T – Truth

That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.
Tim O’Brien

Humans are born with this amazing ability to replay scenes in our minds, to edit them, recast them, and alter actual events on our mental stage. It’s psychological benefits an be enormous (or destructive depending on the person).

Fiction is a bit like that. We can tell deep truths in stories that we can barely verbalize in the real world. We put our characters through emotional trials that are universal to humanity, allowing the readers to identify and invest in those characters from the front cover to the back. We can rewrite our own experiences and give our characters different reactions and results. That is just one way writing can be cathartic.

There is so much we say, both knowingly and unintentionally, in our work that is truth. What do you think of the quote? What does it bring to mind for you?

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R – Reflection

I hear many people share with me that they just ‘have to do this thing’ before they can relax and slow down.
The truth is that taking the time to be still and reflective actually increases productivity and gives more joy to what you’re doing when it’s time to take action again.
Maria Erving

Of the new writers I speak to, about 70% of them don’t understand that writing requires “off time.” Call it mindlessness, pondering, boredom, reflection, or chilling out, we need time for our stories to incubate, time to ruminate on the characters and plot. It takes idle brain time for ideas to come forth.

It’s no secret I advocate a simple lifestyle, and the biggest reason is that busyness hampers us creatively. Filling my schedule with tasks and places to be and calls to make leaves no time for my pre-frontal cortex to switch off and the creative mind to work it’s magic. I’ll even be so bold as to say social media and smart phones are major contributors for the frustration new writers feel.

Our writing forebears might have been greatly helped by life prior to modern conveniences. When one spends significant time weeding the garden, cleaning laundry, or going about any number of rote chores, the brain has a chance to enter this neutral state.  These days, we walk (as many great writers have done) or exercise. Showers and baths are great. So is housework. Handwork is also a good alternative (knitting, crochet, and embroidery work, but I’ve had less success with counted cross stitch as I’m constantly referring to the pattern. My favorites are machine quilting, swimming, sitting at the pottery wheel, and washing dishes. Of course, nothing beats sitting in the window with a hot cup of coffee and watching the world go by.

In all of these cases, the body is doing its thing without active thought. Indeed, the brain is in a form of automatic pilot. It’s a different mode from when we are watching TV or playing on our cell phones.  It’s different from listening to music or quiet activities such as reading. It’s more like that state just before falling asleep or just after waking up, when the brain waves are not yet affected by the cortex. It’s believed to be created in part by the synchronization of the heart and the brain into rhythmic movement, and in part by being in neurological “neutral.” In both cases, relaxation is a big part of it. That’s a hard place to get to when busy, rushing, or filling time with less important activities.

I certainly don’t want to go back to the days when I’d be kneading bread or washing clothes by hand, but I do realize such mundane physical tasks are the perfect environment for the brain to create. As soon as I can get new writers to embrace this idea, they are amazed at how fruitful their minds become.


How do you incorporate mental stillness and reflection into your life? Can you tell the difference when you don’t get that time? Do you think I’m nuts or controversial for telling people to pare down their calendars or do physical labor?

P – Patience

One time, ,when I was very little, I climbed a tree and ate these green, sour apples. My stomach swelled and became hard like a drum, it hurt a lot. Mother said that if I’d just waited for the apples to ripen, I wouldn’t have become sick. So now, whenever I really want something, I try to remember what she said about the apples.
Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

I often think I was put on this earth for the sole purpose of learning patience. Though I am SO much better than I was 25 years ago, I suppose I will wrestle with patience all of my life.

It’s enough, I tell myself, to wait for things like houses, websites, businesses to get off the ground, to recover from a cold–do I have to exercise patience in my creative life as well?

Yep. Without a doubt. In so many ways. Sigh.

Wait for the amorphous inkling to coalesce into a character or plot.

Wait through the cutting and pressing to assemble a quilt top.

Wait for paint to dry to add the next layer.

Wait for adhesive to set, wait for materials to be purchased, wait for this, wait for that.

It’s all tolerable because I am a maker. It’s what I do, and patience is necessary. I’m fairly good at pacing myself and keeping steady momentum whether I’m writing a draft, assembling a mixed media piece, or binding an art quilt.

Except for one element.

It’s the span of time a draft is resting that fills me with the most impatient frustration. Why, when I want so much to be one of those authors who publishes six or eight times a year.  When my drafts come so fast, why must I be the writer whose novels must rest for upwards of two years?

Perhaps it’s simply another lesson in patience, or the price for other elements coming easily. Perhaps I am to easily frustrated with myself, too stubborn to accept reality.

Like eating green apples, I’ve felt the discomfort of not waiting. An unripened draft leads me to fret, struggle, and whine. I can’t revise my way out of a paper bag. But if I wait, if I let the draft ripen and separate itself from me, revision is easier, cleaner, and almost enjoyable. It’s all about the emotional distance, and I simply need more time than most.

I feel the most common time for impatience for creatives of all types is when they are learning a new skill or a new medium. What is seen in the mind is so far removed from what appears from our fingers, it’s a wonder artists aren’t bald from pulling their hair out. All I can do is ask the new and the untried to be . . . yes . . . patient with themselves while getting through the first few projects. So much of what we learn is learned by doing, not by research beforehand. And thereafter, be patient with the elements of your process that just take more time than you would like.

For me, it’s absolutely a matter of patience, and I’m still learning that lesson. How about you?


What part of your creative life leaves you feeling impatient?

N – Night

I’ve always loved the night, when everyone else is asleep and the world is all mine. It’s quiet and dark – the perfect time for creativity.
Jonathan Harnisch, Porcelain Utopia

I confess. I am a night owl. I like staying up until the wee hours. I love to write that late. I’ve not observed any difference in my writing based on the time of day, so it must be a psychological effect. Still, when it’s dark out and all the neighbors are asleep, the creative part of my mind easily opens and delivers.

I imagine the larks of the world feel the same way in the early morning when they are alert. How would this quote have been written had the author been a lark? As the day gets moving and people appear everywhere, do the larks relish the busyness the way I relish that silent quality of 2 a.m.?

Are you a lark or a night owl? How does that affect your writing schedule? How strong is your preference to write in the morning or at night?

L – Listen, or Not

 

Listen to the mustn’ts, child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child. anything can be.
Shel Silverstein

This has been a favorite quote of mine for the last year. The very idea that we can choose who we listen to is liberating, isn’t it? It’s our responsibility, of course, to choose wisely and to choose balance, but the choice is still ours.

We can choose to listen to people who talk only of the difficulty of publishing traditionally, of how hard it is to be discovered or build up sales, and all the rest of the doom and gloom. And it may be that the more moderate of those voices will help us.

We can choose to listen to people who honor creativity, believe in effort and and opportunity, and general affirmations of us as a person and as a creator. And it may be that many of those voices will help us.

The important thing is that we choose who and what we listen to.

Who are you listening to? How does it affect your creative work?