Creative process and flow. I’m forever curious about the practices and self-talk that writers undergo to reach that special place where the story rolls out like a movie in their head. The flipside of that splendid flow is the quagmire of resistance. I’m also interested in what holds writers back.
I’ve just begun reading from Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Owen Butler. In the book’s introduction, he quotes playwright Maria Irene Fornes. “You must always be changing your process! Because there are two of you, one who wants to write and one who doesn’t. The one who wants to write has to keep fooling the one who doesn’t.”
We must be aware of the resistor’s heckle when challenges loom. It happens. We realize there’s a lapse in the plot logic or in a character’s motivation. Our timeline is flawed. Our story cranks the wheel sharply to the left when we were so sure of a right turn. We are suddenly uncertain of where our character is. Where has the thread of our tightly planned story gone? How can we possibly carry on?
Even award-winning Neil Gaiman has these days. In an interview by Tim Ferris, Gaiman talks about sitting in his garden to write. Some days, he doesn’t write a word. But while he’s in that chair he’ll do nothing that isn’t writing. He devotes time to thought. When I’m facing a problematic story issue, I’ll list possible solutions no matter how ridiculous and doodle mind maps with pictures. I note questions and research them. It’s often through this process that I find the kernel to move me forward. Thinking is writing.
Another author, Stephen Pressfield says that resistance is “cunning”. It “presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work.” It is possible to shut down our resistance. After all, “Tolstoy had 13 kids and wrote War and Peace.” The message here is just show up every day no matter if only a few words dribble onto the page. That trickle will turn into flow.
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