Why creatives need down time

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It took me a long time to work out that down time isn’t wasting time, rather it’s an essential practice to creativity. I had such a protestant work ethic in me it felt lazy taking time out from writing. But I eventually realised that having a break by walking or doodling or reading or cooking refreshed me. When I returned to writing my problems were solved, my words flowed into art and I made other breakthroughs.

Science confirms that taking a break by napping, meditating or walking in nature increases productivity, replenishes attention, solidifies memories and encourages creativity.

Professor Lajos Székely talks about the creative pause ‘…when the thinker interrupts conscious preoccupation with an unsolved problem, and ends when the solution to the problem unexpectedly appears in consciousness’. And I love this quote from Ferris Jabr saying ‘Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during down time’.

When you consider the apparently 18 things that highly creative people do differently, it confirms that down time is indeed fundamental to creativity.

Highly creative people daydream, observe everything, work the hours that work for them, take time for solitude, turn adversity into advantage, seek out new experiences, fail up (rather than taking it personally they use it constructively), ask the big questions, watch people, take risks, view life as an opportunity for self-expression, follow their true passions, get out of their own heads, lose track of time, surround themselves with beauty, connect the dots (finding vision), constantly shake things up and make time for mindfulness.

But down time can’t be spent just any way. In the digital era we’ve become addicted to the distractions of google, email, social media, TV and so on. Being distracted is easy because it stops us from thinking or feeling anything challenging. Yet sometimes this is exactly the place where growth and problem-solving occurs. If you hate being bored like I do, the reality is that it gives space for the mind to wander, which is where creativity can happen.

Here are some ideas about how to build down time into your life to expand your creativity:

  1. Create sacred space that’s technology free. If you go for a walk, don’t take your phone. Allow your mind to wander, feel the breeze on your face, smell nature, listen to the sounds around you, look at the people’s faces. Use it to connect with what’s around you.
  2. Schedule down time where you allow your thoughts to roam free. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way advocates going on a regular artist date with yourself, where for say two hours a week you commit time to ‘nurturing your creative consciousness’. She says it’s like spending quality time with or pampering your artist self. Take them to an art gallery or the zoo, wherever they tell you they need to go.
  3. Meditate. The practice of observing yourself and allowing thoughts to come through you without attachment or engagement allows things to come up in a safe way. Meditation promotes focus, calmness, clarity and insight.
  4. Listen to and trust yourself. If you feel you need a break, don’t chastise yourself for being lazy. Listen to yourself and trust that your mind knows when it needs down time. Creativity happens in mysterious ways.

When re/writing makes you bored

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Some days when you write the words appear dull, the message unoriginal, the work turgid. You just don’t feel it. This might be your mood, but when I find myself regularly bored with my writing, I know something is wrong.

Here are some ideas on how to write yourself out of your boredom and shift (back) into creative brilliance:

  1. Write for YOU! Don’t write for others—what you think you should be writing, what you believe the market wants, what your family says, what your upbringing dictates. Writing must be authentic to be good. Writing is hard enough let alone when you’re pretending to be someone or something you’re not. This can make you feel vulnerable, but it’s only writing. See where it takes you.
  2. What are you really trying to say? Write in stages until you discover what this is. Sometimes I get caught up in the technical stuff or what my head tells me etc.. This has value. But when I’m done with all of that, I get annoyed and ask myself what it is I’m really trying to say and write with all of me. This is when I surprise myself. This is what kindles my fire.
  3. Noun and verbs are the key to lively sentences that carry the reader onwards. They’re the central elements in creating action and movement. Choose powerful and evocative ones. Rather than writing The cat sat on the hat say The tabby crushed the fedora.
  4. Cut out the crap. This means the superfluous adjectives and adverbs, the things you’ve already said in a different way, word repetition, anything that’s not central to or doesn’t advance your plot (kill your darlings), sentences that tell the reader what you’ve already led them towards knowing (patronising, ick).
  5. Space out description and back story. Rather than having great chunks of these, eke them out in bits (up to three lines) as your characters take action. That way you’re not taking readers out of the story. Also, ensure you begin your chapters with exposition (action or showing) or timely narrative (informative telling).
  6. Consider structure. This is a huge topic covering setting, plot, theme and more. Each story, and indeed chapter and section, should have a beginning, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution (of sorts). If your beginning is short and sharp, your middle bloated and ending sudden, your structure needs adjusting. Get the first draft done and adjust. Write tables or chapter summaries, anything that gives you perspective .
  7. Are you allowing your characters to be authentic, or are you telling them who they should be? Sometimes characters surprise you or go rogue or want to leave your story. Authentic writing fosters real characters. Listen to them. They’re not boring, or if they are, they’re meant to be.

Happy writing over the holidays. See you in 2018!

 

 

 

 

Finish your [writing] project

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In 2016, I attended a two-day workshop run by an author and psychologist. Its purpose was to give writers the necessary tools to finish their project, focusing on how to get in the right head space and plan properly.

Many attendees, including authors who’d published multiple books, were stuck. I was bored and had almost stalled because the drafting process felt endless.

At the end of weekend, I came away with a solid, realistic plan to finish my novel. I exceeded my goals and finished drafting well before my deadline. I’m using the same tools now to help me finish my redraft before Christmas.

Here are a some helpful points that came out of the workshop.

Mindset

The optimal mindset for creativity involves being a little excited, optimistic and seeking pleasure. You might have to fake it til you make it, but don’t give in to negative thoughts.

There are ways to help you create this mindset. Close your eyes and imagine a welcoming, mental place you can travel to before you begin work. For me, this was a deserted beach with wild waves on a cool days. For someone else it was a brightly coloured circus tent. You might also like to do a bit of relaxation, meditation, repeat some affirmations, go for a walk or do some breathing exercises before you work.

If you have a bad writing day, and we all do, separate yourself from your work. Don’t judge yourself and create fear and anxiety, which will be counterproductive the next time you write. The work simply didn’t go well — it wasn’t your entire being the failed.

Develop strategies to push through fears and doubts. There are many books on this, or read a piece by an author you admire about how they achieve this? The are loads on the Internet.

Be prepared to go beyond your comfort zone into new creative territory. Play, have fun. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Not a lot when you think about it. Trust yourself! You can always adjust your words later. Just get something down on the page.

Writing environment

This is about creating the optimum writing environment for you. When, where and how are you most productive? The aim is to find regular times to write and the best physical space in which to do that with the technology and other resources you need.

Write down your answers and create a plan. Diarise these times and build strong boundaries around them to ensure nothing gets in the way of your writing.

Set your intentions

Write down your long, medium and short-term goals. Be specific.

  • Specificity = measurement = accountability (to yourself).

Measure your progress daily, weekly and monthly. Small achievements over time add up and are motivating.

I keep a diary of my daily weekday word limit because that’s how I’ve decided to monitor my redrafting. But word count is only one possible way. You could set goals for outlines, chapters or a manuscript end date. For example:

  1. I will finish redrafting my novel by 21 December. My MS is x words long, there are x weeks until then, which means I must draft x words 5 days per week.
  2. I will have a first draft completed in 12 months i.e. by 24 October 2018. The average book is 80,000 words long and I plan to take 3 weeks holiday in which I won’t draft. This means I will draft 1,630 words over 49 weeks. I will write 3 days per week.
  3. I will write 1,500 words, 4 days per week.
  4. I will write for 1 hour, 5 days per week before work.

The plan

In your plan, make sure you have the following elements:

  • Specific, measurable goals
  • Creative mindset strategies
  • A creative environment you go to each time you write
  • A diarised writing schedule.

For more hints on creating a writing routine, see this post here.

Now go for it!

One writer’s rules. What are yours?

IMG_0474.PNGSome of mine off the top of my head include:

  • Write even when you don’t feel like it. Often you can turn that around
  • Write regularly
  • Trust YOUR writing process, no one else’s
  • Sometimes down time is writing too e.g. problem solving, fermenting characters, problem solving
  • Writer’s block means something is wrong. Listen, learn and overcome
  • Constantly challenge yourself to improve
  • Get feedback for your work from supportive people, experts perhaps or a writers’ group
  • Read, read, read good writers inside and outside your genre as well as writing books. INVALUABLE!
  • Write for you, not for anyone else or fame or money and so on
  • That said, your drafts should move from writing to get things out of your system out to considering your reader
  • Enjoy writing. Again, if you’re not, look for what’s going wrong and change that.

Writing multiple books at the same time

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Should you write multiple books at the same time? Perhaps you have ideas and characters bursting out of you. Or you have two or more stories of equal importance.

I believe it’s possible under some circumstances to write two manuscripts at the same time, but with some clear boundaries.

That said, there are circumstances where your writing energy would be better spent getting one project to a certain finished point first. How do you know?

If you can’t stop yourself from writing more than one book at a time, here are some guidelines:

  1. Your manuscripts must be very different. Perhaps one could be non-fiction and one fiction. Perhaps one could be crime and the other literary fiction. This way it will be easier not to diffuse your writing energy.
  2. Your manuscripts must also be at different stages. For example, you could be having a break from a first draft manuscript while your beta readers are looking at it or you’ve put in the drawer to get some distance. Alternatively, one could be at the plotting or first draft stage with one and on your third rewrite with the other.
  3. Make sure you have the energy for each story. If not, then go back to your priority story and let the other sit for a while. Trust that it will be developing in your head as you work on your priority manuscript.
  4. Your stories are part of a series. In this situation, you might find it natural to work on more than one part in the series, as long as you have a clear idea where they’re going and one doesn’t constrain the other.

But if like many people working on two manuscripts means you’re diffusing your energy, there are ways you can keep your non-priority project alive.

  1. Keep an ideas book and jot down your ideas so you don’t lose them. Keeping them on the back burner doesn’t mean you can’t develop them. Often they are stronger for this.
  2. You can even develop your plot and characters so that when it’s time to write this story you have a lot of preliminary work completed.
  3. You could also do research while you’re working on your priority manuscript. Again, more work will be done so you hoe straight in to the next book when the time is right.

Good luck fellow writers. Remember, never never never give in. Keep on learning and improving.