Managing the Writer Brain
I’m coming (gods of keyboards and first drafts willing) to the end of some particularly intense copywriting projects. While I am infinitely grateful for the work (not to mention being able to do it from the comforts of my cat-run home office), my decidedly finite energy reserves are clearly reaching critical levels. If I am going to survive the holiday season without a major implosion, a bit of a respite is definitely in order.
It’s at times like these, when I’m all strung out on the pressures of “shipping,” that my split-personality surfaces.
On one hand, there’s the diligent, task master who has had me rising at 4:30 (yes, AM) to get a couple hours in before my daughter wakes up. This nose-to-grindstone gal suffers no fools and is savagely generous with the guilt she dishes out should my mind wander for even a moment. She keeps up a sharp and disapproving diatribe designed to keep me moving forward via an endless poke-poke-poke approach to motivation.
On the other hand, there’s my inner rebel. For a rebel, she’s actually quite placid, but she stages small, frequent protests in the form of daydreams and other cerebral interruptions. While my knuckle-rapping teacher persona paces back and forth behind my chair, my inner rebel slips me surreptitious notes about story ideas and characters.
It is challenging to maintain a high level of productivity during times like these. My brain crackles with the constant firing of adversarial synapses and my focus is caught in the crossfire.
It seems a bit unfair that my inner rebel seems happiest to release her creativity when I am least able to take advantage of the inspiration. She always seems to wait until the most inappropriate moment to start filling my head with visions of scenes and bits of story lines. Though it’s clear that I am up against a deadline and haven’t a moment to spare, she sashays up with a new (and very intriguing) character in her wake. Ignoring my protestations completely, she makes the introductions and leaves me to deal with the awkward silence that ensues.
It’s all rather intimidating. I mean, I’m only a mere mortal. Who am I to stand up to either of these divas?
I’m the writer, that’s who.
Sometimes I forget that. Sometimes, I let these two fool me into thinking that they are the ones in charge. It’s easy to get swept up in their drama, especially when they are almost always flanked by supporting cast members like Doubt and Fear. It’s amazing what a few stage whispers from Doubt does to heighten my stress levels.
But, I’m learning to take charge. Instead of letting these prima donnas boss me around, I am figuring out that – like a director handling Hollywood-sized egos – I just need to manage them. I need to convince them that I’m not only listening, but letting their rants drive my actions. Even though, in truth, I am just humoring them and staying focused on my own priorities.
My technique is far from perfect. There are still days when the muse, in either of these forms, gains the upper hand. Sometimes I have to throw my hands up in surrender or resort to bribery. Sometimes I just have to get up, get out, and clear my head so I can start fresh.
Though we may hate to admit it, the writer brain is not a place where balance and harmony can reign long. Our gray matter is a seething hotbed of conflict and tension. It has to be. That’s where the creative energy comes from. That’s what takes us to the place where great stories live. Though we may find brief moments of peace in the chaos – days when both the task master and the rebel are satisfied – for the most part, we exist (more or less happily) in the bubbling cauldron of creativity. It may be messy and hard to manage, but – let’s be honest – we wouldn’t have it any other way.
What I’m Writing:
This week has been spent (almost) 100% working on the copywriting projects that pay my bills. Though my inner creative rebel rails against these corporate assignments, I’m trying to show her that even though they seem to be all business and no fun, they can still provide the opportunity to practice our creative craft. And, more pragmatically, they keep a roof over our heads so that we’re not left to sit outside in the cold with no WiFi.
In addition to working on website content and ebook copy, I am preparing to record a marketing podcast with my colleague Jon Buscall. I’ve had the pleasure of appearing on his show a couple of times, including a fun episode called Bringing Branding Back. I’m very much looking forward to our next on-air chat and am excited about writing up my thoughts on the creative topic we’ve decided to discuss.
Finally, I’m also incorporating a bit of writing into some of my holiday gifts, but I can’t say more than that in case any of my family members are reading this. My last weekend edition talked about the gift of your writing in a much more metaphorical way, but this week I’m being very literal about it. And, I’m having fun.
What I’m Reading:
Just last night, I finished a book by Maryanne O’Hara called Cascade. Once again, my book club coerced me into reading a book that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. Set around the time of the Great Depression, the novel is loosely based on the true story of a small town that was destroyed and flooded in the process of building a reservoir that would provide water to the city of Boston. Even the woman who selected the book for our club admitted that the beginning was a bit slow, but I was hooked by the artistic dilemma of the protagonist – Dez – a young woman painter who is struggling to pursue her art even during times of economic disaster, war, and personal crisis.
Though the book tackles many larger issues, the intimate passages that describe Dez’s relationship with and pursuit of her art are the ones that stay with me. For instance, in one such passage, she thinks about the dangers of succumbing to domestic urges as a way to avoid a creative challenge,
“She knew better: when artistry seems most elusive is when you must focus, dig deep, and force yourself to think about how to give form to an idea that seems almost too vague to express. The worst thing is to give in to distraction, to chores that need doing, to anything that deludes you into pretending you are so busy you can’t focus on your work.”
Ain’t that the truth.
The story is something of a Shakespearean tragedy, beautifully written, and very evocative of that difficult time in American history. O’Hara blends the details of Dez’s life almost seamlessly with the larger maelstrom of changes happening in the world around her. I recommend this book as a good story, a lovely piece of writing, a bit of a history lesson, and an inspiration for anyone pursuing art despite challenging circumstances.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- 50+ ways to make money as a writer by Alexandra Franzen
- Commonalities Of Successful Indie Authors Plus A New Way To Find An Editor by @thecreativepenn
- Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Successful Author? by @JaneFriedman
- How to find the courage to execute on big bold plans by @PeterShallard
- 10 Ways to Feel More Joyful (In Any Season) by @JenGresham
- 51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences In Literature by @jmschaff
- How to Write Better: 3 Secrets to Transmitting Naked Emotions via @writetodone
- Jami Gold’s Writing Worksheets via @kathytemean
Finally, a quote for the week:
Here’s to learning how to manage your own unruly muse, and to good books, and all the writing that you do -even the things that are just for money. It all counts.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally – trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.