Field Report 001

Field Report 001

on Creative recovery & the Real Work of Writing

 
Field Report 001: On Creative Recovery & the Real Work of Writing. Written by Jess Davidson.
 

This field report is an attempt at sharing my personal experience with my own creative recovery. For the last four weeks, I kept records of how I was doing (and feeling about) spending more time actually writing. Because when we’re recovering creatively, there’s a lot of insecurity, struggle … just old bad habits left, right, and center. The idea of doing this field report (including its very appropriate moniker) is directly inspired by fellow writer @sharonbluehill.

 

 

Last month, I had made the decision that while I would be blogging on weekends, I wanted to reserve all my “side hustle” time during the week for my Real Work: creative writing. I determined that I have approximately 13 hours during the week for my writing. I very deliberately scheduled these slots into my calendar with the intent to use this time for this purpose and this purpose only.

I had set a goal for myself to write a short story in full, to take it from idea to completed project. Unfortunately, I don’t have a completed story to share yet. But after these last couple weeks, I do now have is a story idea that I’m committed to, and which will be my focus for the next month.

Here are my biggest takeaways and notes-to-self from the last month:

I’ve gotta be willing to make some choices.

Or, I’ve gotta be willing to put my characters through some shit. Otherwise, what’s the point?

While I false-started several times with various story ideas, I kept running into the problem of not wanting to torture characters that I’ve grown fond of over years of back-of-my-mind ruminations on who they are and what their lives are like.

One couple in particular, Julie and Michael, have tension in their marriage. But as I started to consider the context of the story I might write them into, I was paralyzed by all the dozens of possible settings and situations that could demonstrate their relationship and the challenges they’re facing — and how each of those settings would reveal slightly different things about them.

Should the story take place in the bedroom, thick with a sense of malaise, right after they’ve had sex? Should the story take place in the home office, both of them irritated for reasons unknown to the other? Should the story take place years later, a reflection narrated by their grown daughter who bore her childhood through the most uncomfortable years?

Mind you, this continued to happen as I gave up the Julie and Michael story (telling myself, I’ll write this one later) and moved onto a next and then a next-next story idea.

The point is, we write stories to share our own perceptions of how humans act and think and feel. But things have to happen — to our characters and because of them. So we’ve got to be willing to make some choices and make some stuff happen that will allow those actions and thoughts and feelings to occur.

I’ve gotta be okay with it turning out different than I thought.

A lot of the ideas that I’ve had for stories over the years have been percolating in my brain for a long, long time. And whether those stories did get some play on the page (as an attempted novel, or even just as some sketches and ideas written down here and there) or if they never even made it that far, the fact that they’ve been stewing for so long means I have some expectations about what those stories might look or feel like once written.

But I know (I know this, I know this, I’m repeating to myself in my head) that as a story starts to get some actual attention and room to evolve into what it’ll end up being on the page, it ends up going in directions you never could have initially imagined. Just does. And that’s part of the fun, when things begin to feel that they’re almost presented to you about the story you’re creating, as if you’re just following the story itself, as if the story’s telling you.

I have to remind myself that it’s okay for the story to end up being different than my original thoughts about it. The ideas morph, almost always for the better of the story.

Let go of the need to control the story. Allow the process to be open and easy. Follow the story. Let the story lead.

I’ve gotta show up to the page whenever I can.

I’ve been using Harvest to track the time I spend on various writing activities. For example, I’ve been tracking story planning, research, and actual writing separately. The idea behind this was to be able to have a record of how I’ve been spending my writing time, and give myself a little extra accountability.

I started out strong in the first two weeks of January, but then tapered off in the last two weeks. This is a combination of: 1) Forgetting to start my timer when I was doing some writing; and 2) Spending significantly less time on my creative writing in the first place.

I know that there were times that I forgot to start my timer, because I also date any work I do, and I do have things written on some of those dates in the last two weeks, but I had a sharp decline in the amount of time I was spending. I was procrastinating and avoiding, plain and simple. I was letting myself get distracted with other chores I told myself were more important. I also started reverting to an old habit of wanting to read about writing, reading blog posts, books, etc. on story structure, character development, you name it.

But if what I really want is to write, and I feel this pent-up creative frustration in other times of my life when I literally cannot be writing, then I need to be taking as much advantage of the time I have available as humanly possible. I’ve got around 13 hours a week that is specially reserved for my Real Work of writing, and I’ve got to sit my little tush down and show up.

We have to show up for our work. Period. Anything else is self-sabotage.

Final Thoughts

My initial response looking back over the notes I kept on my work (and experience of it) each week in January and my tracked time and the actual writing I’ve got saved … is to feel frustrated with myself for not having done more, or not having been as focused as I had wanted/expected to be.

BUT. Creative recovery is a process. That feeling of frustration is just an old habit, and old habits can be replaced with new ones. I am learning a new routine, and getting used to writing regularly again.

What I want most of all is to be able to recover that love and that sense of joy in the act of writing, in the process of it. I am so good at making the process torturous, of making it feel Very Important, and, therefore, Very Difficult. It’s easy to want things to change overnight, to want the instant transformation.

But at this stage of my life, I’d rather take it slow, let it build — like lust softening into a deep, abiding love. I’m here for the long-haul.

 

 

Your Turn

Do you agree with the takeaways above? What are you learning about the creative process right now through your own recovery?

 

 

5 Affirmations for Recovering Creatives

5 Affirmations for Recovering Creatives

 
5 Affirmations for Recovering Creatives. Written by Jess Davidson. Painting: Detail from “Self Portrait” by Angelica Kauffmann
 

As we begin to write, to tell our stories, to turn toward our creative natures, many of us are also recovering from years of negative feedback about the creative process or our creative work.

We may have been told by authority figures in our lives — parents, teachers, etc. — that our creative work, our writing, our stories, weren’t as important as other tasks or activities or responsibilities.

We may have developed habits of keeping our finished work private, or procrastinating and putting off the work in the first place, in order to soothe our fears of our work not being acknowledged and accepted.

Coming back to our own creative natures is a courageous act. We know that we must do our Real Work, but we have learned, over many experiences in our lives, to mistrust our creative work and our creative selves.

Affirmations can help anchor and steady us, and encourage us to keep going, when we begin to have feelings of overwhelm or incapability.

Below are five affirmations for remembering that you have what it takes to tell your stories and do your creative work.

The Affirmations

I write for myself first.

Writing is a joyful activity for me.

I am capable of writing my story now.

Every word I write is making me a better writer.

My capacity for my work expands as I do my work.

How you can use affirmations

A few ideas for you …

Any time you sit down for a writing session, first write down (by hand) your favorite affirmation five times in a row.

Write your favorite affirmations on sticky notes and place them around your writing space, in your notebook, or onto your laptop.

Set your favorite affirmations as alarms or reminders on your phone. You could set each one to go off once a day, multiple times a day, or on alternating days.

 

 

Your Turn

Do you use any affirmations for your creative well-being? What are some of your favorites? How do you use them?

 

 

If You Don't Feel Like a Writer, Be an Apprentice

If You Don’t Feel Like a Writer,
Let Yourself Be a Writer Apprentice Instead

 
If You Don’t Feel Like a Writer, Be an Apprentice. Written by Jess Davidson. Painting: Detail from “Jeune fille grecque” by Charles Amable Lenoir
 

I have no idea how to tell this story.

This thought pops up somewhere around, oh, day three of prep week for my first short story. (My goal is to write three in the next three months. I’ve got a very official looking six-part plan for prepping and writing each month, complete with weekly deadlines, etc.) But halfway through the first week of this new adventure, and there I am, feeling like a fraud, completely paralyzed.

Are these characters right? She’s kind of cliché … Is she just me? The relationship between these two characters is too complex for a short story. How am I going to express it in a few pages? Am I making a mistake setting the scene this way? Maybe it should be told from this new character’s point of view. Maybe this story is too important to be the first one I try to write.

That last thought? That’s when I know I’m picking up momentum in a direction I do not like. Instead of feeling the joy of finally allowing myself to be creative again, instead of affirming my reclaimed identity as a writer, I’m beating myself down, and I’m trying (desperately) to rationalize my fear of being outside my comfort zone as meaning that I’m actually not ready to be outside my comfort zone. And I know that that’s just not true.


Writers write. But also, apprentices learn.

I am a writer, and so are you, if we write. Plain and simple. But if we can’t allow ourselves to write because we’re too busy being wrapped up in all the insecurities we have about being beginners, then maybe we just need to come at it from a different angle.

So I can’t quite feel comfortable claiming being a writer yet. Okay. But I do feel like I can be a pretty decent writer apprentice.

As a writer apprentice, I get to do the work without the pressure. I get to focus on the process of learning to write the stories I want to write, of learning to write the characters that I want to read about.

I went to the library and checked out some short story collections: The Unreal and the Real by Ursula K. Le Guin; Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman; The Best American Mystery Stories of 2016; a couple others. As a writer apprentice, I’m letting myself observe how other writers perform their craft, how they tell their stories, how they convey their characters, how they pace their scenes. It’s okay for me to not know how to do these things yet, because as an apprentice, I’m a professional learner.

As an apprentice, I’m a professional learner.

As a writer apprentice, I get to have the opportunity of gaining experience through practice, of building habits, of experimenting and letting myself try things that, y’know, might not work out how I’d hoped. And as a writer apprentice, that feels more welcome. As a writer apprentice, all the writing I’m doing — even/especially when it feels outside my comfort zone — is just making me a better apprentice. And someday, I’ll be a better writer for it.

Thinking of myself as a writer apprentice allows me to do the work I want and need to do — writing — without getting hung up on those feelings of not knowing enough or being good enough at this yet. If I’m paralyzed by my own ambitions of being a writer, of what I should be creating (or able to create) as a writer, then I don’t even get to start.

So, for now, I’m a writer apprentice. And, for now, that’s good enough.