How To: Create

I wrote last night.  I felt tired and listless, but I sat in front of the computer (only for half an hour) and I wrote.  I’m writing a novel, and the main character struggles with the death of his niece.  I struggled to write the scene at the funeral home, because it felt close to my own experience, but writing was cathartic.

I wrote last week about fatigue, and I felt fatigued yesterday.  More than anything, fatigue makes me look inward at myself, instead of outward at the work.  And, rather than an introspective journey of awareness, fatigue encourages my own self-pity and ennui.

So, I wrote.  Creativity pulls me out of myself.  Or, it makes me look within myself in a way that brings health, because my feelings see light as they fall onto the page.  I had to force myself to write.

Creativity — such a spontaneous exercise — craves routine.  I need routine to prepare my mind for creativity (generally, I make tea).  I need discipline to sit down, to create space for creativity, space away from television and internet (even though I’m on my computer), to sit still with my own thoughts and see which ones fall from my hand and onto the page for others to see.

All creators need this discipline.  We develop routine because we are human; we need habit to find the safety to create:

I find such charts interesting, but also helpful.  Such charts show the tedious routines that each writer — or creator — has developed.  Routines that they need to create, to step outside themselves.  I especially love Hugo’s technique, to trap himself naked in his room, to literally force himself to write.  I find encouragement in this, during days when I am tired and don’t want to create: this ground has been trod before.  Find routine, move, create.

I’ve found that creativity does not come like a lightning bolt, as you might see in the movies.  Rather, creativity comes from lonely and tired nights or mornings, working away at a computer or canvas, developing ideas and refining ideas and playing with ideas.  Only then, only when the ideas are so ingrained in us that we see them in our sleep, can a new one come while I walk down the street, like that lightning bolt.

So today, whatever your creative endeavor, whether it be writing or painting or gardening or planning a new business or mediating a conflict: turn everything off except your mind, and give yourself routine and space to create.  Do this today, and tomorrow, and the next day.  Do not let yourself off easily.  Find that space and sit with it, and after enough of these days, you may actually enjoy what you have created.  You may actually move out of yourself through your creativity, and see yourself — and the world — anew.

Thoughts?  Any interesting routines out there, besides some tea (coffee if it’s morning) and a little music?  Any particular stumps that stifle creativity?

Revision is Development

In continuing the recent trend of this blog actually living up to its moniker, I offer an insight into the everyday world of a living, breathing, unsuccessful writer.  Below is a first draft from my latest novel, and the revision that I worked on this weekend — a revision that will be followed by two or three more before I have the novel where I want it.

The road was black and green spilled onto its edges before everything disappeared into darkness.  You could not stop the grass from growing here in Kentucky, and the weeds.  It had been a wet summer; the rains didn’t let up until a couple of weeks ago.  I liked driving through the hills because I had to downshift and it kept me awake.  I tried the radio but knew that unless I was passing by a tower at the time, I could never get any signal.  Static, with faint mists of voices like they were dead and trying to communicate with me across the great divide.  It didn’t bother me too much, but I worried about tomorrow afternoon.  That’s exactly what I worried about.  After a night and a morning in the car, when the sun hung in the sky at four o’clock, that would be terrible to have no other voices.  Late afternoon was always the worst time of the day.  The day was dying and you knew you didn’t have too much light left, but it wasn’t yet night or even sunset.  It was just day stretched out like a desert, with nothing to do but wait for night to come and its peaceful or terrifying darkness.  The darkness doesn’t matter, only that it is a change.  I imagine the same thing happens in the morning, during the dullness of night an hour or two before the sun rises, but I’m never awake at that time.  Maybe tonight.  Maybe tonight.

And, the edits from Sunday:

The road was black, but green spilled onto its edges before everything disappeared into darkness.  It had been a wet summer; the rains didn’t let up until a couple of weeks ago, and everything grew without limit: the Bermuda grass and foxtail grass and thistle, all mixed together and going to seed and awaiting the judgment of winter.  Trees, though, clutched the rolling hills, their roots deep and intertwined in the limestone, and grass only grew at the edges of these forests.  I liked driving the hills with the trees, because there was a majesty to them and they would survive the winter, because I had to downshift and it kept me awake.  I turned the radio on, briefly, but only heard fragments of voices against the white static; voices like ghosts.  Or, voices like God trying to say something, but there was too much static and I was driving away.

I needed to reach Memphis tomorrow afternoon.  My radio could find some voice then, among the voices of the city, because late afternoon was the cruelest time: the sun beats and day stops like evening will never come, and we sit with our memory of the morning and desire for the evening, like we are neither living nor dead.  So for that time, I wanted a radio.

You can see some of the development that has come from my revision.  First, the sentences (I believe) are clearer, and I found the detail of the Bermuda grass by going back and working harder to envision the roadside.

Moreover, the first excerpt became too rambling for me — it felt like I was trying to channel Holden Caulfield, with a little more poetry.  By revising and focusing a bit longer on the grass, the radio, even though the thoughts of the narrator move similarly, the second version rambles less.

In focusing on the time of day, I tied the revised version to his overall journey, and then threw in some T.S. Eliot to help portray his thoughts/feelings.  Of course, just at that moment of gravitas, he isn’t someone overly deep, so he backs off and asserts his need for the radio.

I’m also playing with some themes — death (which ties in with Eliot’s “Wasteland”), and a strained conception of God, which made its way into the second (actually, third or fourth) draft.

So, a small window into the inner workings of a subsequent draft.  One of the most important messages I remember from grad school is that: revision IS development.  We cannot help but add a fuller conception of characters and landscape and theme as we revise.

I’d love to hear thoughts (anyone like the first one better?), questions, musings…