The Juxtaposition of a Creative Life

A few days ago, Mette Harrison posted about an interaction she had with a professor as an undergrad. This professor said Shakespeare should have written less, because some of his body of work isn’t as good as the other. This professor said if he would have done less, and had what he did do be better, then Shakespeare would have been a better author.

Maybe you agree. Maybe you disagree. But Mette went on to explain,

“Creativity is about unleashing the possibilities. It’s about everything [that] is allowed in this space. It’s give me whatever you’ve got, good or bad, let’s throw it in here and see if it works. Creativity is writing even when you think it’s probably bad, and letting go of the judgment while you’re in the moment because how you are feeling when you are writing is not necessarily indicative of how good the writing is.”

There are a lot of people who get engaged in the battle of whether someone should or should not do NaNoWriMo. There are some who dispute the process of, what I like to call, vomiting words on the page. There are some to say that it is a discredit to their process. There are others who look forward to November like a three-year-old looks forward to Christmas because the adrenaline and productivity put them on a path for success for the whole year.

But in the end, the purpose behind it all is to create. And if we sit there, waiting for the brilliance to knock on our door, to guide us gently to the land of inspiration, where Diet Coke and popcorn are freely available and everything we write is etched in gold because it’s so good, we are seriously SERIOUSLY misguided – both regarding the process and what it takes to become ANYTHING.

Over the summer, I had my AP students read one of seven books:

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
Blink – Malcolm Gladwell
Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
Quiet: The Power of Introvert – Susan Cain
The Talent Code – Daniel Coyle

I needed these (mostly) Juniors to understand a little bit about themselves, about processes of success, about life. But as I was reviewing the arguments in each of these, I came to the awareness that they are all good books for grown-ups too. They identify the tendencies successful people have, the situations in life and the progress of the world that allow for success at different times, even the way we, as people, tend to work.

You see, there are many people who think that successful people became successful because they were lucky.

We, of course, never think this.

Right?

One of my critique partners is working through a revision right now. Her first drafts are stunning, evocative and beautifully written. But then, she got to that chapter. We all have them, the one where we wrote what was necessary to get to the next thing, and then we have to come back to it. After acknowledging there were, ahem, complications, she said, “This is a steaming pile of poo. Probably best to shovel it off and start over.”

She has put in the time to recognize that the process of creating is a messy one. Sometimes we catch the mess and can clean it up ourselves, and other times, we end up sending it out to the world like a disheveled mismatched kindergartner. Sure, it’ll probably get through the day okay, but the judgment, both from others and from ourselves will not be escapable. Sometimes, though, that’s what we focus on.

But that’s not the point. Reactions from others, responses from others, praise, critiques, comparisons SHOULD NOT be the motivation to keep creating.

If you haven’t yet listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast or started reading Big Magic yet, do yourself a favor and start.

“While the paths and outcomes of creative living will vary wildly from person to person, I can guarantee you this: A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you – is a fine art, in and of itself.”

Just as mining is a dirty process riddled with trial and error, so too is life, and in particular, a creative life. Don’t shirk away from the mess. Don’t get upset if things don’t pan out the right way the first time.  Or the fifth time. Or the twenty-fifth.

So if you are winning NaNo – CONGRATS! You pushed through a difficult task. Please don’t think it’s done.

If NaNo went the way of the Dodo bird for you *raises hand* – DON’T DESPAIR. Just because someone’s word count is ahead of yours doesn’t mean what you have is not valued.

If you are looking at the writing goals you had for this year, whether it was to finish the draft, get feedback from betas, start the querying process, get an agent, book deal, foreign rights, movie deal, quit the day job, become independently wealthy from your craft, or some other dream…

…and if that dream didn’t happen, shift your focus, instead, to what you and your craft learned in the last year.

Look at the ways that writing got you through the difficult times, at the way you look on life because of your writing.

Look at the friendships you’ve made, the things you’ve learned about story, character, arcs, craft, people, society and life.

Look at where and what your life was before you started this creative endeavor. Because anything worthwhile is worth the work and that includes success, your craft, you.
_________________________________________

Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.

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