23 Aug Why creatives need to recommit to their creativity
I’m a great believer in immersion in a writing project to really make headway with it – especially when you’ve lost your way. I was lucky enough to be awarded a month’s residency at a writer’s retreat in Switzerland in July. In a chateau, no less.
Two weeks into my Château de Lavigny retreat and I still hadn’t quite made it through the revision of part 1 of the new novel. It’s always a surprise how long it takes.
I was there with 2 other novelists, a poet and a translator. During the day, we worked separately, only coming together in the evening. The setting was magnificent: a view across vineyards down to Lake Geneva, mountains in the distance. The chateau itself, built in 1732, had a fine writer’s pedigree.
Halfway through my four-week stay, I had a breakthrough. I was reading Martha Alderson’s Plot Whisperer. Divided into two parts, one strand focuses on story structure: how to do a plot planner, why your protagonist needs to have goals and obstacles in the way of their goals and so forth.
The other strand relates that back to you as a writer. It offers solutions for how writers can overcome their goals (internal ones, like imposter syndrome) and external ones (like your day job.)
Martha says that just like your protagonist has to recommit halfway through their journey, you may have to recommit to your story, your writing, your art.
The day after reading that – and here’s where I sound a bit bonkers – my main character gave me a real talking to. I’m still not sharing her name but let’s just call her J. J basically ‘told me’ that she wouldn’t stick around much longer and I had to recommit to the project and to her story, or else…
Who knows how this stuff really works, but certainly with fiction the characters you create do have their own force. That day I wrote out a new manifesto for myself and stuck it on the desk.
I’ve now recommitted to my writing again and do something on it every day… even if it’s not for long. I’m now trucking through part 2 of the revision and I’d love to do nothing else, but hey, there are bills to pay and other exciting projects on the go.
So, while I’m no longer at the chateau with its oh-so-French salon filled with memorabilia from Heinrich Maria Ledig Rowohlt, who lived there with his glamorous wife, Jane, I’m carrying my conviction with me.
It’s true that just being there inspired me. Rowohlt was a German publisher who numbered Camus, Hemmingway, Wolfe, Nabokov and Henry Miller among his friends. He was a bright light on the European publishing scene before and after World War 2, the man who introduced paperbacks into Germany and who loved, above all, to bring writers from all parts of the globe together.
So, for any of you who need help recommitting, here are some tips which you can do from home:
- Create you time. This means you block out a few hours, a day, a weekend if you can just for you and your creative project. You treat that as sacred. Allow yourself time to reacquaint yourself with that unloved novel or that half-finished essay. Print it out, read it slowly and see what you can do to revise or finish it.
- Take baby steps. If you’re only halfway through a project, it can feel overwhelming knowing where to start. Write five things only on what you can do this week to help you. Don’t write ten or three. Write five manageable tasks and start there.
- Do something inspiring. If you’ve lost your way with your writing, go and see an exhibition or a movie or something else arty that will give you another way of looking at your project. Or take yourself and your notebook into nature.
What helps you when you get stuck? Please share.