Monday, January 19, 2009

The #1 Creativity Crusher

What is the one thing a majority of writers would agree stifles the creative flow?

(Hint: It has nothing to do with household chores or personal hygiene.)

Picture it: I'm sailing along and suddenly the thought occurs to me that I need to make sure what I'm writing Now matches up with something I wrote Way Back When. I stop. I go to the Way Back When page and search for the few key words that will either confirm I'm on the right path, or stop me from making some kind of horrible mistake.

Then, I notice a disjointed sentence. A verb that needs to be strengthened. Where did all this passive writing spring from? My Now page is quickly becoming a Later page while I attend to edits.

My Internal Editor has a full head of steam, and I'm too weak to stop her. While I rewrite (and I love this part of the process) what I've already created, I'm not creating anything new.

That's not good.

In Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, she shares this:

It is important to separate the creator and the editor or internal censor when you practice writing, so that the creator has free space to breathe, explore, and express. . . .

The more you clearly know the editor, the better you can ignore it. After a while, like the jabbering of an old drunk fool, it becomes just prattle in the background. . . .

Some ideas:

1. Realize this is your first draft. You can write it behind closed doors, nobody ever needs to see it, and there's no way it's going to be perfect. Let It Go.

2. Promise yourself that in a week, a month, or whenever, you'll give Missy Editor free rein to play. Just not today.

3. When you reach a spot that requires research of any kind, just change the color of your font, put it in brackets and caps, and understand you can come back later to find the [NAMEOFCOOLGUN] for that particular scene. Or [MENTIONTHISEARLIER], to flag a bit of revision for the next round.

4. DO NOT STOP. If you must go back and read, read quickly now and tweak later.

5. Don't judge the quality of your output. For those who participated in National Novel Writing Month, remember that exhilarating feeling of freedom because you knew it could stink and still would have written 20,000 or 30,000 or 50,000+ words. Some of them usable. Get back in touch with that place where the words were light as air and streaming onto the page. Let Yourself Go.

There's an old adage for writers worth remembering:

You cannot fix a blank page.

Just finished Night Kills by John Lutz. An excellent police procedural (without the "f-bombs") with quality characterization and just enough plot and twists to keep you turning the pages.

It's all better with friends.


  1. I've started writing sections in longhand. Since I can't backspace and rewrite I just say "eh, I'll get it in the next draft when I transcribe it" and roll on.

  2. Too funny, JD. I had lunch with my dad today (a fellow writer) and he told me about a couple of amazing experiences he had where the words were flowing so fast and furious he had to stop trying to type them (he's not so fast) and write longhand.

    Your technique sounds like a good way to put that intrusive need to edit in its place.

    Hoping you have readable penmanship . . .