Friday, January 19, 2018

Refueling Your Creativity--How to Plan in Recovery Time as You Write (and Finish) Your Book

Two of my private clients just completed their books.  A time for celebration, since they both worked extremely hard for the past year or more.  One of them, a first-time novelist, wrote me this week about how stunned she feels and how little creativity she can muster in other areas of her life.  She's a parent, great cook, and gardener, but nothing is feeling charged with energy at the moment.
She's happy her book is done--at last!--but worries about her lack of umph.  Is this normal?  Shouldn't she be gung-ho on the next project, so as not to lose momentum?
I don't know many writers who feel charged with energy when the manuscript is finally completed.  They're excited, yes.  It's been a long hard road (very few writers find book-writing easy) and to reach the end is a thrill.  But it's also like running a marathon or sailing across the ocean.  You've used a lot of resources to reach this point.  It's time to recharge.
One of my colleagues, who publishes well and often, shares a trick:  she always starts another project, be it book or other creative venture, before she finishes the current one.  She has this other idea simmering, maybe some notes started, maybe even a couple of chapters sketched out, so it can welcome her and remind her she's not entirely used up.
I liked this idea and, typical of me, when I tested it, I pushed it to the limit.  Around 2009, I was working on two books simultaneously.  One fiction, one nonfiction, but both requiring a LOT of energy.  I liked toggling back and forth--when I got stuck on one, I moved to the other--and I began to think of it as creative multi-tasking.  But it drained me.  Then I tried starting another book while my current one was cooking.  This was fueled by agent interest, but it also became hard to maintain, creatively.  I got confused between the two stories and the different characters overlapped in my head.  I stopped the new book and just focused on finishing the current one.
I guess it depends on how you're wired.  Also, what else is going on with your life.  I was raising a teenager at the time, and anyone who's lived with teens knows what that means.  Enough said.  I just didn't have the resources to multitask in my creative life.
Now, I know to honor the process of generating a story, what it requires from the creative self.  When one book is wrapping up--or when you've worked hard to learn a new skill, like how to write dialogue or how to bring a character's voice alive on the page, you might find yourself needing recovery time.  Maybe it serves you to push through, to start the next project immediately.  For me, the writing comes forward again only when I allow my imagination to rest.   
I need to daydream and dream.  I need to read great literature (and trashy novels too).  I need to play music, start seeds under my grow lights, cook something wonderful, take long walks or snowshoe in our back fields, have good conversations.  After I've done enough recovery, I notice a restlessness comes in--a sense of curiosity about words, ideas, images.  I might be reading something and get a flash of a story I could write.  This tells me it's time to get back to the page.

I also recommend reading books on the creative process.  Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic is a favorite.  Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, oldie but goodie.  These will usually get me excited, ready to work. 

The creative faucet is turned on, the pump is primed, and there's water flowing again. 

This week, pay attention to your creative process.  What stage are you in, right now, with your writing, your book?  Are you full of energy?  Are you restless, needing inspiration or new skills or feedback in a new way?  Are you depleted, needing recovery time?  Part of the maturation of a creative soul is the ability to pay attention to the natural cycle of creativity.  It just takes tuning in to yourself and honoring what's best for you.