Luke and I have been talking a lot about process lately, both here at Adventures in Storytelling and in our conversations with each other. Although the going is slow, both Adventures in Storytelling and Charlotte’s Journey are chugging along happily, so much of our conversation has dealt with maintaining our creative pace. The best strategy seems to be establishing and sticking to a routine. Once again, Luke and I have discovered something that is already well known! We’re accepting awards for redundancy.
Finding a time to sit down and create every day can be difficult, but I think Luke and I both managed to find space in our schedules for writing while still having the time to actually live our lives. It takes a bit of wherewithal to stick to it, but as time goes on, missing that hour (or what-have-you) of creative output begins to feel unnatural. It’s sort of like flossing in that respect, you don’t know how good it is until you get past the initial discomfort.
Unfortunately, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Creating every day is easy until life happens to get in the way. Luke has bravely faced down vacation, the ultimate disruption in schedule, and come up with strategies to maintain his creative pace. Assuming he returns from a park that is notorious for claiming Canadian artists in canoes, we’ll soon see the results of his (not very rigorous) scientific experiments (you need a control, man!).
Sadly, not all of life’s interruptions can be planned for. Sparing you the gory details, after an unfortunate interaction with a pane of window glass that left me unable to use a pen for the course of a few weeks, I learned this lesson first hand (pun intended). My dedication to analogue writing has proved an obstacle in the face of injury.
My predicament got me to thinking, what happens to creative pace when you’re faced with the unexpected? Not just personal injury, either. What happens to your creative energy when a loved one dies and you must grieve? How do you keep creating when you’re in the middle of the busiest two work weeks of the year, half your staff is missing, and you’re exhausted from working twelve hour shifts? What can you do when an unknowable being from outside the universe moves half your town to another galaxy?
I have not found a satisfactory answer to these questions. There is always the idea of sacrificing yourself for your art, and the idea of martyrdom might be romantic, but in the end you still end up dead. Dead people aren’t in the habit of creating great works of art (except maybe Michael Crichton – judging by his ability to publish dinosaur novels almost a decade after his death, I’m pretty sure his posthumous works are being written by his ghost).
I think the truth is pretty simple. As creators and artists, no matter how dedicated we are, we’re going to have to accept that there will be days where we simply cannot be productive. That doesn’t mean we should give up when the going gets tough, but rather that it is okay to sometimes break routine. The trick is making sure you don’t entirely abandon it.
In my particular case, I knew it would be easy to use an injury as an excuse to stop creating. I want to keep calling myself a writer, so that was an unacceptable eventuality. Although I couldn’t write with a pen, I could still use that time I had set aside every day effectively. I could type this article, for example.
I learned to make jam (which is surprisingly easy, for the record). I did some mental planning for future sections of Charlotte’s Journey, and I found myself sketching out some ideas for a different story idea that’s been floating around the back of my mind for the last year or so. I clumsily built some LEGO without the use of my right thumb. In short: even though I could not write, I still tried my best to use the time to make something. It might not have been putting words to paper, but while my thumb did its healing thing, I tried my best to keep the creative energy up.
That, I think, is the ticket. Even if you can’t sit down and work, you can still take a moment, however brief, to acknowledge that you are still a creator. Everybody needs a day off. Sometimes you need a week. If you have the time to do anything creative, even if it has no relation to your big project, there is value in doing it. Take ten minutes to sketch, sing a song, build something with LEGO… in short, tell yourself a small story. That’s all it takes to keep calling yourself a creator.