Artists, musicians, writers, creators: what is your creative process?
I wrote a book that will be published in about three months. It’s an exciting feeling of accomplishment and a dream come true…sort of.
I never wanted to “be” a professional writer or author of books. I still feel a bit removed from the fellowship of published authors I’ll be joining in April: I’m not a freelance writer. I’ve never published an academic paper or taught an undergraduate creative writing class. I never submitted stories to literary journals. I have an MBA rather than an MFA. Whenever I hear about a fellow author getting a writer-in-residence post I’m excited for them but fret over the thought of not having health insurance or a 401(k) match.
But my book demanded that I write it, and I’m curious about what the process is for other writers and creators.
The Spirits Whisper Madly
I got my second tattoo in June 2020. My tattoo artist and I had first discussed it in February, but of course the pandemic delayed it. After waiting for tattoo shops to reopen and some rescheduling, we were finally able to meet for my ink.
My artist was excited to do her work but also relieved. She told me when she’s working on a piece it nags at her and she needed to “get it out of her head” so she could move on to other designs and work. Funny, I felt exactly the same way. I was nearly obsessed by the time I had my inking appointment. The idea for my tattoo was eating at me and wouldn’t leave me alone. I had to get it out of my head too.
We ended up with this beautiful piece on my left forearm inspired by Stephen King’s Dark Tower series:
I was reminded of a quote I saw by the painter El Greco in a book on portraits I’d given my father for Christmas:
“I paint because the spirits whisper madly inside my head.”
I don’t remember what inspired my almost compulsive drawing as a child, but that’s what drives my writing: the ideas and words swirl around in my head and haunt me until I get them onto a page. Even this post is an exorcism of thoughts. I’ve been sitting on the idea for months, but only in the past few days did the rest of it come in flashes that I scribbled into my day planner or typed into my phone’s WordPress app between work and knee rehab.
I started my blog because the insights I was having after I started taekwondo training wouldn’t leave me alone. That’s how my book happened too. I had to get it out of my head so I could move on to think about other things.
How can you harness your creativity?
Sometimes I can just sit down and write and knock something out. That happens more often with a work assignment rather than a creative endeavor. The non-work pieces tend to form in my mind more organically, but it can be frustrating when they just linger for a while and don’t become cohesive.
Or it’s just good old fashioned writer’s block.
I once heard this on a podcast and unfortunately don’t have the source: “Epiphanies or Eurekas don’t come as a flash. They come as a little whisper, and you need to listen to it.” When the spirits or the little whispers flash as images or words or melodies inside your head, here are a few things you can do:
- Jot down notes – use an app, a notebook, Post-its, whatever to get the original ideas out of your head.
- Once they’re written down or recorded, leave them alone for a little while. Let them simmer.
- Revisit and see what you can create. Look for patterns and themes. Don’t worry about perfection, just go where your ideas lead you.
- Get out that first draft without judgement or too much pickiness. Edit later.
- Go back to your semi-finished piece and add that finesse that makes it a work of fine art.
- Let it go and move onto something else (says the person who spent six months editing her “finished” book).
Thanks for indulging me. I just had to get this out of my head.
Stay tuned for my upcoming book– “Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts” published by She Writes Press. Coming to a bookseller near you April 20, 2021!
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