Getting Creative Work Done

This blog was suggested by a student of mine. I obliged. 

There are lots of better and longer posts and books on writing. These are some of the things I've learned from them, as well as from projects I've done, whether they be academic or creative. Also, I am someone who works better when I am making a lot of things. Not everyone is. Take this advice with that particular grain of salt. 

Make (and keep) appointments. This has got to be the most important thing: to make stuff, you have to show up and make it. I set up times in my week that I have to sit down and work on stuff, whether that means setting aside a couple of mornings to write before work, or meeting up with some students who have homework and working on my stuff while they work on theirs. These appointments have to be real, as in, very difficult to break. If you are making a practice of creating (as in, not only trying to complete one project but planning on creating more afterward, even if they are nebulous) these appointments need to be daily. If you are wanting to start a blog or something of a similar size, weekly appointments are probably fine. 

Inspiration happens when you're already moving. "Inspire" initially meant "to breathe into." As with exercise, creating starts off anaerobic, and becomes aerobic when you keep going. You'll get inspired when you are making the thing. Give your creative lungs a reason to breathe in. You can edit out the clunky stuff later. Your ideas also need a chance to breathe. Don't stifle ideas until you've given them a shot at being alive. Some ideas are stupid. Some great ideas don't sound great at first. Both you and your ideas will get there once you start to move. 

Writing is rewriting (the SFD).  Anne Lamott calls it the "sh**ty first draft." Diana Glyer calls it "the Discovery Draft." When I text, I call it "the SFD." This is the draft that has one purpose: to be done. It's not great, and in fact it's okay if there is not a single piece of the SFD that can remain in its current form

Break Projects™ into smaller projects. When I'm writing a short story, I have to give myself space between writing the first draft and starting the process of revision. Editing also needs to come after another break. Basically, "write a story" is too big. "Write an SFD" is just right. Find realistic stopping points for yourself that give you motivation to finish the project and also permission to breathe. 

Bricks and birds. Writing an entire page is a challenge. Writing a sentence is a little easier, especially when you know you can go back and make the sentence smart. Anne Lamott discusses this in her book on writing, Bird By Bird. I also remember Nehemiah telling the people living in Jerusalem not to worry about rebuilding the whole wall, and to just work on the wall right in front of their house. Brick by brick, bird by bird, the thing will get done. 

Rotation. I write in a lot of genres and despite some well-intended concern from several interested parties, it doesn't seem likely that I am going to settle one just one. After some trial and error, I've found that switching genres every month works for me. It lights a fire under my butt to get to a stopping point within a month, and it also gives me a light at the end of the tunnel. When I finish a month-project early (which happened in both April and May) I have the option to either start the next month's work, or take a break until the new month. In April, I brought three smaller projects (all of which were in various stages-- only one was a concept at the beginning of the month) to completion. This month, I did a big project and I'm letting me rest. 

Basic health is creative health. There's no such thing as someone struggling to function who is also making really spectacular art. They're working on the good days (or good enough days). I don't revise well when I'm sad. I don't write well when my stomach hurts. Take care of your body. 

Accept that you can't create un-resourced. Absorb art in your medium. Read. Look at paintings. Listen to music. And then do that 100 more times. I've found that I need to read about 80-100 pages of writing to really turn out a page I'm proud of (in the end product). 

The Good Talk Ratio. If you talk too little about a project, you might feel like it's not worth making. If you talk about it too much, your brain will believe the work is already done. Figure out the people in your life who care enough about your work to hear about it and will push you to get it done. 

Get the feedback. Find people who will be honest about your work and help you make it better. You'll need encouragement. You'll need opposition. You'll need hugs. Find the people who can give the right kind of feedback to make you make stuff better. Once the SFD is done, it's time to make a better draft. And another. And another. Also, your feedback people will be able to tell you when to take your claws out of the work and let it breathe. I have a friend who edits most of my fiction and non-fiction during at least two stages of the process. When she says a story is done, I know it's done. For more on getting the right kind of feedback, read Bandersnatch by Diana Glyer. 

Believe it's worth doing. You want to make things. Make them! The world needs more reckless optimism; it needs more people making stuff because they want to. To create is healing, in the most painful way. Be brave! Make the thing. Set the alarm in your phone: tomorrow's the day I write the sentence, draw the first line, take the first photo, edit the first frames. It's gonna be great. Make sure you stick with it long enough to see it. 


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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash