Dear Readers: This week’s reader has landed me with a huge question that leaves me with more questions than advice. Help, please, send me advice! I invite you to leave questions and/or comments to shed light on how you grapple with your creative process.Dear Ms. Doyle: I love to write. It's the one thing I do where I can lose all track of time. But lately, I can't make myself do it. I've got ideas, but they just kind of sit there, staring at me. How do I get the juices flowing again?
Dear Non-Writer: Your question induced writer’s block in me. There is so much I could say I don’t know where to start. Is that what stops you too? I am writing my answer to you now as my deadline fast approaches. Setting a deadline is an effective strategy for getting words on the page, but the time constraints may compromise my personal standards for quality.
I assume you have seen those books with advice about creativity and writer’s block, etc. Most are not helpful for me though I do like Twyla Tharpe’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. She recommends a strict schedule. Juices don’t flow if you don’t make the time to turn on the spigot. An immutable schedule really helps, I find.
Deadlines and structuring time, while important, are matters of this world that are more easily addressed than the mysterious ones I infer from your question. So I am just going to ramble here and write whatever pops into my head.
If I were limited to one bit of advice, it would be this: daydream. Don’t write, daydream. Wander around with your head in the clouds. Sit by the fire in your jammies and stare. If you get a little writing urge, sit on your hands. Do not write!
As long as you don’t write one word, anything is possible. Write one word and you have imposed limits. You can erase, of course, but the process has started and then you’re doomed to having to make choices. In a wonderful little book, Hawthorne on Painting, the author says, “Starting with a note of truth is the important thing — the first color you put down influences you right straight through.” Likely the painter doesn’t see the truth of that first color until the painting is complete. In writing, your first words may contain a note of truth though I think it preferable to not know what that is right away.
I have started here with some general thoughts. I would be pleased if you would write again to agree or disagree, tell me how the daydreaming is going, ask me more specific questions. For example, what is preventing you from writing? The laundry? Do you share my concern for personal standards of quality? As you can see, you have really got Ms. Doyle going on a topic dear to her heart.
Oops, the deadline arrives; my time is up. I will leave you with these words from Henry James:
“ We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion, our task. The rest is the folly of art.”