Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Creative Process

by Teresa Slack

There are as many different ways to get the creative juices flowing as there are writers. Just because some methods work for one writer does not mean they will work the same for another. We all have to experiment and play around to see what gets those words down on the page.

Like every other writer, I’ve read books about how to be more productive. One exercise I’ve read about on more than one occasion is called among other things; free writing. The premise is that you set the clock for a certain amount of time—not very long in the beginning—remove all distractions, clear your mind, put the pen to paper, and start writing. One writer of a book that guaranteed freedom in writing and thought, suggested it be done every morning immediately upon rising. As you got better at the exercise you were to add time until you were free writing for one hour.

I tried this for several mornings in a row. I still have the notebooks to prove it. This exercise never worked for me. On a good day, I recounted the dreams I had from the night before. Other mornings I wrote line after line of complaints. This is dumb. Why am I doing this? I bet Sue Grafton isn’t up doing this. What a waste of an hour. I could be sleeping. Or at least kick boxing. I gave it up after five or so mornings with nothing more to show for it than a few pages of bitter, nearly incoherent ramblings of a cranky, sleep deprived literary genius who really could have spent the time on her gluts. At least those exercises would’ve benefited me in some way.

Free writing does not summon my muse, connect me with my inner child, or increase my productivity during my regular writing time. It just annoys me that I lost an hour of my day. Maybe exercises like this work wonders for your creativity. If so, great. Don’t agonize that your way isn’t for everyone. Neither is what works for me, I’m sure.

After all these years, and more than a few wasted on procrastination and excuse making, what works for me is writing. Plain old, plop myself down in the chair and make myself write whether I want to or not writing. More than once I sat down in front of a blank monitor without anything to start on, and my fingers have taken over. That’s when writing is at its best. When words and ideas are flowing effortlessly. That’s when I praise God for making me a writer.

Then there’s all the rest of the time. I sit and stare and nothing happens. I can’t think of a word. I force out something and it sounds forced and hollow and dull. Those times I wish I had a nice predictable office job. Those thoughts never last long but they do come.

But I digress. Back to the creative process. We all like to imagine ourselves at a clean, uncluttered desk, our hands poised over the keyboard, a clear view before us of whatever inspires us—whether a snow capped mountain, a picturesque village in the valley below, or a bustling city street—and the ideas and words fly out with no apparent effort on our part. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every workday went like that? But alas, those days are few and far between.

Writing is work. If it weren’t, more people would be doing it instead of just talking about it. It’s hard. It’s not glamorous. It’s too much agony and aggravation for too little acknowledgement and even less actual pay. So why do we do it? Month after month and year after year when the words and ideas are forced, and no one understands why we’re lonely and frustrated?

Because something inside us won’t let us stop. We have to create. We can’t ignore it.

Each of us must find what inspires us, motivates us, keeps our rears glued to the seat when there are a hundred things we could be doing that might better serve humanity, or at least earn a regular paycheck. If we don’t find what it takes, then we are like the rest of the world who talks about writing without ever taking up the pen.

There are plenty of books, courses, and exercises to make us powerful, productive writers. But if we aren’t willing to find and follow our own personal creative process, we’ll still be talking about that book, article, idea, or screenplay we never got around to writing twenty years from now.


Teresa Slack still lives near the small Ohio town where she once dreamed of writing books. Her first novel, Streams of Mercy, won the 2005 Bay Area Independent Publishers Association’s award for “Best First Novel”. Her fifth novel, Evidence of Grace, the third in the popular Jenna’s Creek Series debuted nationwide at #18 according to Christian Retail Magazine. She is currently working on Book 4 of her series. To learn more about Teresa and her books, visit her online at http://www.teresaslack.com/.

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