As a TV producer/director and writer, most of my days are spent working against the clock with production schedules, story lines, and constant deadlines. While some might believe creativity strikes like a flash of lightening, the truth is that creativity is a learned discipline especially when you’re up against the clock.
Creativity is a learned discipline.
When I’m in the editing room cutting a TV episode, on location filming, or alone writing in my office, this remains true. If I waited for creativity to strike, then I’d spend most of my time standing around, or staring at a blank screen. The key is learning the discipline of being prepared, so that your creativity can be unlocked. Do the work ahead of time to know the story you are telling. Know the shots that need to be filmed before you’re on location. Spend the time developing characters that resonate before you write the next chapter.
Being prepared is key to creativity.
There are steps you can take to fuel your creativity before you write a single word. Spend time researching the areas of your story that you need to understand better. Whether it is a location, elements of a certain story line, or the unique characteristics of your characters, or the key pieces of your plot. Now, that doesn’t mean you get so bogged down in research that you never find the time to write. Just enough research to get you started, to fill in the holes, and allow you to keep the tension alive in your story.
Creativity forces you to ask yourself, “What is at stake?”
Asking yourself this question is a good way to keep your creative juices flowing. And it will help keep your ideas fresh. Writing. Producing. Directing. All of these avenues require you to keep the tension, to get to the core of the story, and to capture what you want others to see.
If you wait for inspiration, you’ll never write a word.
One way to be inspired is to find a place to write that allows you to be creative. Sometimes that location will change depending on where you are in your story. When I wrote The Disillusioned, most of it was written late at night on an iPad and in coffee shops around L.A. As I started to write my latest novel, Waking Lazarus, I switched it up and wrote most of it on my laptop in my office. About ten chapters from the end, I found myself in a rut. So I spent a few days at a friends home near the beach and wrote the final chapters in a notebook. I learned that the discipline of writing didn’t mean I had to do it the same way every time. What I needed to do was find the right place so that the time I blocked out to write could be creative and productive.
Creativity is fueled by productivity.
The more productive you are, the more the creative process flows. You get into a rhythm. You find the right angle. You see your characters jump off the page and you’re inspired to keep going. The more productive you are during your writing sessions, the more creative you’ll become in the days, months, and years ahead. Creativity fuels inspiration. Inspiration fuels productivity. And the result is more creativity.
How can you be more prepared? What do you need to know before you start? What is at stake? What inspires your creativity? What place allows you to be creative and productive?
Everyone has their own creative process, and the key is to find the one that works for you.
When I began writing The Disillusioned, the first novel in the Guardian series, there was a clear message that inspired me to believe it was worth the time and effort. I wanted to capture the reality of human trafficking, but also pull back the curtain on professional religion, all within a suspense-filled action adventure mystery. I felt that both worlds were equally as troubling. To bring it to life, I needed to create characters that established a vivid contrast between two worlds and challenged readers to choose which was worth fighting to protect and save.
While I’ve had many opportunities to share about the fight against human trafficking, I’ve also allowed other pieces of the story to remain within its pages for readers to discover for themselves. What I’ve discovered is that when I’m writing with a purpose, I don’t need to stand on a street corner with a bullhorn. I’m grateful that the message within its pages has reached readers around the world.
After my experience writing The Disillusioned, I felt the pressure to find more ways to turn my purpose into profit. I began to think about stories that would reach a larger audience. I thought about stories that would fit a certain genre. I thought about marketing hooks that might work with a specific story. And then I realized that the more I thought about monetizing my purpose, the further I was from writing a story that resonated after the last page.
Turning your writing hobby into a career means knowing how to make your dream profitable. But if you focus too much on profit, you’ll find that it will mess with your creativity. You begin thinking about what stories are more popular, instead of thinking about originality. I faced this when I thought about writing my next novel. I thought about writing a detective, dystopian, or fantasy story. But the more I weighed my options the more I realized the story that began with The Disillusioned wasn’t finished yet. That was when I made a choice to pursue originality over popularity and go deeper into a world I had already created. Keeping the purpose of my writing at the forefront allowed me to dive back in and finish Waking Lazarus.
Knowing why I write has determined what I write. With the release of Waking Lazarus still a few months away, I’ve already begun writing the next novel in the Guardian Series because my purpose is clear.
Let me ask you, what purpose drives you to write?
You stare at it wondering how it begins. You dream of where the story will take you. You feel the rush of excitement as you pursue your dream as a storyteller. And then the clock ticks, and you’re left staring at nothing.
That’s when the fear kicks in.
Fear that you won’t be able to put on paper what is in your imagination. Fear that the words you struggle to find won’t do the story justice. Fear that you won’t have it in you to go the distance. I know that feeling all too well.
When I began writing The Disillusioned I didn’t tell a soul for those exact reasons. I wasn’t sure the story was good enough. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it. I wasn’t sure that my writing instincts were sharp enough to go the distance. I wrote the entire book before I shared it with anyone. And I still remember that first day staring at my laptop struggling to find my voice.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that those first few paragraphs were merely a spark to the fire. And once the story was finished, the odds were high that those first few pages would be tweaked and rewritten countless times. If I had realized that in the beginning then I would’ve felt better about myself and started with the pieces of the story that were already rooted in my imagination.
Put on your headphones, crank up your favorite soundtrack, and get the juices flowing. Of course, you’ll need to know your main characters, and an idea of where you’re headed, but don’t get bogged down with that first line, page, or chapter. Odds are you’ll end up rewriting.
I went through four or five drafts of the first chapter in The Disillusioned, after I had finished writing the novel. Since I knew how it ended, it was easier to know where it began.
“I’m an old woman, sick and tired of the voices rattling in my head. I am ready for this day, my final hours before I disappear into the hereafter. I didn’t always live in this white walled room, away from those I love, watched twenty four hours a day by a Filipino nurse down the hall. Once, life was filled with adventure and purpose. At least that’s what everyone has told me. My days have grown faded, blurry, run together in an endless sea of confusion. It’s hard to distinguish what is real anymore. There are only a few things I still recognize as reality, things I will take to the grave.” (The Disillusioned)
Sometimes that spark isn’t on page one. If you know what that spark is then that’s where you should begin. I know this might go outside of the rules for outlining, which I’ll talk about in a future post, but it will get you started and build your confidence as you write, rewrite, edit, write, rewrite, edit, write, rewrite, edit. It’s a process you’ll repeat for as long as you are a storyteller.
When I began my latest novel, Waking Lazarus, I went through all those same emotions and feelings. It wasn’t any easier, but this time I knew I just needed to breathe amidst the fear. I needed to focus on who it was that needed to be brought to life. I allowed time to dig deep into the character before I wrote a single word. Sure, I felt the pressure to deliver a great story, but I was in no hurry because I knew that the odds were high I’d rewrite nearly every chapter before it was done. That took the pressure off and allowed me to write without holding back.
“She stared at her reflection for a long time. Her bloodied hands cupped together as she splashed water on the open wounds on her face and arms. The coolness lasted only a few seconds and did little to revive her senses. Crawling. Stumbling. Digging her way through the desert for hours was more than a physical test of endurance. Her five foot three, one hundred pound, frame was broken in other ways. By the time she stumbled into town she was delusional. She wasn’t sure where she was or how she ended up there. After a few hours inside the dilapidated house she still struggled to grasp reality.” (Waking Lazarus)
I hope my experience will encourage you to pursue your dreams of writing, to find the courage to overcome your fear, and to find that spark that will both challenge and reward you.
Next post we’ll dive into writing Outlines versus Zones.
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I’ve learned some valuable lessons writing my next novel, Waking Lazarus, which is set to release on June 3, 2016. In the weeks leading up to the release I plan to share those lessons with those who are pursuing their writing dreams. Believe me, I know how it feels to stare at a blank page, struggle in the trenches with the right characters and plot, and relish in the excitement when those moments strike and the words flow. Perhaps what I’ve learned will inspire those who are traveling their own writing journey. My hope in sharing is to inspire you to keep pushing, and never give up.
- Writing the First Line
- Outlines versus Zones
- Understanding Why I Write (Purpose versus Profit)
- First Person Versus Third Person (How do I choose?)
- Finding Your Voice and the Audience Will Follow
- Your Writing Space
- Discipline Versus Creativity
- Perfect Grammar Versus Convincing Characters
- Should You Read in Your Genre While You’re Writing Your Novel?
- Silence Versus Soundtrack
- Setting Clear Markers to Reach the Finish Line
- Take A Break and Allow the Story to Settle
- Finding the Rhythm to Your Story
- Choosing Between Forks in the Road
- What is the Best Way to use Research
- Finding A Literary Agent Versus Writing More
- Traditional Versus Indie Publishing
- Building A Brand Versus Marketing A Book
- Having the Courage to Bury the Bad Paragraphs
- Finding an Editor who Knows Your Voice
- Always Have Another Story in Your Back Pocket (What’s next?)
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