Writers love to talk about writing processes. We’re pantsers, or plotters, or ultra-plotters. We follow the hero’s journey, or Lisa Cron’s story genius method, or the snowflake method (no, seriously!), or one of a thousand either guru-inspired approaches. We write chronologically. Or out of order. Or by writing all the turning points first and filling in the interstitial spaces after that. We swear by writing every day, or binge-write a few times a week or a month.
By the time we’ve spent a few years on this journey and gotten a few completed stories under our belts, most of us have discovered our own process, our unique mix story theory and project organization and time management that ultimately results in a book. And once we understand our own approach, we learn to rely on it to get us through the next story deadline, and the one after that, and…you get the idea. And that can be a wonderful thing. It’s a well-worn path that becomes a shortcut to our creativity. An annotated roadmap to get us from nascent idea rattling around inside our bizarre writer brains to full-fledged story ready to go out into the world. A comforting guide to get us through the rough spots.
Until it stops working.
While every book requires tweaks and adjustments to our approach, every now and then there’s a book that so special (yes, that’s a euphemism for PITA) that we have to throw our trusty process right out the window. And so that’s where I find myself today, with the next installment in the Harrow’s Finest Five series, Harry and Adelia’s love story.
If this ever happens to you in your creative journey–and odds are, it will–it’s important to remember it’s normal, it’s surmountable, and it’s probably even good for you. After all, what good is creativity if it’s easy and stagnant and follows that same stupid rut-filled path every time, anyway? And in case you do ever hit that wall, I’ll tell you the same thing my wise writing friends have been telling me:
Do keep breathing.
Don’t try to fight this book into submission using the same old same old.
Do try something new each week or each day or each writing session for as long as it takes, until you find a way to get into this story and stay there.
Don’t be afraid to let the story go if you believe in your heart of hearts you should not spend anymore time on it, but
Don’t give up writing this story just because it’s hard and is making you try new and different things.
And some more advice I would give you from my personal experience slogging through a story
hellbent on breaking my brain that’s not cooperating:
Read other books for the sheer joy of it. Find books that you don’t feel compelled to dissect and analyze (I know, I know! It’s hard to turn off your writer brain). Sink into some lovely stories that remind you why you love books, separate and apart from writing. This past week, I was able to lose myself in whimsical, lyrical, fantastical story in Erin Morgenstern’s new book, The Starless Sea. It’s so different from anything I write or probably ever will write, I could just fall in love with it without analyzing the whys and wherefores.
Listen/read/watch other creatives talk about their creative approaches. And don’t limit yourself to novelists. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived with musicians (my husband and daughter are both classically trained and have dabbled in pop/rock), but I’m always incredibly inspired by discussions about songwriting. This week, my musical muses were Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell, brother/sister musicians, discussing how they create songs together. In the past, I’ve been inspired in the past by documentaries about Steven Sondheim writing Broadway musicals, Joan Baez talking about turning her expanding her creative passion beyond music and into painting, and David Bowie talking about so many things, compliments of Michaeline providing links in some of her posts.
Once you’ve cleared your mind with good books and considered creativity from new and exciting angles, go back to the basics of storytelling. Pull out your writer’s toolbox, your craft and process books, your notes from the best workshops you took at conferences. Find new nuggets of information or old advice you forgot, and try it on your recalcitrant story. And keep trying. Keep listening to your characters. Keep showing up for your story unless and until you lose all passion for it.
And most importantly, as you undertake your journey to reinvent your writing process, reach out to your writing tribes. Whatever pain and suffering your current story is inflicting on you, there’s likely another writer, probably even one you know, who’s been there. And in the meantime, keep the faith, fellow scribes! I believe in you, and I believe in your story.