“The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed. Proficiency and results come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, or combining relaxation with activity.” – Aldous Huxley “From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is … Read more Stalling: Why Letting Go is the Key to Regaining Lift
I have a love-hate relationship with thinking. Sometimes, I get in these kinds of flow states where I follow my train of thought – connecting the dots along the way – to an exciting, unexpected destination. When I follow my thoughts in this way, I find it euphoric. I often derive my best writing doing … Read more Stuck in the Clouds: An Aviator’s Guide to Pointless Overthinking
The seeds of doubt were planted at a young age. I can’t tell you exactly when, but I know it started in childhood. I was lead to believe I wasn’t capable, that I would struggle in this life. In particular, concerns surrounded my abilities in English. At first, my parents worried that I had a … Read more Why I Write
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman (Source: The Living Wisdom of Howard Thurman: A Visionary for Our Time) I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘what do you mean the ONLY … Read more The Only Thing The World Needs From You
I realise that writing a book is like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle. Except you have to make the pieces first. You make the pieces and then work out where they go. You move them around until everything just sort of clicks into place. Then you flesh out the spaces in between.
The hardest part for me is discarding the pieces that don’t fit. That’s probably why I hate/am so bad at editing. You’ve got to murder your darlings. You’ve got to be ruthless about which make the final cut and which don’t. Instead of trying to cram everything in because you’re unable to let go.
I’ve already run into this problem with my introduction. I’ve got a good idea of how it’s going to go and I’m keeping the foot down. Just writing and writing and writing, as so many of you advised last week. I’ve gotten off to a flying start! But I can already see whole sections I’ve worked on being sent to bin.
Still, I’m trying not to think about killing my darlings just yet. I’m simply placing them in a maybe folder for the time being while I continue to write. (This helps me let them go without having to actually let them go.)
In the coming weeks and months I’ll be posting various pieces of this massive jigsaw puzzle. Some will make the cut. Others, undoubtably, will not. And you probably won’t get them in the correct order. I’m still in the constructing the pieces stage (as opposed to piecing them together stage). So, you’ll have to bare with me.
My process is a little bit messy but I realised, following all the excellent advice given last week, that I need to trust that process. I’m a free-flow pilot. When my muse goes on a tangent it’s important I let it. Even if it runs out of steam and comes to nothing. That often happens.
But I know it can connect the dots in a way my conscious mind can’t. I know that every now and then it leads me to a destination I never expected. Somewhere way better. This has already started to happen.
That, for me, is what makes the process of writing such as joy. It’s a rollercoaster. When the muse gets going, boy oh boy is it a blast. Honestly, I can’t wait to take you all along for the ride.
So my muse decided to take a holiday recently. He packed his bags and went to Hawaii or somewhere. And I know he’s been sitting in the sun drinking Pina Coladas the whole time.
That smug bastard.
Now, I should say I told him to take a break. The problem is, I’ve found it hard to get back into the flow of things. It turns out my muse enjoyed his holiday a little too much!
1I figured the break would do me good. I thought I would be raring to go by the time “I was ready” to write again. But that’s not been the case.
This is odd given my firm belief that you should take a break if you find the muse begging. In my experience you only end up creating more work for yourself if you try to force it.
If you feel overly stressed or burnt-out, I suggest you walk away and grab a beer. Catch up with some friends. Play with your children. Whatever it is, sometimes the muse just needs a little time to connect the dots.
I swear it works wonders.
That said, I’ve realised that there is such a thing as too much time off. So much so that muse forgets the dots altogether. You still need to show up most days.
If you want to increase your creativity, you need some perseverance. Of course, you have to be around to catch the muse when that smug bastard actually bothers to show up.
Consistency and creativity go hand in hand.
The trick, I think, is to make sure you show up almost every day. But make sure, when you sit down to write, you do so without any expectations. Don’t pressure yourself to create something you must publish. Just aim to have some fun. Horse around a little.
Speak your mind.
Then review it in the light of the next day. It doesn’t matter whether you wrote complete garbage. Ruthlessly murder all of your darlings if you have to.
What matters is that you showed up. This is how you learn. This is how you improve. The more you do this, the more willing your muse will ultimately be.
With that said – and this is perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned during my recent creative leave of absence – what matters most of all is that you show up for life first and foremost. Your muse isn’t going to play ball if you have bigger fish to fry.
To quote Steven King, “Life is not a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”
The real reason I took an extended leave of absence is because my wife got a job offer in Singapore. Provided the visa gets approved, I will be tendering my resignation and leaving behind a job and a life here in Hong Kong I’ve spent the last decade building.
Of course we needed some time to prepare ourselves for this potential move. I also needed some time to process my emotions which, as you can imagine, have been a little over the place.
Between this, my full-time job and parenting two frenetic boys, I decided to put blogging on the back burner for a while.
Honestly, I’m glad I did. It’s been a bit of a struggle to get back into it, but here I am. I feel ten times lighter for it.
The good news is my muse – that smug bastard – is starting to come round. And guess what?
He’s rocking a sweet tan.
He’s telling me, it’s time to get down to business.
I was watching an interview with John Cleese recently and he said something that got me thinking. When asked about his creative process he said, “You cannot bully the subconscious. It simply doesn’t work.” He went on to say that his best work always happened spontaneously.
He still had a process, it’s just that the muse didn’t always play ball. Often the work that resulted wasn’t very good. They’d have days where none of the material was used.
He noted, it is usually when they weren’t trying to make something happen – when they were simply messing around – that everything would start to click. Suddenly the muse would come out to play and what resulted was comedic gold.
I often hear bloggers write about the need to have a process. A specific time where you commit to writing each day. A place where you sit down and “punch the damn keys” as one blogger regularly puts it.
Of course, if you don’t form the habit it’s much harder to catch that bastard muse when it strikes. Having a process is about creating the conditions that make it more likely to come out and play. Not to mention that you’re committing yourself to improve through regular practice.
That said, I wonder if there might be a little too much emphasis on habit formation nowadays? Something I rarely hear bloggers make mention of is this idea of spontaneity. This idea of being ready for when the muse strikes outside of your normal routine.
I don’t know about you but often when I commit to writing, the muse is nowhere to be found.
I say, “Ok buddy, time to sit down and write. Gotta crack out that weekly post!”
My muse: “Sure thing buddy, just hold on a minute would you…”
At this point he goes into the kitchen and cracks open a six pack of beer before sitting down on the sofa and proceeding to binge watch NETFLIX…
Oh wait that’s me!
Anyway, on the rare evenings I do employ willpower and commit myself to writing, my muse remains silent.
When that happens I end up writing in circles. I’m like, “Hey muse, you wanna help me out here?” Of course he doesn’t. Instead my internal critic starts editing the post well before it’s finished as I become increasingly aware that what I’m writing is complete dog shite. So I go back and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite…
And then what happens?
Not only do I become stressed, I end up butchering the post in question. I actually create more work for myself trying to fix the mess I made, simply because I didn’t walk away.
You cannot bully the subconscious.
At this stage I’ve found the best thing you can do to aid the creative process is not engage in it. Take a break. Go for a leisurely walk. Mess around with your children. Be silly. Have a beer. Maybe, even, binge watch some NETFLIX. (Hell yeah!)
Do this and I’ve found the brain works in the background connecting the dots in ways that it couldn’t when you were trying to force it. So much so that when you do come back to write, it’s not only easier, but much better to boot.
There’s something else I figured out too. I’ve noticed it’s when I’m not thinking about anything in particular – when I’m busy doing something else – that my muse gives me my best ideas. In fact, he usually visits at 2am when I’m struggling to sleep.
He says, “Hey numb nuts I’ve got an awesome idea, wanna hear it?”
“Not now muse! I’m trying to sleep!”
Then my muse says, “Fuck you, I’m gonna tell you anyway (my muse is a bit of a dick). Here it is…”
At which point he explains in painful detail this amazing idea for a blog post.
So I say, “Ok muse – that’s a good one, I’ll admit. But I really must sleep. Can you remind about it in the morning and let me go back to sleep?”
Of course he doesn’t. He says, “You’ll forget in the morning numb nuts. It’s now or never! Here let me explain that idea to you again in painful detail…”
Eventually I’ll get up in anger and write down as many thoughts about the idea as I can, as quickly as I can. Often I won’t think. I’ll just write. Sometimes I’ll write a first draft in less than 20mins.
It will just “flow” out of me.
When I revisit it in the morning I often go, “holy shit, that’s far better than anything I’ve written in a while.”
Interestingly enough, if I do wait on that idea, if I try to revisit it later on, the writing doesn’t gel nearly as well. My muse (that smug bastard) is usually right.
Sometimes you gotta play when the subconscious wants to, not the other way round.
I’ve noticed the same thing happens to me when I go for a walk around my local park. An idea will pop into my head that’s too good to ignore.
At this point my muse is jumping up and down like a dog in heat as a post will suddenly form in my head. When this happens I take out my phone and start writing.
Once again it kinda flows out of me. I feel this usually results in my most interesting, if not my best, work.
It’s for all the above that I take a somewhat freer approach to my writing nowadays. I still try to write at the same time everyday, but I don’t force it anymore. I take a daily-ish approach. I’ve become much better at recognising when to walk away – when It’s clear that a little NETFLIX will actually do me some good.
I’ve also come to recognise the importance of writing when my muse is busting a gut. Unless it has to wait, practically speaking, I will try to sit down and write as soon as that idea has popped into my head.
While you cannot bully the subconscious, it can, on occasion, bully you. My experience is, when it comes to the creative process, you should let it.
(I’m curious, how do you engage in the creative process? Do you have a particular time and place where you sit down to write? Or do you take a more freestyle approach? What works bet for you and what other tips do you have? As always I’m very keen to hear your thoughts. Warm regards, AP2.)