This year, I discovered a fascinating way to get motivated to put pen to paper and let the characters out of my head that have been banging on the inside of my skull for the last 14 years. I have wanted to write fiction for a long time and have only dabbled in storytelling as a weekend diversion. After all, who can make a living writing fiction? Better to stick with non-fiction, conference presentations, and activities that can directly contribute to “work” and helping others, right? Well, that has been the party line my mind has been telling me. But, I broke loose from the habit of talking myself out of writing fiction during the month of November, and I made it all the way to the 50,000 words. Here are a few things I learned about myself and the creative process.
1. Being creative is different than talking about creativity.
Sure, this is an obvious point, right? I have been writing and speaking to parents and educators about the importance of being creative in our daily lives and how to cultivate creativity in the lives of our children. And, I think I have managed to do a decent job in my own life. I have taken on many creative projects and pursuits in my life, from music, photography, poetry, art, sewing, crafts, and homeschooling my children. I think I have taken a creative approach to my work projects by always looking for the unique approach to solutions and preferring divergent thinking over convergent. But, nothing prepared me for this deep dip into the bottomless abyss of creativity brought on by this recent concentrated effort into fiction writing.
Having daily insights, coming up with unique solutions and having “brilliant” ideas for my creative projects have become everyday occurrences smattered between the endless details of raising kids and living life in minutia. It seems that some days are completely entrenched in lists and details of life to be handled. Consciously deciding to demote these endless habitual thoughts of life details to a lesser important place in my mind initially made me nervous. I had fantasies of my children showing up to school dirty and ragged without being fed, crying at school because their mother forgot to pick them up, coming home to piles of clutter and filth, with their mother on the computer hypnotized and typing, mindlessly muttering, “Gotta keep going, gotta get to 50,000, can’t stop…”
Despite these visions, I forged ahead and became caught up with the thousands of NaNos writing in the month of November, and demoted my doubts and daily lists as much as possible. I did have a few days where I was so deeply into my plot and characters that I no idea what time it was, even with a clock on my computer. There were a couple days where I had to set a timer to make sure I stopped writing in time to pick up the kids. And, I had far fewer showers, wore the same clothes more than one day on several occasions, and forgot to eat lunch a few times (all of which helped me relate to my son’s state of mind on most days). But, I found that by letting myself have permission to enter the zone of long-term, concentrated, right-brain dominance I was entering an ever-widening, wildly flowing river of intuitive, synchronistic creative bliss. I consider it to be a freeing, even spiritual experience. And, I can relate to the writings of master creators from the past in a more intimate way.
2. It really is about the process, not the product.
Of course we all dream of producing a perfect novel that will be a best seller. I don’t think my novel will be published anytime soon. I only made it about 40% through the plot and with my busy life, edits will probably take years. But what I learned was a new level of the meaning in the saying, “it is the process, not the product.” There is something deeply satisfying about creating people, places and events out of nowhere. Or, more accurately, being given this amazing story with fascinating characters to write about. Therein lies the magic. The creative process becomes mystical and energizing when the ideas arrive from the unknown realms. When the characters take on a life of their own and they share their lives with me, showing me their perspectives, and sending me on research trips to learn more about their world. I learned about the foreign cultures of Prague and Budapest, about the Russian mafia (and other mafias) and the crime problems in those cities, and about the amazingly diverse culture and beauty of these regions. And, my characters are introducing me to their fascinating family members, some who crack me up, some who scare me, and some who make me weep.
3. Writing is not as solitary of an activity as I thought.
When I envision full-time writers, I see someone isolated in a cabin somewhere writing endlessly on their own with little human contact, disheveled and living with cats. Well, I live with cats, and got a little disheveled, but I was far from isolated. The NaNo website had numerous forums with information, ideas and silly chatter that I enjoyed. There were even several local gatherings and write-in in the Twin Cities area. I didn’t make it to any. However, I have recently discovered a huge new world – Twitter. Twitter is where I first heard about NaNoWriMo and through the experience, I have connected with over 140 writers and authors and communicate with many of them on a regular basis. I have made friends and collected an amazing amount of advice on the writing process. Each day, professional writers with blogs Tweet with links from the best sources on how to write better, how to get published, and how to do better editing. I have greatly appreciated Evernote to keep track of all the links.
I discovered Twitter chats like, #amwriting, #litchat, #writechat, #poettues, and many more. These are live chats that have topics or guest chatters where you get to ask questions and discuss the topic of the day. I felt like I was in a masters class in writing the entire month (and I will continue participating). This fed my left brain as well.
Through the fast-paced stream of Twitter, I made connections with people all over the world. My friends in England, Ireland, Italy and South Africa have become dear friends. We mutually support each other’s work and they brighten my day. I often know the news in those countries, and what the weather is like for them. They have given me valuable advice, perspective and insight. My webs of friends is continuing to grow and I can now put out a request on Twitter for information to research my novel in several different countries, including Eastern Europe where my characters are right now, and I can get first hand accounts of the weather, sites and culture from my Tweeps.
I have discovered many things about myself in my forty-four years, and I have come to realize that I am someone who is more visual-spatial, right-brained in orientation, and a divergent thinker. All of which was a great surprise to me considering I have spent most of my adult life trying to be a left-brained analytic researcher, therapist, and writer. It’s a shame when part of our being gets suppressed by the details and “work” of life. Maybe I was trying so hard because it didn’t come as easily and because the left-brained work world tends to be what we are rewarded for most, especially if you want to be considered “smart” or “accomplished.” I have since quieted those compulsive thoughts and broadened my mind to include the massively important right-brain values, which I think are actually much more powerful.
So, even though there are some writers who think NaNoWriMo is just a worthless exercise that produces useless writing, I disagree. From this entire experience, I have received so much more than pages of text in need of edits. I plan to continue to write fiction because it gives me so much personally and has connected me with a world of new friends. This process has shown me new ways to balance out my life and infuse myself with energy and inspiration. And it has expanded my horizons in terms of what I think is possible.
Living in that creative flow space is really an exercise in blasting out the crusty chunks of my mind where passion, drama and intenseness reside. It is learning to live intensely in the moment and finding inspiration in the smallest of life details and moments with others. It is learning that feeling more intensely will not destroy you, or make you less credible. And, learning that when you let your mind runs free it will not run away from you, or at least it will always return.
All of this, without leaving home. Who could ask for more in a recession:)))
A big thanks goes out to all my Tweeps! I couldn’t have done it without you!