The Magic of Clarity
Writing is an alchemical process that transforms modest words into entire worlds. We begin with an amorphous idea and the ability to string words together in a way that taps into our senses and emotions. We weave a spell that evokes a sense of time and place and experience. Using only these humble tools, we build an alternate reality. We give life to the players on our stage and send them off into adventures of our own devising. If that is not magic, I don’t know what is.
Imagination and creativity are oft-cited ingredients in the story-crafting elixir, but there is another, less frequently cited ingredient that is at least (if not more) important: clarity.
Clarity is both your inspiration and your North Star.
Though you may not know it, it is often the spark that ignites your imagination. It is that bolt of lightning that strikes you – a compelling character, thought-provoking question, or deep belief – that will eventually pierce the earth of your creative mind to become the roots of a story. And, once those roots have taken hold, clarity is the guiding force that shapes your story.
Clarity brings focus and purpose to your writing. It illuminates the ultimate reason you’re driven to write a thing and it helps you make critical decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Clarity is like a pair of enchanted glasses that filters out everything extraneous so you can hone in on exactly the things you need to tell your story. When you have clarity about your writing, you know what you want to say and you know how you want to say it. Writer’s Block becomes a thing of the past.
So, for your craft, clarity is a boon, a near-magical tool that gives you the power to sharpen your storytelling skills and put the weight of purpose and intention behind your writing work. But what about in your writing life?
Last Saturday’s weekend edition asked whether you are a plotter or a panster in your writing life. Are you intentional about where you want to go as a writer and how you get there, or are you kind of winging it and following the path of least resistance? About a month ago, I asked, once again, why we write and included links to some earlier posts on the topic. This is clearly a question that fascinates me. What drives us to write at all? What drives us to write particular kinds of things?
I’m not here to say that one path or one purpose is better than any other. Each of us is on a unique journey.
I’m just curious about what might happen if in addition to applying clarity to our craft, we also sought clarity about the driving force behind our craft … the “why” of our writing. I wonder how digging down to the roots of our creative urges and desires might change or enhance our work.
What do you think? Have you already discovered the why that fuels your creativity, or are you unsure about where it all comes from? Do you think understanding your personal source would be good for your work, or somehow rob it of some power?
What I’m Learning About Writing:
My daughter has a dog-walking business, and sometimes (when dogs need to be walked before school gets out, for instance) yours truly has the pleasure of taking one set of pooches or another out for an afternoon stroll. Yesterday afternoon it was the fine pair of Zeus, a handsome standard poodle, and Miss Pippa, a feisty little corgi.
As the three of us made our somewhat mincing way along the slushy roadside, I let myself get a little lost in thoughts about the value of clarity and intention and purpose in my writing. It was no small accomplishment to keep my train of thought while simultaneously managing Zeus in my right hand, Pippa in my left, and my own two feet. My exploratory reverie was interrupted only when Miss Pippa managed to get us tangled up in her leash. Unfortunately, this was a fairly frequent occurrence.
No matter how many times I tried to convince her to stay on my left side, little Pippa kept somehow kept winding up on my right. The trouble was that she got there by crossing behind me, a maneuver that meant I had to either twirl around (raising both leashes over my head as though I were some kind of human May Pole) or manage to nimbly jump (backwards, mind you) over Miss P’s leash. Obviously, neither of these were easy to accomplish, especially with Zeus tugging ahead and ice underfoot.
My moment of oh-my-gods-of-course epiphany came when I realized that all I had to do to avoid this knotted situation was to hold Zeus’ leash in my left hand and Pippa’s in my right. Problem solved.
You’re probably shaking your head at my inability to figure this solution out faster. I don’t blame you. But, the thing is, I was so set on doing things a certain way, that I never even considered how such a simple change could eliminate the issue. The same thing can apply to our creative endeavors. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in a certain approach or process that we become blind to all the alternatives. We get, almost literally, stuck in our ways.
But, a quick shift in your perspective or practice might be all it takes to unravel a knot or remove an obstacle.
How might you change things up to better facilitate flow in your creative work? Is there something you’re doing (probably without even realizing it) to hinder your progress?
What I’m Reading:
I don’t typically read memoirs, but last spring my friend Alison Gresik published her travel memoir, Pilgrimage of Desire. Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed that it took me this long to get around to reading it. I’m also very glad that I finally made the time to travel alongside Alison on her journey.
In the afterword, Alison beautifully sums up the purpose behind her labors on this book ~
I wrote Pilgrimage of Desire for all those who feel trapped in a life that doesn’t let them practice their creativity in a way that feeds their soul, for those who have so much to express but have boxed themselves in with rules and responsibilities.
The book is an account of several milestone events in Alison’s life including the adoption of her two children, and the reinvention of her domestic life when she and her husband embarked on an open-ended trip around the world when their kids were only five and three, and her battle with walking depression. Interwoven with these stories, Alison shares her experience of walking the “desire lines” writing passion.
Alison’s is a story full of simple yet poignant discoveries. As she says of why her modest story matters, “Because it’s not exotic and sensational. I’m not unusual or extraordinary. I’m just a woman who decided to stop trying to be a good girl and go after what she wanted. A woman who realized that she could do more for the world by being herself.”
One of my favorite passages in Pilgrimage tells of Alison’s experience of rediscovering her own god, Amma, while walking a labyrinth at a women’s retreat. I also loved the honest thoughts she shared about the fears and desires each of us has about her creative work such as, “I needed to reframe work as something I did for myself as much as others – a way of caring for myself, a source of meaning and joy, not just of money and approval.”
And this moment, when she addressed her work-in-progress, made me want to stand up and cheer,
Pilgrimage, let’s have some angels join us in the writing. The Angel of Flow, who wears watered silk in shades of blue. The Angel of Love in pink spandex. The Angel of Poetry, black and white words dripping off her fingers. The Angel of Getting Your Shit Together, in tight jeans and a rock-and-roll T-shirt. The Angel of Truth and Beauty, who combines the grace of Venus with the mouth of a trucker. Together we’re going to rock this manuscript.
At the end of each chapter, Alison includes exercises that you, as a fellow seeker of creative fulfillment, can use to help uncover your own patterns, motivations, and triggers. She draws on her experience as a student and creative coach, generously sharing words of wisdom and resources she has found on her journey.
If you are an artist and a seeker, if you are someone who is trying to find your way on a creative journey and might benefit from following the faintly luminescent trail of someone who has walked the labyrinth before you, Alison Gresik’s memoir, Pilgrimage of Desire might be the perfect traveling companion.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- The 50 Best First Sentences in Fiction
- How Can the Average Writer Make Money Self-Publishing E-Books? by @BrianKlems via @WritersDigest
- The trolls inside by Seth Godin
- How Writing Has Changed Me by @joshua_becker
- The Roller Coaster Of Being A Writer. Do You Ever Feel This Way? by @thecreativepenn
- 25 Things Creative People Do Differently
- 5 Ways to Make Your Blogging Life Easier by @veggie_mama via @problogger
- Six short stories to listen to right now by @andreabadgley
- IFTTT: How to use IFTTT for Social Media Automation by @IanCleary
- 10 Tips for Writing Blog Posts Faster w/out Sacrificing Quality by @adamsconsulting
- Conduct Better Phone Interviews: 5 Strategies for Freelance Writers via @thewritelife
- A Vivid Life. A Creative Life. by @juliedaley
- 5 Point Checklist To Help Writers Get to Know Their Characters by @JodyHedlund
- The Entrepreneurs Guide to Tax Season via @fresh_exchange
- What if you treated your business like an experiment? by @nikkigroom
- A Weird Way to Beat Writer’s Block by March McKay via @write_practice
- Stop Apologizing for Wanting Work/Life Balance by @riaskaya via @99u
- Sorry, Ebooks. These 9 Studies Show Why Print Is Better by @maddiecrum
Finally, a quote for the week:
Here’s to gaining clarity and finding purpose, but always following your desire lines and being open to the obvious solutions that are right in front of you. xo
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
Lightning Photo Credit: zachstern via Compfight cc