I’ve wasted a lot of time telling myself my creative process was wrong.
Somewhere along the way, between being a free-spirited kid writing about her dogs and a young adult realizing that writing could be a career, I started to look at my creative process as my writing’s (and every other creative endeavor’s) enemy. The way I liked to work was something I needed to “overcome.” Something full of mistakes and bad practices that was going to hold me back from writing great books and taking great photographs and, generally, creating great art.
It’s true that I definitely needed to be more disciplined. I was way too flaky about my projects for years (mainly due to fear) and have always struggled with making anything creative – especially writing – a priority in a busy schedule. But in trying to work on these things, I let myself get way too overzealous. I ended up declaring an out-and-out war on my creative process.
Which turned out to be really, really counterintuitive.
In my process of experimenting, instead of just taking what I needed and letting myself evolve, I pushed to do a complete remodel. Everything had to go, I told myself. This made the process of creation pretty miserable because I was constantly fighting myself. On top of all the things writers and creatives have to deal with on a regular basis ─ fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, and the whole act of creating something from nothing ─ I was further complicating things by telling myself the way I went about creating things was wrong.
I wasn’t a real writer if I didn’t get up at the crack of dawn to get in 1k before breakfast. I wasn’t a real writer if I didn’t map out my stories on fancy charts. I wasn’t a real writer if I didn’t fill out 100-question-long character profiles.
As it turns out, the only thing wrong was the abuse I doing to my creativity.
I was looking at my creative process as broken. I was crushing it by trying to make it fit into a box that I thought would make me a better writer. The only thing that turned out to be broken, however, was my perspective on the matter.
I’ve realized that my creative process is not something that needs to be broken down and reassembled into an acceptable, standardized form. There is no “right” way to be creative. There isn’t one time of day that will elicit the best art from you and if you don’t get it done then, then you might as well give up. You don’t have to plot out every single detail of your books before you write a word of prose. Hell, you don’t even need to write them in a linear fashion. You just have to create, no matter what that takes.
Everyone works differently. Just like no two artists will interpret a subject the exact same way, no two creative processes will operate the same way. (Look up what three of your favorite authors have said about how they write. Bet you’ll spot some disparities.) How we create is so engrained in who we are, so entwined with our unique way of experiencing the world.
What has helped me is to recognize it. I’ve started paying closer attention to what works for me and what doesn’t. I’m trying to be kinder to myself as a writer. After all, creative endeavors are meant to be, above all else, enjoyable. Yeah, it can make you question your sanity at times and can challenge and push us beyond ourselves ─ but that’s part of the fun of it. It’s part of the unique adventure we’ve been invited on. I don’t believe the entire process should feel torturous.
Creativity is not a battleground. It’s a playground.*
(*Okay, sometimes it’s a bit like a playground in hell, but still – a playground.)
There is a difference between being disciplined and stifling your creative nature. Learning that difference has been one of the hardest lessons to grasp. And honestly, it’s an ongoing process. But the shift that has taken place since I began to be brutally honest with myself on where I need to be more disciplined and where I need to let myself breathe has already produced wonderful results. There’s a beautiful sense of freedom in it. My creativity has breathed a huge, deep sigh of relief. It’s like it’s said, “It’s about damn time you realized we are in this together. We’re fighting for the same things. Now let’s get to work making some magic.”
Creativity is imperfect and ever-evolving. Sometimes, you need to show it discipline. And sometimes, you need to step out of your own way and just be.
I’m still getting to know the ins and outs of my creative process. I’m learning how to work with it so I can do more creating and less agonizing. This small but powerful shift in my relationship with it has made my life of a writer much less of a fight and much more of an enthralling, dirty love affair.
Let yourself discover your own creative process. Don’t stifle it by trying to make it look like what you think a successful artist’s or author’s looks like. Show it discipline, but also show it plenty of love.