E.J. Wolfe here, and I’d like to talk about something that’s been sort of plaguing me as a writer/creator person/thing for a while: the line between where creativity is good and destructive.
Sounds strange, but let me be clear. Creativity is freaking awesome! Letting all of your brain power roam free at one time can be very freeing, and I know that, for a long time, writing, creating, etc. was my coping mechanism (and it will remain so if 2018 was anything to go by), but there comes a point where leaning on your creativity becomes harmful, mostly when it gets in the way of you ever getting anything done.
I can only guess that someone reading this has started reading my 1 Million For Black! Hermione challenge on A03 or any other of my stories anywhere else. If you haven’t, (spoiler alert!) I haven’t finished it, and it’s been two years!
Someone asked why that matters since it’s a million words and a lot of people can’t get through 100K in a year. I acknowledged the point and raised the fact that I can churn out a million words in a matter of months if I wanted to and have done so before. Thus, it’s a big deal that it’s been two years (personal catastrophe or not) since I started the challenge and still haven’t finished it.
In between middle school and high school, I churned out over 800k words, and I certainly wasn’t writing at the level I am now.
To give you a bit of scale, let’s do some math!
Let’s say now I type 45 words per minute at my slowest. (I usually average around 70 wpm.)
1,000,000 words / 45 words per minute = 22,222.2222222... minutes 22,222.2222222... minutes / 60 minutes per hour =370.370370... hours 370.370370... hours / 24 hours per day = 15.4321 hours 15.4321 hours ≅ 15 hours and 26 minutes
Fifteen hours or writing at a continuous pace of 45 wpm is nothing. I’ve tracked it; I’ve done it, and I actually write continuously in the 55 to 65 wpm range, so just let your mind think about that while I continuously beat myself over the head with the fact that I can do it and just aren’t.
I was having a moment such as that a few days ago and realized that “just aren’t” isn’t a matter of willfulness but discipline.
I realized that I’ve never been able to do that sort of hardcore writing for one type of story (fanfiction, original, etc.), let alone one story all the way through.
Well, for many reasons that aren’t important, a few that are, and the most important reason of all: I lack discipline.
Yep, I lack discipline when it comes to my creative stuff, and to be honest, I never had a chance to develop any.
Gonna be #100 and say I was a lonely fucking kid. I mean, really lonely. I lived between two parents from two different social classes and backgrounds when I was younger up until the more well-off one died when I was about ten or so. Before that, quite a few traumatizing things happened that I have only retained bits and pieces of. I have two older siblings (three if you count the step sister), and they’re all significantly older than me. We have a better relationship as of 01/01/2019, but that isn’t saying much.
I was friendly, but I wasn’t really sociable. Call it lack of interest, call it whatever you want, I had the almost stereotypical four to five main friends, two of which were male, one moved away, and only one I remained in contact with when we moved to the Midwest at the end of my eighth-grade year. I spent four years in Chicago as the youngest, smartest girl in my year and in my friends’ groups.
Don’t get me wrong, I had friends. I was not that kid who got picked on ad nauseam and probably would have ended up on the news tried for mass murder. Instead, I was that annoying kid that stepped in and told bullies to shove off actually and usually didn’t understand when someone was trying to bully me.
When I started writing creatively, it was right before parent 1 got married to the typical step-witch type character. I wrote (and destroyed stuff) because I was unhappy with the world and seven-ish. It was a very young case of escapism, and oh boy, it just took off after that.
Parent 1 died, and I increased in writing output until I was filling one of those spiral notebooks (80 to 100 pages) over the course of the school day back when most people had that friend that wrote stories and you’d rush to talk to them first thing in the day to swipe their notebook to figure out how far they’d gotten overnight. (Another disclaimer: if you’re going to do this please do your school work first. Education is important kids.)
I never developed a “favorite” pen or type of notebook, but I definitely developed a need to always have some form of paper with me. It was and still is a bit of a safety blanket. Even if I have my phone, I still prefer paper and pen.
Soon after that, my brother’s uncle gave me a computer. Being the outlier of all the children he knew at the time, he somehow deemed me worthy of it. Can you guess what happened? I took a typing elective in middle school and shot through my words per minute benchmarks like bad guys in video games on easy mode.
In 2006, we moved to a murder capital in the U.S., and I lived there for four years as miserable as could be, but I had a computer and my aunts on my dad’s side, for want of what to get me, still sent me plenty of notebooks for the appropriate gift-giving holidays and life events. I buried my issues with the move, parent 1 and 2, my living situation, and everything else wrong with my preteen to teenaged world in blank pages, a lot of random awards, a lot of random afterschool activities, school, cookies, and gallons of hot, sugar-laden tea.
I wrote a lot, needless to say. Graduated, went to college and changed my major from Mechanical Engineering to English. Shocker? I didn’t think so.
Graduated that, took a year off and worked my first full-time temp office job and spent an awful lot of time writing in between the menial amount of work given to me. I still struggle to wonder if there just wasn’t enough, or if I was just stupidly efficient. Work, writing, work, writing, work, art, writing. Sprinkle in a few moves, a new permanent job, a lay off, a graduate degree, a house purchase, parent 2’s death, and accounting classes and you’ve summed up where I am today.
But someone smart cookie in the crowd noticed that I was never writing on a schedule. Yes, I wrote a lot, but it was never because I had a personal quota to meet. I just had enough inspiration to do so.
Now, as I’m trying to transition out of working for others and working for myself, I have to develop a sense of discipline, boundaries, or whatever have you around my art.
And I have no idea what I’m doing!
I find myself sitting down to write and really giving it a shot, but unable to keep the flow going, so rather than sitting down and doing some research or rethinking some elements, my brain says “Hey, here’s a new idea!”
My habit has been to follow the next idea as far as I can just so the initial idea is captured, but when you “dream content” almost every night, as Alteringviews says, you can see how that strategy just doesn’t work.
If you are struggling with this too much creativity at the end of your discipline problem, I wanted to write this to let you know you’re not alone. If you’re struggling with the other side (i.e. too much discipline at the end of your creativity), I’ll write a bit about that in a different post from what I’ve learned talking to a few artists I know that suffer from it and my experience of discipline actually getting in the way.
I also wanted to tell you that it isn’t an easy process! Corralling yourself and changing your habits are a pain in the ass, but you’ll find yourself doing it faster than you think you will if you just start somewhere.
Tip 1: Figure Out Your Most Imaginative Times and Triggers
If you know you have cinematic dreams or that art kickstarts something in you, Instagram, your cat, whatever it is, take note and take heed.
You need to know when your muse is most active and most likely to strike.
If you know that you get inspired by new concepts, ideas, physics, or whatever, be conscious of it. It may come in handy later if you hit a rough patch and tip into the world of creative block.
Tip 2: Develop A System of Capturing Those Ideas
I have paper everywhere. I record notes on my phone with an app that comes standard on most phones (the very simple Voice Recorder for Android). I talk to my roommate about my ideas, and she has a fantastic memory. Whatever you choose to do in those moments after your muse has punched you fully in the face, or hit you like a wrecking ball, with a new idea is crucial and yours to choose.
If you’re just waking up, I’d suggest that you record it. My handwriting is atrocious when I’m fully functioning, I’ve tried the pen and paper route and spent more time trying to decipher what I wrote than it took me to write it down.
Tip 3: Develop A Schedule For Your Creativity
That doesn’t mean say you’re going to do art between 4 and 6 like clockwork and enact some horrible punishment when you don’t. If you’re a casual artist looking to improve, this looks more like making sure that you have time in your day to devote to your creative pursuits.
If you’re like me, that means treating it like a job, even if it’s only a part-time one. Around whatever else you have to do (work, school, family, all). Let’s say part-time for you is 20 hours a week and you also work 40 hours a week. That means the time after your job and responsibilities end is all open (within reason).
You need sleep, but you’ve got weekends, lunch breaks, that thirty minutes it takes you to get up and get ready to go to work, etc. to do a bit of art and writing. Wherever your carve it out, treat it as important as your money-making job.
I’m guilty of falling short of this for a myriad of reasons, but I found that the days I did force myself to work, I made a lot of progress and got quite a bit done. It works if you are consistent and focused.
Tip 4: Do Not Measure Your Art Time By How Much Art You Get Done
This may seem counter-intuitive, but art time and developing as an artist is more than just creating a portrait, a character sheet, writing a chapter or what have you. It’s also looking at art, practicing your skills, gaining new ones, editing pieces, and so much more. You have to make time for that in your art life, or you’ll be stuck with your same old ideas and find yourself not interested in exploring any versions of Plot A, Idea B, or Style C.
If you’re stuck during these times, go looking for inspiration! Random generators, random quotes, concepts, mythology, other people’s art, music, Pinterest (if you dare), etc. The world is your oyster. Explore it and let yourself be inspired.
Tip 5: Stay Consistent
Keep creating and following that muse. Really, she means the best; she just doesn’t have any boundaries. Tell her you need a break! Trekking through the forests of possibility is not for the light of heart, and it isn’t healthy to do it without a breather every once in a while. She’s immaterial, you’re the living body, feel free to sit down and take a breather. Literally, you need it because burnout is real.
Now, all these are just tips. They aren’t cures; they aren’t fix-its. You’ll do all of these things and still find yourself chasing after every new idea. It happens! Sometimes, that’s just the nature of the beast. The important thing is to be aware of that and take steps to mitigate your unruly and incredible imagination from getting in the way of getting anything done.
It’s the difference between being prolific and having a lot of unfinished projects. I am trying to pull myself to the other side of the divide as quickly as possible, and for the little progress that I’ve had, I am very proud.
That’s all for now. Keep creating. Let your muse take you places, just be ready to call for a pause. Let me know what you think of these tips, if you have any of your own, and if any of this has helped you.
Until next time, happy creating!
P.S. If you’re interested, the latest chapter of At Helheim’s Gate I Know More was posted yesterday.