Practical Lessons for Creatives

I did it. 50,550 words in twenty-six days. Tonight is the twenty-seventh, and I had planned on spending the evening being positively worthless. After 80 hours, 2.5 four inch cylinder candles burnt, and countless mugs of tea, I have a novel. Sort of. I actually have half a novel, which… In this moment, is kind of a drag. I’d love to have a completed work to show everyone, but alas… I’m wordy.

So wordy, in fact, that I have an evening in which I am soundly allowed to do nothing and give my sore, aching wrists a break but here I am. (That’s not a joke. My wrists started hurting somewhere around the 20th. An ergonomic keyboard has made its way to my Christmas list.) Maybe it’s habit. Maybe I want to get my thoughts on Nanowrimo out while they’re fresh. Maybe I miss you guys. Maybe it’s all of those.

I’d like to share some tips I’ve picked up over the past month. These are all geared at fellow writers, but I think artists of any ilk can find ways of applying them.

1. Find support.

Nanowrimo comes with a community. The website is built around forums so you can communicate with writers from around the world. In addition, they also encourage people to step up as “Municipal Liaisons . It’s the ML’s duty to round up all the people participating in Nanowrimo in their city and organize “write-ins” and other functions to help one another complete the hefty task of writing 50K words in one month.

As a dude with an awesome wife and a circle of friends that were all cheering me on, it didn’t take long before I deemed validation from strangers unnecessary. However, if I were in a situation where I felt like I couldn’t be open about what I was trying to do, if I felt like no one around me got what I was attempting… I could see the community being helpful.

The bottom line is that in any artistic venture, you cannot go through it completely alone. Down that path lies madness. Even if you’re an introvert, you need to surround yourself with people that are rooting for you. There were plenty of times during the past month when all that kept me smashing my fingers against my keyboard was the encouragement of friends and family.

2. Believe you are a writer.

During the course of this month, I began to feel my self-image shifting. For the first time in my life, I’m beginning to think of myself as writer. Until now, I would have told you that writing is a hobby. When my wife introduced me as a writer, I got sheepish and wanted to clarify, “Not really“. This is strange, because I’ve been writing stories since I was freaking four years old.

I think the reason this was always such a sticking point was I’ve always been secretly scared that maybe I hate writing. See, I love the feeling of completing a project. I was walking on air for days when I finished the script for the horror movie I wrote a couple years back. But the act of writing? The manual labor? I was terrified that if I’d really think about it, I would decide that I hated it.

I’m an idea man. I can brainstorm for days. I love figuring stories out. But writing them? The act of sitting down and writing is like moving heavy boxes. It’s hard, laborious work. I could organize those boxes all day, but until I forced myself to pick them up and move them according to my blue print, I would have nothing to show for it. By forcing myself to sit and blog two times a week, by winning Nanowrimo, I’ve begun to prove to myself that maybe I’m not a literary weakling. Maybe I’ve got a few muscles and I can hurl those boxes exactly where they need to be.

3.Write like it’s your job.

Believing that I am a writer changed my outlook on Nano drastically. Instead of being this huge scary undertaking, I looked at it like I was doing a job. I was a working writer. I’d clock in after work, sit down, and get my words.  What force was it that brought me back to my computer, day after day, when all I wanted to do was go spend some time with my wife or watch a movie or play a game? I had to use a brainhack. After years of blogging, I finally discovered the secret to writing when you don’t feel like it:

Write anyway.

I have an office job that I’m not particularly thrilled with. And yet, I wake up every morning, get dressed, and go. I encourage you to adopt the same work ethic when it comes to your art. Not only is this how you improve as an artist, but it teaches you that you don’t have to be reliant on epiphanies to get good.

For years, I only wrote when I felt like it. Some of the things I wrote were passionate and full of vigor and were very well done… But that literally only ever happened once every few months. Until you reach master status, it’s all about quantity over quality. The writer that writes page after page of mediocre drivel will get published before the writer that only writes when they feel like it, every time.

4. Believe that you are a badass.

There’s an awful lot of belief involved with taking on an artistic project. Believing you’re an artist is just the first step. Believing that you are the biggest, baddest, most kick-ass artist of ALL TIME is the second.

Big projects take big egos. They have to. If you go into a massive undertaking with quivering hands and a timid heart, it will eat you alive. Every time I sat down at my computer, I imagined kicking a door open, firing machine guns in both hands and yelling “BRING IT ON!” because I had to. Every day I had to completely believe that the words I was saying, the story I was telling was important. And good. And that was the only dude bad enough to rescue the president  write the novel.

This became another reason that I pulled away from the Nano Community. The KnoxWrimers had a facebook group that I began checking less and less often. It might be shallow, but seeing other people’s word count only made me feel like I wasn’t doing my job well enough. So I chose to continue living in my own bubble of self-delusion because it empowered me to become the thing I was imagining myself to be.

5. Don’t be afraid to ritualize your routine.

Far and away the toughest parts of my writing days were the moments after I had just plopped down in my chair and opened Yarny. After working for eight hours, I still had all of the mental residue of the day covering my brain, and I had to scrape it clean before I could really slip into the right headspace to make pretend.

Just prior to Nanowrimo starting, Leah picked up a teakettle on a whim. One day after I got home from work, I changed into my pajamas, padded into the kitchen, and started the kettle. I decided I had until it started whistling to meander the internet, and when I had my steaming mug-o-tea, I would begin writing.

This was just a thing I did once. And then I did it the next day. And the next. It became a ritual I completed at the beginning of every writing session because it became the mental equivalent of clocking in to the job I discussed earlier. When it comes to your method, try everything. Do anything at least once just so you can see if it helps you get the words out. If it does, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, move along.

6. You can do anything.

This is probably the thing I’ll be taking away from this experience, more than any other. We are limitless in what we can achieve. I know that sounds way too guidance counselory, but dammit, it’s true. There is absolutely nothing you cannot do with your life if you decide to really go for it.

The only thing that’s standing between you and the life you dream of living… Is you. If you want something, you have to get it yourself. You want to travel? Then make it a priority. Save your money. Couch surf. Figure out how to make it happen and don’t listen to the dreaded Inner Editor inside that tells you to just keep working your day job instead. You want to make a movie? Then write it. Then film it. Then put it online. Hell, I’ll help you with that one. Whatever you do, don’t listen to the voice that tells you you’re too busy. Or you’re not good enough. Or you have to wait until you figure your life out.

The combination of this blog and Nanowrimo has proven to me that I do possess self-discipline; a quality I’ve always believed myself to be without. I feel like the world has opened itself to me, like I’m seeing the code behind the Matrix. I can write anything. I can learn how to do anything if I decide I want to make it a priority. This life is yours to shape and mold into exactly what you’ve always dreamed and wished it would be. So figure out how to do it, and then do it.

If anybody out there happens to have any other questions about Nanowrimo, my methods, or what the process was like, feel free to ask in the section below. Also, if you have an artist in your life, don’t be afraid to share this post and the one prior with the little buttons below. 

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2 responses to “Practical Lessons for Creatives

  1. Pingback: Time In! « Hunting for God·

  2. Pingback: State of the Paulion Address 2013 « Hunting for God·

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