Years ago, I attended a writers’ conference. After my speech was over, I sat in on a talk given by a writing professor. And what she said has stayed with me ever since. A woman in the audience lamented that she wanted to write, really wanted to, but could never find the time. The professor’s answer: Look. If you’re not creative enough to find the time to write, you’re not creative enough to write. Period.
That’s a bit harsh, but there’s more than a kernel of truth to it. As a mother, I know well the gauntlet we all must run to get to that creative zone. With my fifteenth novel about to publish this month, I have had magical days when I couldn’t stop the pages from flowing, and days when I wondered if the muse had abandoned me altogether. There’s nothing easy about writing a novel. But there are many ways to make it harder, and to make that elusive creative zone more distant than it already is. Here are some common pitfalls and mistakes:
- You’re precious about when and where you write. There’s a romantic notion about the writer’s space, a quiet aerie with a steaming cup of something, the perfect inky pen, the fresh Moleskine. If you’re waiting for this place in order to be creative, you may wait forever. My first novel started on a napkin pulled from the glove compartment of a car. When my daughter was small and wouldn’t nap, I drove until she drifted off to sleep, then sat in the car and wrote until she woke up, usually in the Target parking lot. Just write.
- You wait for inspiration to strike. It’s true that inspiration does strike. Sometimes it’s a veritable lightning bolt. Voices in your head. The narrative problem solved during your workout. But if you’re not available, if you’re not logging the hours with your notebook, or your keyboard, it’s less likely to come. I write daily, am usually at my desk between five and six am. Sometimes inspiration meets me there. Sometimes not. But I’m there writing all the same.
- You waste your writing time on social media. Make no mistake that social media is the death of creativity. If you managed to get yourself a few hours to work on your manuscript, and instead you spent it Facebook-stalking your ex, watching funny cat videos, or taking a quiz to find your spirit animal, the simple truth is that you did not care enough to work on your novel.
- You’re not honoring your creative goals. Julia Cameron, author of THE ARTIST’S WAY, says: “We treat our unpublished writers as if they have an embarrassing case of unrequited love.” It’s true; you might not get much support from the people in your life for the time you want to spend on your novel. But if you have the writing a bug, a story you want to tell, maybe a lifelong desire to do this writing thing, you owe yourself at least a couple of hours a week toward that goal. Schedule the time and honor it as you would any appointment. Remember all you need to do to be a writer is to write.
- You’re not nourishing your inner artist. Nothing nourishes creativity like creativity. Another favorite piece of advice from Cameron in THE ARTIST’S WAY is to take yourself on an artist’s date. Go to a museum, the theater, a gallery opening, anything that exposes you to the work of artists of any medium. A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I visited a glass blowing hot shop and watched artists from Italy create a vase from a single bulb of molten glass. It was fascinating and inspirational to watch these artists at work. The following week was one of my most productive and creative of the month.
- You’re obsessed about publishing. Publishing may come. But that’s not why you write. Start thinking of publishing as incidental to becoming a better writer. Because here’s what it takes to get published: write a good book. Even now the thing that fuels me creatively is that I believe I can get up every day and be a better writer than I was yesterday. Publishing is just, if you’re lucky, a gateway to the writing life. And the words on the page never stop being the most important part of the process.
Creativity is a fire inside you, sometimes roaring, sometimes just embers. Ultimately, it’s up to you to stoke it to life, feed it oxygen, give it space — or let it go to ash. It may take a little creativity to find the time to be creative, but it also requires discipline and real desire. So, get to your keyboard, or pick up your pen, and start writing! It’s really that simple.
*Article originally appeared in THE STRAND MAGAZINE on May 14, 2017.