Resting and Recharging Your Creative Battery
This morning around 4 o'clock I heard a familiar sound that stirred me out of sleep. I'm not sure I registered what it was, but I knew it wasn't critical. Maybe an hour later I heard the same beep and knew it was the low battery signal on my cell phone. This time I shut off my phone. An interesting jolt of freedom met me when I realized that no one could contact me, through my cell phone at least. I let my cell phone's battery rest, knowing I could recharge it whenever I want.
My creative battery has not been performing as successfully as it should lately. It has definitely been running, though. The theater production I've been working on has allowed me to flex my artistic muscles, and a few projects at work during this time away from my typical schedule have kept me somewhat busy. In terms of my other writing, however, I have been recharging my creative battery in a number of ways that I pass on to you as some tidbits of advice.
Manage your time spent 'networking' online. I have been just as guilty of over-promotion as other writers who are trying to establish their careers. I have advertised or otherwise promoted my writing on my Facebook profile. Although it is gratifying momentarily, those efforts have been futile. Worse than that, it has been counterproductive. Instead of working on new or extant pieces, I was pushing old product that may never find a large audience. I am also guilty of spending too much time trying to make online connections with people who might help me with my careers. This just made me feel scuzzy. I stopped. You should, too. I think LinkedIn is a valuable resource if used correctly. I don't contribute often, but when I do, my comments are either announcing that I am seeking other work opportunities or advertising a performance. That's it. I don't badger people or waste too much time looking for online contacts. Making in-person contacts is a struggle for me, but that is where my success continues to grow. Decrease your time online and connect more with people.
Change your perspective (in a number of ways). In a previous article, I emphasized the importance of lists and schedules. I still believe in all the ideas explored there. However, here I offer some variation. I still have lists and post-it notes available, but I limit how often I see them and their content. I have a master list, but I look at that maybe once a day. It's too overwhelming. With all those projects staring at me, no wonder I got nothing done. What I started to do was keep my notes per project all in one location, with nothing else there. My notes for directing The Merchant of Venice are all kept currently on post-its within the actual script. My syllabi all have their appropriate Word documents. Only one writing project is on my 'wall.' I know my contributions to it have a time limit (currently 45 days), and I have brainstormed the final elements. I have a list of six themes to explore one last time before closing out the project and a period of my life, simultaneously. I know there are other works that will be there without the reminders. So, this is my simple advice here. Limit your reminders. You will get more done focusing on one piece at a time.
Change your perspective, #2. Perhaps many writers have their go-to place and time of day to get their work done. I admire those people who have mastered a routine that stays consistent. I'm afraid I simply don't have the attention span for that. While I need the comfort of knowing the area I write in, I like to have options. During this piece thus far, I have written in my bedroom, in my car, and in the air-conditioned waiting area of a newly-renovated pizza place as I wait for a friend who is meeting me for lunch. Granted, many times I do produce all in one place. Yet, there is inspiration in simply writing elsewhere. There is a local expanse of land that surrounds a reservoir. I am embraced by nature's elements. Typically, I just walk the space. Yesterday, though, I sat down at a few spots along the way and texted friends. Had I had writing implements on me, I could have produced. I'm not sure what, though. I've written on college campuses and bookstores. The intellectual atmosphere is intoxicating. [Libraries don't work for me. They're too quiet.] What works for you? If you consistently produce good work in one setting, I want to learn from you. But, as for the rest of you, rotate your writing spots. [I'm now in a park!]
Change your perspective, #3. Working with true professionals in the theater world has taught me about what I don't know as well. It's been a humbling and important process. I have writing friends whose style is so different from mine. I try to learn from them. Even as I was composing this, a writer friend of mine was making me participate in a pre-writing technique for finding story ideas. It is called The Magic Sock. It is one of her ideas as explained in Seven Story Scavenger Hunt. It is actually pretty clever. She is using it for her next round of film shorts. In short, you come up with seven each of genuine characters, interesting items, and places. Then, through a lottery (sock), you choose three of each and combine them so each pile has a character, an item, and a place. Our technique resulted in three unique set-ups for script-writing. It is not a technique I would have used, but I see myself using it in the future when I feel stuck. The takeaway here is simple: work with others, learn their techniques, and see what benefits you and your peer.
Change your perspective, #4. I have stressed this next one before. One amazing perk to working at a college is getting access to free textbooks. There are other means to learning about your trades. I just happen to be lucky in this respect. Regardless, access as many materials about your craft as you can. The joy of confirming what I know and the thrill of discovering ideas is wonderful.
Revisit an old perspective. I'm not being a hypocrite here. As I mentioned earlier, I was feeling stuck with my inability to create new pieces. So, I went back and simply edited an older piece by correcting a few typos and cutting some irrelevant or repetitious material. It allowed me to see what I have done and how my writing styles have continued to grow. Revisit an old piece - the one whose latest version indicator is years old. It may inspire you to work on that piece. Or, it could just inspire you to create something new. Both ventures are worth the effort you put into editing.
Allow yourself to fail. This is one of the favorite pieces of advice I've heard. I think many of my writer friends and I set ourselves up for failure when we expect every sample of writing to be worthy of literary merit. It's not. There is a project I started that may be complete fluff. But, it will incorporate my passions for movies and television shows. I 'failed' before writing about the genres. I look forward to potentially failing again. After all, I won't know if it works until I try. I once worked with an amazing voice teacher who would say, "If that's the worse you do, you'll make me a very happy woman." Go out there and create your worst! Sometimes we must allow the bad to grow out like weeds in order for the beautiful to blossom.
Indulge in other media you would 'never' write. As much as I love novels, I don't know if I'll ever write one. I have only attempted a few short stories, and that was challenging enough. But, I have one writer friend who is a published novelist. I have another friend who is a screenwriter and newspaper article writer. I have only basic understanding of all three forms from academic study. I need to keep reading novels and articles and screenplays and study their structure. Perhaps a new genre would emerge to add to my repertoire. Maybe nothing will come from it. That's fine; it's a way of resting my battery. What will you 'never' write?
Rethink deadlines. Yes, I think deadlines are important. But, I don't always like them as a means to an end. Sometimes, I need more time. Yet, giving myself a date when I can no longer work on a piece works wonders. These are different ideas. When I start a new project, setting time goals feels immediately counterproductive. Some people thrive on that. I don't. However, as yet another friend of mine - a playwright - recently said, if he didn't put a script to rest after a few drafts, it would never be a finished piece. He moved onto another play. You, my reader, may need to put an end date on your never-ending projects. If it means enough to you to end it well, you will.
Okay, kids. It has been a productive day for me, and I hope it has been productive for you. I prescribe no percentage of resting versus recharging your creative battery. On some days, you will want to rest more than recharge (or reinvent). Don't despair on those days. Just choose a technique and recharge that battery!