I just finished a manuscript, the 6th Spice Shop mystery, and while I often leap write — er, right — into the next project, this time I’m feeling the need to take a few days off, to read, cook, garden. Whatever calls to me. Artists often refer to this as “filling the well,” nurturing their creative energy, and that’s exactly what it feels like to me. August starts tomorrow — crazy, right? — and the last month of summer is perfect for a bit of a refresh. so for the next few weeks, the quotes will focus on fueling the creative spirit.
“When I walk into the white room [her dance studio] I am alone, but I am alone with my: body, ambition, ideas, passions, needs, memories, goals, prejudices, distractions, fears. These ten items are at the heart of who I am. Whatever I’m going to create will be a reflection of how these have shaped my life, and how I’ve learned to channel my experiences into them.”
— Twyla Tharp, American dancer and choreographer (b. 1941)
We all go through it, those moments when you read a book by another author and wonder why you couldn’t have written that, or hear about a deal made or a sales threshold met, and feel something you’d really rather not feel: envy. Not that you don’t want the other person to succeed; not at all. You just want a similar experience. Often, I will use those experiences to identify some element in my work that I can improve. I set the intention, make a plan, study, practice, go. It works. But I think it works best combined with an internal approach, much like that novelist Kathryn Craft describes in a recent post on Writer Unboxed titled Authenticity Builds a Satisfying Author Career. This advice particularly struck me:
“The next time author envy delivers its sucker punch, try this: instead of asking why you can’t have what that other author has, ask, “How can my author life better reflect who I am, so that I’m happier?” Do that, and you’ll build a career that will both fuel you for the long haul and replenish that fuel along the way.”
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
– Scott Adams, cartoonist and creator of “Dilbert,” quoted by Adam Grant in Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (2016)
We are so hard on ourselves as artists. But without the courage to bend the metal a different way, toss a rhyme into a line in a novel, deliberately tweak a well-known quote in a bit of dialogue, or take a melody up instead of down, we would never create anything new. We would never truly create.
“There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away Nor any Coursers like a Page Of prancing Poetry – This Traverse may the poorest take Without oppress of Toll – How frugal is the Chariot That bears a Human soul.”
“Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.”
— Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Theodore Roethke (1908-63)
Now, we know the poet wasn’t talking about writing the mystery genre; he was talking about the truths that come to us when we quiet our minds, open our hearts, and do our creative work. May you know that vulnerability and mystery in these next few days.
We all know that showing up on the page, or the sketchbook, or the keyboard, is the only way to get the work done. But novelist and teacher Julianna Baggott points out that regular practice doesn’t just give you more pages or paintings or songs; it improves your skills and flow, and helps create the supportive community we all need.
“While creating pages at an ambitious rate, you’re also practicing strategies that help you block out distraction and get you to the page. You’re figuring out how to carve out time, to refresh and recharge, and then returning to the page. Perhaps you’re also learning how to move between projects. Maybe you’re teaching the people in your life that this discipline is important to you and that it will require some understanding and support on their part. In this way, you’re hopefully working toward a sustainable practice.” – Julianna Baggott, Writer Unboxed 12/3/20