The Constant Tension of Creativity (A love letter)

Hey: have you joined the Prolific and Prosperous Facebook group yet? Please do–we’re starting to have some good discussions over there.  Just go here and ask to join and I’ll approve you.  Unless you’re a serial killer. But you’re not, are you?

So, creativity has connotations with warm, fuzzy, wild, free—all positive, right?  And tension is conflict, stress, danger—all negative.  Amiright?  But they are linked. Oh, are they ever linked.  We may prefer to think of creativity as our safe haven, our happy place—and it is, for sure.  But there’s also a dark side to it.

Okay, that sounds a bit overly dramatic and it probably is.  But drama is intricately linked to both tension and creativity so bear with me.

Research has shown that individuals with highly creative aspects may fall prey to some undesirable traits as well. They may be narcissistic. (Who, me? The most beautiful, brilliant, smart and funny human in the world? Nah.)  And, probably because of their ability to, say, make up great stories, they may be chronic liars. Then there’s the creative types who are maladapted socially due to their tendency to burst out saying inappropriate things.  (That’s part and parcel of the creative process—going against the grain.) And all of these add up to creative tension.

And there’s the tension that comes from waiting, as for instance when you have a project out on submission. Agent, editor, critique group, beta readers—waiting to hear their judgement of your work can be excruciating— constant creative tension involving checking the email obsessively ten times an hour. (I know whereof I speak—I’m waiting to hear my agent’s verdict on the latest rewrite of my novel.)

Your brain being creative

But it’s not even those aspects I’m thinking of when I talk about the constant tension of creativity.  I’m talking about its constant, incessant, pull. When you are a creative person you’re always aware of your project calling to you: I should be writing. With every minute, every breath, you’re finagling when you can get back to your WIP, or pondering how to write the next scene—even though to the outer world it looks like you are sitting in a sales meeting pondering the latest sales figures.

This constant tug from our creative sides creates a delicate tension that pulls us through our days.  And, it can be harnessed for our highest good.  Because constant tension is like a pesky gnat flying around your head when you’re sitting outside drinking a glass of nice, cold, white wine in summer.  You swat at it and it returns, again and again, until you finally get your ass up and do something about it—like move inside or kill the damn bug once and for all.  Do the work and quit kvetching about it already, or quit calling yourself a writer.

Ouch.  Yet creative tension can help you.

Because here’s a news flash, creative tension can help you do that, because it is actually a thing. (I thought I made it up, but alas, greater minds have walked this path already.) It’s about your vision for the work (a finished novel, say) and the current reality of it (two chapters written).  This creates the delicate tension whereof I speak. What happens is this: the brain seeks to preserve energy but when faced with the gap between vision and reality, more energy is actually released, giving you the oomph to get the project done.

And so that’s the good news.  This creative tension is actually good for our writing practices. Never mind that sometimes I wish I could wake up and not be constantly thinking about my WIP—either that I should be working on it, or something about the story.  But this hasn’t happened in a gazillion years. And, in truth, I’m grateful for it. Because how boring would life be without this creative tension?

What kind of creative tension do you experience? Leave a comment and tell me.  Or head on over to the Prolific and Prosperous Writers Facebook page and we’ll chat about it there.

Oh, and by the way–I have a couple spots open on my coaching roster if you need help with any aspect of your writing. My current services page is crap so if you’re interested just shoot me an email at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com.

When You Don’t Know How to Write

Painter_sidewalk_easel_596182_hYears ago, as a freelance writer, I wrote a lot of articles about art.  One of them was about the Makk family of artists, who lived in Hawaii.  The big thing I remember from this article happened while I interviewed the Eva, the matriarch of the family. She told me how when she was a young artist she had images in her head that she wanted to paint–but it took her a long time to figure out how to get those images onto canvas.

I could relate.  As a fledgling fiction writer, I often had trouble translating the stories in my head onto the page.  And even now, after writing fiction a gazillion years, sometimes I just can't quite get what I'm writing to work right.   I have the idea in my head.  I can see it.  But when I put it on the page, it is dead and lifeless.  Something about it doesn't work, and I moan and groan and wring my hands and decide I'm going to sell yarn for a living.  Or get a job in a restaurant.  Or something, anything, other than writing. At times like these, I need to remind myself how to write all over again.  

But the great thing about writing for so many years is that I've figured out a few things about how to get myself out of these situations.  And so I offer them to you.

1. Write a scene.  Often, deadly boring prose is written in narrative summary, which is, as the name implies, words written in summary.  She spent the afternoon reading on the couch, is an example.  Or, six months later, the baby was born.  You glide over a short or long amount of time or compactly explain some information.  Narrative summary most definitely has its place–it is a useful technique for all manner of things–but when it is used too often it results in big yawns.  Writing a scene, which incorporates dialogue, description, action, and interiority, will be much livelier and it may be just what the writing doctor ordered.

2. Try a line of dialogue.   Have one of your characters say something.  This can often lead you into a full-blown scene, or a half-scene, which is a bit of narrative summary with a line of dialogue as its anchor.  This link has great definitions of half-scene, scene, and narrative summary.

3. Copy exactly.   Take out your favorite novel or memoir, prop it next to your computer, and copy a scene word for word.  You know, of course, that I offer this as an exercise only and you aren't going to use this plagiarizing for anything but your own learning purposes.  This is kind of an amazing way to get the cadence of writing into your brain and heart and is a great learning tool.  Try it.  You'll be amazed at how much you glean from it.

4. Copy and rewrite.  A variation of the above.  First complete #3, then take the scene or paragraph and rewrite it in your own words, maintaining the same idea and actions as the original.  Another surprisingly fabulous learning tool.

5. Read.  Take a break from your struggles and go read a book.  Nine times out of ten, this sends me running back to the computer.  Its as if I just need to refill myself with words.  Note: reading blog posts, gossip sites, news articles, or anything on the internet DOES NOT COUNT.

6. Take a class.  If you are a true rank beginner, a class is going to be your best starting point.  If you are an introvert or don't have time for an in-person class, there's a ton of great offerings online, and many of them are self-paced.

7. Hire a coach.  Like me.  This would sound incredibly self-serving but for the fact that I'm not taking on new clients for the time being–unless you call and beg me on bending knee, in which case I'll consider it.  But whether it is me or someone else you work with, a coach can point out your strengths and weaknesses and help you learn to implement more of the latter.

So there you have it.  Oh, by the way, you might also be interested in my post on What to Do When You Don't Know What to Write, which inspired this one.

What do you do when you don't know what to write?

Photo by moriza.

5 Simple Truths About Writing

1.  It's hard. Heart_notepad_cool_225358_l

2.  But not when you are in the flow.

3.  It's easier when you do it every day, or at least with some regularity.

4.  If you write every day, especially first thing in the morning, you'll feel good all day.  You might even feel like you're in love with the world.

5.  The only thing you really need to know about writing is this:  to be a writer, you must write.  So do it, okay?

That's it.  That's all I've got for you this Monday evening at the start of the new year.  What's on your mind?  Please comment.