Sunday, March 7, 2010

Discouragement as a Springboard into Higher Creativity

It was a discouraging week for one of my writing classes. We delved into a new level of information about books, and many writers crashed.

I was deluged with emails after a few days--"Help!" "I'm lost/stuck/floundering." "Not sure I really want to write a book after all." Big discouragement.

Discouragement means losing heart, losing perspective, and it happens to all us writers, no matter how often we've been published. It's a terrible moment when your work looks like dog meat, when you can't imagine how you're going to move forward, when you read other (wonderful) writers and sigh with the impossibility of being that good.

I got a couple of chapters back from a good editor in early January. I had thought these newly revised chapters were almost there. But my editor friend had much to suggest--and this was our third call-and-response session (I call out, she responds with edits). She's so good, she sees so well what needs work, that although I felt the discouragement keenly for at least the length of a long car ride home after our meeting, I knew better than to give up.

So I set about finding what was truth for me in her suggestions, and what she might be seeing that were my own blind spots and therefore invisible to me?

Make a List

The first thing I do with feedback that discourages or overwhelms me is make a list. List-makers for generations, my family instilled in me the beauty of list-making as a way of getting perspective. When faced with an onerous task, my mother made lists. Revising for the twentieth time is certainly onerous, so when I got home I took a sheet of paper and listed my editor's main suggestions.

It helped. A lot. As I listed them--the global changes, the smaller changes--I felt myself move into a different viewpoint. I saw how 90 percent of her suggestions actually made the chapter flow much more smoothly for a reader.

My stomach felt better too.

Perspective--Learning about Your Personal Learning Curve

Next, I put the chapter away for a week. I wanted to spend a little time away from the editing and get perspective (that word again) on my personal learning curve. Where was I in the process of this manuscript? I'd worked on it for four years, it had been through group and individual feedback, and I thought I was really there. But she was telling me that from a reader's point of view, things were still jumbly.

After a week I looked at it. My God, she's right, I thought. The temptation to get newly discouraged rose fast. Why hadn't I seen those things myself!

I reminded myself that blind spots are blind to us until we get perspective. Then we see what we didn't see before. Seeing new levels is a sign of growth, and growth is a good thing. She'd pointed out what was not visible to me before, and now it was visible. Lucky to have someone to help me see blind spots in my writing. Lucky too that she'd given me practical steps to fix them.

I went back to my list and began making the changes that made sense to me. Some of them were so big they caused tremors throughout the chapter--lots had to be rearranged. But I reminded myself that this was all good, this was all growth, and I wanted the chapter to be the very best it could be.

How This Process Makes Us Better Writers

After I corrected my chapter, I printed it out, got some Coconut Bliss, and let the chapter rest for an hour while I stared out the window and went into heaven with my bowl of ice cream. Then I read it aloud. Wow, was it better! So much better, I was amazed.

I felt grateful now, not discouraged. And curious--would this learning translate into changed skill? Would my attempt at the next chapter come out better because of what I'd just learned?

This is the goal--you gain skill from good editing, from good feedback. Yes, there's discouragement, losing heart, but there's also skill--if you keep on keepin' on.

End of story: The next chapter was indeed much better. When I went back to work on its revision, I saw much of the same problems as my editor friend had caught. Blind, but now I see. And I did see, a lot more, which means my skills as a writer had increased via this path of discouragement.

This Week's Writing Exercise

If you can get some feedback on your writing this week, do. Then try one of the techniques above. Make a list. Set the writing aside. Have some ice cream.

See if your learning curve isn't a springboard into higher creativity, in disguise.


  1. My husband was scheduled to take your class in Sleepy Hollow this past February, but it was canceled. We have been following your blog since then and would very much like to take one of your classes. Is there any possibility that it might be offered in the evening? We also have a friend (student at Hudson Valley) who would love to take your class. Reading your blog has been very inspiring and we would love to continue working with you!

  2. Thank you so much for your comment and question. The Monday afternoon class, which your husband was signed up for, didn't get enough students, although the other three ongoing classes are full. I will offer the Monday afternoon class again in May-June. It will be announced in the next week, but your husband can register by calling the Writers Center this week. It starts May 24 and run through July 12 with the weeks of Memorial Day and July 4 off. Six weeks total. At this time, I'm not offering evening classes--sorry. Hope to see you there! Mary

  3. Hi Mary,
    This is Kiley from Coconut Bliss, thank you for including us in your creative process!

  4. Naked Coconut is always part of my creative process. Sometimes Cherry Amaretto. Or...
    You get the picture, I love your ice cream.

  5. Making a list helps my stomach feel better, too. :)

    I like the points you make here. Good editing, good feedback help us take our writing to the next level.

  6. Thanks for the great link to Mark's info. And for reading this blog!