Field Report 001
on Creative recovery & the Real Work of Writing
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.
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.
Do you agree with the takeaways above? What are you learning about the creative process right now through your own recovery?