Creativity is at its best when there’s a free flow between truth and fiction, between your world and the world of the story. Stories are better when you let life in.
I was reminded of this recently by an interview on Extraordinary Routines blog with creativity guy Austin Kleon. He talks about the importance of wandering and discovering and defines a successful day for him: “As long as I write in my diary, publish a blog post, take a walk and read a book, that’s been a good day.”
It reminded me why I write stories and the kind of life I want to lead. And while I might have a few extra things to do than that in an average day (and I’m sure Kleon does, too), it was a good reminder to check in on the things I care about. I’m most creative and the stories are best when I’m not stuck in my head and forcing the story to be a certain way, but when I’m fully awake, looking around, discovering, engaged with the world. That’s when the stories write themselves.
I first remember feeling this way when I wrote Two Wolves. I’d wake early and let the words flow and by 7am I’d have a significant chunk of text. Most of it I would barely remember writing because it was written in that trance state between sleeping and waking and that’s when writing is best – when it bubbles up from some ancient, secret cave inside you, rather than being forced through the wringer of the ever-critical, ever-obvious conscious mind.
I think I’m getting back there, to that feeling-place where the words just seem to appear on the page. Last week I was rereading the final pages of Detention (out July) before it goes off to print and there were scenes and chapters that I don’t remember writing.
It’s about creating space and time in your routine. I have more ‘business of writing’ stuff to take care of now than ever (all the stuff around the writing that is not the writing). Working on teachers’ notes, shooting book trailers, doing social media, blog posts, eNews, email responses, reaching out to people, Room to Read stuff, travel, scheduling, funding applications, writing talks, doing talks, navigating edits and contracts as well as raising a family and having a life outside the work. I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. (Except, maybe the life of an astronaut. I’d quite like to go to space.) But you have to be vigilant to ensure that all the stuff of running the writing life does not eat the thing you loved about writing when the creative process was the only focus.
Austin Kleon reminded me to step back, to let some of the minutiae slide, to not get so caught up. To prioritise the creative and return to a simpler life where there is time to appreciate everyday, mundane things that you miss when you’re stuck in your head. I’m sure I’ll forget this again soon. I think it’s a life-long project.
I’ve always loved Joseph Campbell’s idea of following your bliss, doing the thing that most moves you. And trying to remember every day, every moment, to let life in.