Quitting the creativity killers

February 17th, 2012

I’m in the crazy mixed up state of simultaneously angsting about and happily anticipating quitting the Day Job in September.  I know it’s not a logical or sensible decision, of course. I’m not yet published. Even if I was, unless a writer cracks one of the big publishers, it can be hard to earn enough to live on from writing.

But hey, I’m doing it anyway and seeing what happens. Maybe I’ll step off this cliff and fly.

 Last year, I sat for hours on a headland near Sydney. A warm sunny day with a gentle sea breeze. Big sky, and endless ocean. I went to watch for whales, ended up watching the paragliders. Those guys do literally step off the cliff and fly.

Except when they don’t.

The first time I saw one drop over the edge and not come back up, I worried. Was he broken and bleeding on the rocks? Caught up on a tree or an outcrop half-way down? Should I do something? I’m scared of heights. I didn’t dare go close enough to the edge to look over.

Just when I thought I’d have to look, he reappeared. Trudging up a path I hadn’t noticed before along the side of the cliff, carrying his parachute.  I peeked over the edge. There was a small grassy patch between the hard cliff face and the rocks at the water’s edge. Perfect for a soft landing.

The paraglider unfurled his purple and lime parachute again. Waited for the wind to fill it. Waited some more. Stepped off the edge again. This time, he flew.

I hope I do too.

At least I know, if the parachute of my writing ability is too small and flimsy to carry me, I can use the handy dandy back up chute of part-time work. And there’s just enough money in the bank to give me a soft landing.

I’m using the next seven months doing all I can to prepare. Writing a bit differently, not for publication but to build my skills, playing around and having fun with new ideas and new ways of doing things. I’m trying out new methods, like times free writing. I’ll be learning practical skills I should have done a long time ago like touch typing and voice recognition software. I’m figuring out how I can give myself a better writing space. Sitting crossed legged on the bed with the netbook on my lap may not be the most ergonomically sound way to do it when I’m writing six to eight hours most days!

I’m reading lots of different blogs. I’m working on building good habits to help me write, and working on breaking the bad habits, the ones that get in the way. The habits holding me back that I need to quit, before I quit the Day Job.

At Copyblogger, I read this-  8 Bad Habits that Crush Your Creativity And Stifle Your Success

Here’s their suggestions for habits writers wanting to be more productive and more creative need to break-

1. Creating and evaluating at the same time

Most people evaluate too soon and too often, and therefore create less.

Something I’m learning is a key problem for me. I’m constantly judging what I write, as I write. Correcting, finding fault, criticizing. The two elements of writing, drafting and editing, need to be kept separate. Some writers like to do the first draft all the way through then leave it sit a few weeks before editing. Some writers like to write a few pages then wait a few minutes before going back and editing them.

What’s key is not trying to do them both at once. Do, and chances are you’ll end up with dull, stilted, lifeless but grammatically correct story like me! I’m doing a “Care of the Muse” course with Mary O’Gara over at Savvy Authors this month. She talks about the creative process and how important it is to . First use one part of the brain, tell it to switch gears, then use the other. Something as simple as getting up and walking around the room between drafting and editing is enough.

What we haven’t got to yet is how to turn that internal editor/ inner critic/ bloody pain in the butt off long enough to do any drafting in the first place. If anyone has any tips on how they do that, please let me know and I’ll give them a whirl!

2. The Expert Syndrome

Every writer’s path to success is different. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. What works for someone else won’t work for us. I’m exploring different ways of doing everything to discover what works for ME.

Also in this category is the “You can’t sell a story with that in it so don’t bother writing it.” Someone has to be the first to create that new subgenre that five or ten years ago was impossible to sell. Vampire stories. Stories about sheikhs and princes. Stories about wizards and witches set at boarding school. One writer had to invent or reinvent these categories. If you believe in your story and your characters, write it, even if no-one else is writing anything like it. The best way to be the next JK Rowlings by creating a new genre, not copying what’s already out there.

I’m not sure that will be me, but what I do want is to discover the stories I want to write and I can write, not write poor imitations of other people’s stories.

3. Fear of failure

No one wants to make mistakes or fail. But if you try too hard to avoid failure, you’ll also avoid success.

This is a biggie for me and so many writers. Not subbing because we don’t want the rejection, or my personal method, subbing first draft or close to it, so when the rejection hits I can brush it off using that as the excuse. “Oh well, I didn’t submit my best work.”

Well, why the frick not? There’s a not so fine line between holding onto a story forever, reworking and reworking it because “It’s not ready to sub yet,” and submitting dreck.

4. Fear of ambiguity

Unfortunately, life is not neat and tidy.

Good writing isn’t necessarily neat and tidy either. A work in progress needs permission to be a mess. Only final versions ready for subbing need to be neat. I need to drop my bad habit of constantly stopping myself when I’m in full writing flow to go back and correct typos, then by the time I get back where I was I’ve lost my momentum. Multiply this by a hundred or more times per writing session. That’s a lot of lost momentum. A lot of creative thoughts short-circuited.

Maybe if I could live with messier first drafts, I’d write more and better.

5. Lack of confidence

When you understand that ideas often seem crazy at first, that failure is just a learning experience, and that nothing is impossible, you are on your way to becoming more confident and more creative.

Instead of dividing the world into the possible and impossible, divide it into what you’ve tried and what you haven’t tried. There are a million pathways to success.

Time to stop limiting myself. Try doing the crazy thing (like giving up a job to write full time when I’m unpublished!) for a change, just to see what happens. Have fun. Have adventures. Believe that whatever happens, I can pick myself up and carry on.

6. Discouragement from other people

Even if you have a wide-open mind and the ability to see what’s possible, most people around you will not. They will tell you in various and often subtle ways to conform, be sensible, and not rock the boat.

Ignore them.

Can’t add much to that. Except to say thank goodness for the internet. For writing buddies I’ve never met. For people who get why I want to write romance and don’t say “But why don’t you write a real story?” For people who understand that just because writing is hard work and I haven’t succeeded on the first, second, or even the tenth submission, that doesn’t mean I can’t write and should stop.

7. Being overwhelmed by information

Acting on a good plan today is better than waiting for a perfect plan tomorrow.

I love the research stage of writing a story! Getting to know new characters. Finding photos that fit how they look in my head. Doing nifty character charts for them. Googling details of their jobs, where they live. Working out turning points and story structure and filling in more charts for that. It’s fun. And it’s possible to spend weeks doing it and not actually write a single story word. It can become a way of procrastinating, avoiding the scary real work of writing, avoiding finishing a story, so I don’t have to sub, so I don’t have to face another R.

Some writers swear by all this pre-writing. I’m not actually convinced I’m writing any better and screwing up my stories less. I’m still missing key points. I’m still having to do major rewrites that change the story completely. I’m still needing to write half the story before I feel I really know who the characters are and how they act.

I’m not going to stop doing those prewriting things. I do recognise I need to limit them though. Knowing when I have enough to start, and then starting. That’s what I need to do.

8. Being trapped by false limits

Be open to anything. Step outside your comfort zone.

If you’d asked me three years ago if I thought I could lose 60 pounds in a year, I wouldn’t have believed it possible. If you’d asked me last year if I thought I could save over half of my salary, I would have told you it couldn’t happen. For a long time, I wouldn’t have even considered trying to do either. Yet I’ve done both of those. Maybe I can achieve the equally impossible, and make a go of it as a writer! Where else are we limiting ourselves, telling ourselves something just can’t be done?

So, I feel good to recognise these things. Because what I’m aware of, I can change. No beating myself up for not being Mrs Perfect yet allowed!

What about you? What are the habits you’ve already broken that were holding you back? How did you crack them? What habits do you still have that could be holding you back?

7 Responses to “Quitting the creativity killers”

  1. Coleen Kwan says:

    Good luck with quitting the day job, Autumn. I quit my job a few years back and it was pretty scary at first (and sometimes I do wonder if I was a bit hasty), but I’m still glad I did it!

  2. Madeline Ash says:

    Autumn, I have such admiration for you. It’s a huge decision to quit a job, and can be a very scary thought as the last days creep closer. But you seem to be a positive head-space, committed to giving full-time writing a go and knowing that it’s the best thing for you. And I’m sure it will be when September rolls around! It’ll be an amazing, freeing experience :)

    Those bad habits are so true. Discouragement from other people is one I get a lot, even though they do try to disguise it with subtlety or sense. When they ask ‘How much longer do you think you’ll try?’ all I hear is ‘You won’t succeed, so when are you going to admit that to yourself?’ Fingers go into the ears, and I think la-la-la-I’m-not-listening even as I answer ‘Until I get published’.

    Madeline x

    • I’m up and down, Madeline. Today I’m positive. Though oddly enough, acknowledging my fears and giving them some space seems to have defused them. I’m realise enough to know quitting the Day Job won’t make my life perfect. it will create a new set of problems! But I’m pretty sure it will be worth it.

      Do NOT listen to any of those sucky ignorant people! I love your writing. Honest. Your New Voices chapter was my absolute favorite. I really really REALLY want to see that story published.

      Gotta visit your blog and find out where you are up to!

  3. Aimee Carson says:

    Good luck, Autumn!!!! And with every tip you listed I nodded my head and said YES. Letting go and writing that quasi messy first draft has REALLY helped my creativity.

    • Your creativity is awesome!

      I do limit myself too much as I write. Make my characters too nice. Stop them swearing and behaving badly as they want to. I need to so more freewriting and let them!

  4. Robyn Thomas says:

    What a fab post, Autumn! I love how thorough you are in your evaluation of things, and also the research you do prior to writing. I really struggle with any pre-writing, and find that THAT stifles my creativity. Even just a character chart will throw everything out of whack. I’m far better off just starting and meticulously carving out a beginning that becomes a chapter then a partial, half a book, etc. Evaluating and criticising as I go is an issue, but I’ve yet to find a way around it. And it’ll be okay if I don’t. I have A process, and (for now) that’s enough to work with.

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