It took me three and a half years to finish a novel that had been perpetually on my heart day in and day out. I didn’t realize until the moment I wrote the last word how much that creative force was weighing me down until it was finally lifted. The novel still needed about twenty rounds of editing, but at least the final word was written. The story was finally out of my head and off my heart.
Once I realized how free I felt, anger near equaled it. That’s all it took for this three-year-old weight to be off my shoulders? Really?
Yep. My soul could breathe again.
Creativity energy is the highest high when ridden but the most sufferable withdrawal when stifled.
I would meet a friend for lunch about every three months who was very interested in my writing. A disturbing pattern was forming: every time we left, I’d say “Next time I see you, I’ll have this novel finished.” Yet little had been achieved in the quarter of the year since we last saw each other. I’d give the same long list of excuses. I’m tired. I’m overworked. I’m struggling to balance life.
Visually, the creativity was eating away at my skin from the inside out, and every single day I was messily bleeding out instead of forming it into something of beauty. I felt chaotic, a mess. Even if put together on the outside, I wasn’t inside at all. It’s easy to fall into a hole of isolation when that takes over. I had very little to offer others because the best parts of me were suffocating.
A million reasons come between doing what we truly desire. The first distraction for me was the necessity to work a full-time job, forty-plus hours a week in an uninspiring environment, an anchor pulling me down with all the other sunken ships at the bottom of the corporate ocean. Then it became other commitments: community activities, parenthood, relationships, life.
Then one day, the most obvious revelation struck: every reason my novel wasn’t getting done came back to ME. No matter the external factors, I was the one continually choosing something else over releasing that creative beast inside. No longer could I place the blame elsewhere.
To finally complete my novel (and a second one within months of the first which speaks volumes about the lessons I learned), I had to analyze what sacrifice means to me, understanding it’s not the same for everyone. We all have different priorities. Similar right-brain dominant minds could relate to how high I ranked my chosen art over other viable things. However, the average population may consider those choices crazy or unhealthy, but it’s only because they can’t fathom how soul-crushing blocking creative output can be.
Here are eight tips I learned during that six-month period to go from producing zero output to finally completing a novel almost four years in the making, another one to boot and several short stories. The creative beast was free.
1) Cut out what doesn’t stimulate you. For me, that’s social media. It’s an endless abyss of wastefulness. Very rarely do I find myself inspired by looking at it. Usually, it triggers other emotions that do nothing for fostering my creativity. Some people may cut out the TV or playing video games. Analyze where you spend your time and be honest with how much is on things that aren’t worthy or good for your creative-health.
2) Commit to at least 30 minutes a day. Thirty minutes of dedication keeps your current WIP alive in your mind with at least some daily energy being exerted towards it, suggesting progress. You don’t necessarily have to write during that time. Research, edit, make notes, seek inspiration, read- it doesn’t matter. It’s akin to exercising for a healthy heart- thirty minutes a day spent towards your artistic passion maintains creative flow. Many times, those thirty minutes would extend longer for me, but it took committing to that basic amount of time to continue.
3) Set small goals that lead to bigger ones. Word count, time spent, project deadlines- whatever the intention, start small to keep goals manageable. Don’t be afraid to set bare bones goals. If they’re going well, you can always add or do more. But if time management is already a struggle, don’t overwhelm yourself. I set out to achieve five-hundred words a night. Within a month, I was doing a thousand words a night, and at times, three-thousand words a night. I never moved my five-hundred words a day goal, though. I just surpassed it each time and that way, if I could only do five-hundred because of sickness or any other reason, I had the confidence to believe it’s easily achievable.
4) Seek creative accountability. Surround yourself with people or things that inspire you. For me, it’s other creative minds. I recently made an agreement with a musician/photographer friend that we would regularly send each other clips of our work. We’re in different fields, but that accountability to share pieces of our WIP is exactly what I need when I’m feeling lackluster. Sometimes sharing can reignite the flame. Having someone else who understands is a necessity. Not just someone who appreciates your work, but someone who truly comprehends the depths of that inspiration, who knows it reflects a part of yourself and can read you better because of it.
Creativity is like its own its own language with various dialects. Someone who can translate yours is great; someone who can speak it fluently from their own cultural understanding is even better.
5) Don’t overlook the basic writing lesson: READ. Reading only makes us better writers. If we don’t set time to read, we won’t develop and continually surprise ourselves with our own growth. It’s our education. Admittedly, I struggled to find time to read when I put completing my novel as a top priority. I didn’t think I had the time. What I’ve since learned to do is rotate writing weeks with reading weeks. It doesn’t mean that I stop doing one when it’s the other’s week, but I shift my priorities. If I can manage an hour less of sleep, I tackle both. Some people write in the mornings and read at night. Find what works best for you, but don’t let reading other people’s works fall by the wayside.
6) Inspire creativity in different ways. Sometimes I have to change course with my activities. I’m not a great painter or baker, but both are things I enjoy doing since it sparks the right-side of my brain. Spending a little time doing those other art forms can also give me the release I need to come back to my keyboard and hammer out a story.
7) Get help. This is counterintuitive to the stereotypical loner’s artistic journey. I hate telling people I need to write because already I’ve let some creative energy seep out as soon as I utter those words. But I have kids, a 24/7 commitment. It’s difficult to escape whenever I get a free few minutes. I hated telling my husband I need two nights out a week to write. But if I don’t get those nights, I struggle because my writing becomes too distracted by everything that occurs in the household even if I hole up in my office. I need help. We all do. Find people willing to help you shoulder your load because they believe in your writing, too. It keeps your mental sanity in tack. On that note…
8) Take Mental Breaks. This is the hardest for me sometimes. Sure, my writing goals may be self-imposed, but they have no flexibility in my mind. But sometimes, you need a rejuvenation period. Writer’s block can be a sign of this. If you’re mostly outputting, you need time for those fried strands to regenerate. This is also a good time to avoid some of those mental dumps, like social media is to me, as referenced in point number one above. Avoid anything that may elicit a feeling of being behind when really, you’re doing exactly what you need.
Each writer’s journey differs completely from anyone else’s. Don’t let unnecessary excuses suffocate your creative voice. You need to see your ideas come to fruition; the world needs it, too. Free that creative beast because it only fills this life of ours with beauty and appreciation of the written word.