being externally-focused, learn to be internally-focused.  What's right for you?  Whats the project that makes your heart leap with joy? When can you turn off the internet and the phone and focus solely on your writing?

3.  Be Okay With Choice.  In order to get your creative ideas into the world of form, you're going to have to learn to exercise choice.  I'm the master of unfinished projects, but I'm training myself to finish them, no matter how much I fear criticism, or "failure."  Learn to choose your most important project and focus on it until it's done, with a couple of other secondary projects along for the ride.

4.  Chunk It Down.  Rome wasn't built in a day, it was built one brick at a time.  Or whatever building material they used.  Looking at a huge project such as a novel can be so overwhelming you'll never get to it.  But start to think of it in terms of chapters, or better yet scenes that form parts of chapters, and it looks doable.

5.  Work With Time.  Work on your most important project first if you can.  If writing a novel is your main goal, get up early and get your work session done first thing.  This reinforces the internal point-of-view mentioned above–that your work and your ideas are the most important thing.

Give these tips a try and let me know how they work out for you.  And if you have some tips of your own, feel free to share them.

Photo by pll, from Everystockphoto.

7 thoughts on “Conjuring Clarity”

  1. Great post, Charlotte!

    The #1 item there reminds me of a speech I heard once by writer Michael Chabon. He said he’s always asked “where do your ideas come from” and the problem for him isn’t finding ideas, they’re everywhere, all around him. (He described a room filled with shining light bulbs suspended from the ceiling.) The challenges he faced, instead, were 1) choosing the right idea, and 2) knowing when to walk away when that great idea wasn’t panning out.

  2. Hey Patrick, love those comments from Michael Chabon. I’ve certainly struggled with knowing when to let go of something that isn’t working!

    Zan Marie, Glad to hear you follow the “do the most important thing” first rule, too. It truly is a wonderful practice.

  3. Right on as usual. Two thoughts:

    1. Re Michael Chambon as quoted by Michael Ross: Knowing when to quit may be almost as important as what/when/where to start. In several walks of life – marriage, business, to name two fairly significant examples – I’ve held on to something that wasn’t working and caused much more trouble in the end than if I’d known to simply quit and move on. I think this may be true of any number of unfinished creative projects. It’s a question of balance and brutal honesty with myself, I think.

    2. Re your Clarity point #2 above – This may be a bit tangential to the point, but for me paralysis also comes from self doubt (getting back to your post on fear, I guess). I was brought up to distrust emotions and feelings. Stiff upper lip, the nobility of silent Southern suffering, and all that BS. Acknowledging and expressing feelings was seen as weakness, and even worse that that, bad manners! So trusting the internal is a tough one for me sometimes. I’ve had to learn it.

    Having difficulty with trusting the internal also creates barriers to promoting oneself and the writing. We need to be brassy and pushy or no one will ever see what we write. But, as with emotion, I was taught that believing strongly in myself and speaking up in my own interest might be morally questionable, and certainly bordered on socially unacceptable. My unlearning of this nonsense is an ongoing process.

  4. Right on as usual. Two thoughts:

    1. Re Michael Chambon as quoted by Michael Ross: Knowing when to quit may be almost as important as what/when/where to start. In several walks of life – marriage, business, to name two fairly significant examples – I’ve held on to something that wasn’t working and caused much more trouble in the end than if I’d known to simply quit and move on. I think this may be true of any number of unfinished creative projects. It’s a question of balance and brutal honesty with myself, I think.

    2. Re your Clarity point #2 above – This may be a bit tangential to the point, but for me paralysis also comes from self doubt (getting back to your post on fear, I guess). I was brought up to distrust emotions and feelings. Stiff upper lip, the nobility of silent Southern suffering, and all that BS. Acknowledging and expressing feelings was seen as weakness, and even worse that that, bad manners! So trusting the internal is a tough one for me sometimes. I’ve had to learn it.

    Having difficulty with trusting the internal also creates barriers to promoting oneself and the writing. We need to be brassy and pushy or no one will ever see what we write. But, as with emotion, I was taught that believing strongly in myself and speaking up in my own interest might be morally questionable, and certainly bordered on socially unacceptable. My unlearning of this nonsense is an ongoing process.

  5. David, Heartily agree on the importance of knowing when to quit. As for #2, I think that my paralysis takes the form of procrastination, that ugly beast! Unlearning these problems is ongoing for most of us, it just takes different forms.

    Thanks for dropping by, Rebecca!

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