Weekend Edition – Writing When You Don’t Feel Creative plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Writing from the Gray Space

fog riverI had an entirely different post planned for today. I outlined it while watching my daughter ride, jotting notes during the down time between jumps and canters. I was happy with the way the ideas were coming together on the mind map and in my head. I was really looking forward to writing my first draft. That was Tuesday.

Today seems a world away from Tuesday.

It’s not that anything awful happened, but my energy has taken a bit of a nose dive, and I seem to have lost the wonderful groove that had me dancing almost effortlessly through the early part of the week. Now, my mood and outlook match the sluggish gray that hangs on the world outside my window. The crows that usually appear full of mischief and mirth now hunch along the telephone lines wearing a foreboding countenance. Their calls sound lonely.

It’s okay. I know it’s only temporary.

It may not always be convenient or enjoyable, but I have learned (oh, yes, the hard way) that it’s wiser to ride the ups and downs of my energy and creativity than to try to control them. Once upon a time, I would have ignored the signs of a descent into a fallow period. I would have pushed doggedly forward, forcing myself to produce even though my heart and head weren’t invested in the effort. I would have told myself that there was no time to rest and no time to lose. Write, girl, write. Get that job done. Make it happen.

But, while persistence and commitment are both generally admirable qualities, sometimes they aren’t the answer to your creative question. Take today. I could have sat myself down at the keyboard and done my best to write the post I outlined on Tuesday. I could have tried to recapture my sense of enthusiasm on the page, but I knew that in my present state of mind I wouldn’t do the topic justice.

If I’d had a client deadline to meet, I wouldn’t have had the option to delay writing the piece. I would have had to buckle down and make the best of an imperfect situation. (The writing gods know I’ve done this many a time.) But, happily, in this case, I could switch gears and write about something that was better suited to my emotional bent. Which is what I did.

My creative cycle feels like one of those hypnotic Mandelbrot fractal designs, made of the same pattern repeated over and over at different scales. My creativity (and energy to create) ebb and flow over the course of each day, each project, and over the course of weeks, months, seasons, and years. The trick is in learning to work in harmony with the endless undulations of those natural patterns instead of against them.

Of course, each of us must be careful not to mistake Resistance for a natural part of the creative cycle. We must not surrender to a state of total creative paralysis. That is not the same as switching gears or letting projects lie fallow for a time. That is the lizard brain’s default response to fear, and it’s never helpful. Even when I feel unable to work on a particular piece or a certain type of creative endeavor, I strive to always be moving forward in some way.

I look out the window now and the heavy gray has undergone a subtle transformation. No longer heavy and colorless, the sky now appears gently lit from within, the edges deepening to a chalky blue-gray that liquifies in the still surface of the river. Gray can be beautiful – even inspiring – if we can accept it for what it is and learn to create in accord with its rhythms.

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: A Story Framework Can Help Jumpstart Your Writing

The more you learn about the writing craft, the more valuable reading will be to your education. Here’s why.

You’ve heard, of course, that there are two things every writer must do: write and read. It makes a lot of sense. If you are attempting to create a thing, you will benefit from studying that thing in its finished form, getting to know it inside and out, understanding how all the pieces fit together.

Even if you haven’t yet sunk your teeth fully into your study of the writing craft, reading provides much value simply by giving you the experience of being inside a story. Though it may not be immediately obvious, each story you read is teaching you something about the craft. Through broad experience, comparing, and contrasting, you are developing a more critical eye and a sense of what makes a story work for you.

Then, when you’re more invested in your exploration of the craft, you will feel as though your eyes have suddenly been given superpowers. You will read and, instead of just experiencing the surface of a story, you will see all the story’s insides – the clockwork and “magic” that make it come alive and give it the power to pull you into a different dimension. You will notice the key milestones in the story’s structure, the way the author has used direct and indirect characterization to bring life to her players, instances of foreshadowing, and all kinds of other details.

I have been noticing the power of a structural framework in a story. I don’t mean story structure in the archetypal sense, but in a more concrete sense – the way the writer organizes the pieces of the story. I’ve recently read a series of novels that each use a unique pattern to tell the story. For instance:

  • In The Moon Sisters, Therese Walsh tells her story from the points of view of two sisters, Jazz and Olivia. The narration alternates between the two women, switching with each chapter. In addition each chapter begins with a flashback that fills in some of the back story. There are also a series of letters that are revealed throughout the story, adding another layer of context. Finally, the entire book is organized into sections that mirror the five stages of grief.
  • In The Little Country, Charles deLint tells a story within a story, deftly weaving the two together to create a unique reading experience in which we get to experience the two adventures simultaneously.
  • In The Bookman’s Tale, Charlie Lovett shifts point of view and time periods ((Shakespeare’s day, the late 1800s, the mid-80s, and the mid-90s) with each chapter, carefully crafting the story across these characters and eras so that by the end, everything comes together.

While these may seem like complex approaches to storytelling, in my experience having any kind of framework can be immensely helpful to the writing process. Whether I am writing a blog post, an essay, or a marketing ebook, knowing how I’m going to break the piece down into parts gives me a “skeleton” on which I can begin hanging my story. It’s similar to having an outline, except that it doesn’t have anything to do with the actual content of what I’m writing. It just gives me some parameters and constraints about how to organize my content.

If you’re stuck on a piece of writing, you might want to try coming up with a structure and playing with “filling in the blanks,” so to speak. Looking at your story from a different perspective might help you break loose from what you thought was writer’s block.

 

What I’m Reading: Timeskip by Charles deLint

book timeskipI recently shared my delightful discovery of Charles deLint’s Facebook group, The Mystic Cafe.  This community of more than 3,500 fans of myth and fantasy posts a steady stream of links to interesting articles, artworks, and – of course – books. Because of a recent post in that group, I downloaded a copy of Charles deLint’s novella, Timeskip.

Timeskip is one in a series of stories and novellas set in deLint’s fictitious city of Newford. I have loved several of his Newford novels, including Widdershins and Onion Girl, enough to be happily anticipating rereads.

But, Timeskip didn’t thrill me the way that I had hoped. I feel guilty even writing that, like the way I felt as a kid the first time my mom made a dinner that I didn’t like. I wept quietly over my plate, sure I had somehow betrayed my mother.

But, even those we love and admire the most cannot be expected to hit a home run every time. And a single disappointment does not ruin a reader/author relationship. I am already eyeing up my next deLint read. I’m intrigued by another in his Newford Stories series, Crow Girls. I’ll let you know how it is.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin deLint seeing

Here’s to creating something – anything – even when your heart and head are a bit foggy. Happy writing. Happy reading. Happy learning. 
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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 Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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67 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – Writing When You Don’t Feel Creative plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

  1. “The trick is in learning to work in harmony with the endless undulations of those natural patterns instead of against them.” Thank you so much for that! I too go through euphoria and plateau or sometimes an outright dark grey fall. This helped a lot. Currently what is also helping me is to stay very calm, very neutral and write very simply. The words are coming, for once…

    • I’m intrigued by what you said about staying calm writing simply. Have you read If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland? I mentioned it in another weekend edition, and I’m thinking you might enjoy it. It was written during a different era, but there is something about what you’ve said and Ueland’s approach that seem like they might be a good match.

      Thanks for being here and for taking the time to comment. 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing your insights.
    I agree with the quote Radhika used in her comment, rather than trying to work against it, just accept and move forward.

    • Thanks, Francesca. I’m glad that line resonated with you as well. I feel like maybe there’s a T’ai chi connection here. 😉 Not sure. But there is definitely something about working with the available energy instead of trying to change it.

      Nice to have you here.

  3. For a gray time, that bit of writing from the gray space was beautifully done. Sometimes the Muse will have its own way, but usually for good reason. 🙂

    • Thank you, Kaitlin. *blushes*
      I agree that the Muse usually has her way, and we’ll get to where we’re going a lot faster if we choose to work with her.
      Hope you’re writing and reading are going well this week!

      • Yes, I’ve learned to just to with the Muse. She’s usually right. And thank you, they’re going quite well! I’m excited because the A-Z challenge starts soon and I’ll have posts up almost every day. It’ll be good for me to have a rhythm!

  4. I especially enjoyed “Writing from the Gray Space.” You have a wonderful gift and a clear voice. Your experience of a creative blue moon, when energy and/or creativity hit a low, is genuine. Your choice to embrace the void makes sense. Thank you for your great blog.

    • Thank you so much, Linda. What a lovely compliment.
      And, I love your imagery of the “creative blue moon” and “embracing the void.” Very evocative.
      It’s easy, sometimes, to be fooled into thinking that we can harness creativity like a workhorse or plug it in like one of the apps on our phone, but creativity is more like a wild creature. We cannot expect to turn it on and off; instead we need to develop a relationship and engage in a conversation. It’s more work, but ultimately so much more rewarding.

      Thanks for being here and sharing your thoughts.

  5. I don’t believe in forced creativity. But then again, I don’t have to work with a deadline. I wonder if those who write books and successfully published them have written two different versions of their bestsellers; one that they wrote only when they are inspired, and one when they forced themselves to produce. They can even have a combination of both for a third example, which I guess is the case in most cases, but I think I’m rambling so I better stop here.

    • What an interesting question.
      Professional writers must learn to write even when they are not “feeling it.” I think that may be one of the reasons why so many professional writers recommend having several active projects at once. That way, if you’re not “in the mood” to work on one piece, you can switch gears, work on another, and still be productive. Other writers suggest being flexible in your approach to project work – maybe choosing to work on a different part of a novel, for instance, or focusing on editing instead of writing, if writing new material doesn’t seem to be in the cards on a specific day. The key, I think, is in being adaptable and flexible.

      Nice to “see” you, as always. 🙂

    • Hello, Scarlett.
      I’m delighted you found us, too! 🙂
      Thanks for coming by and welcome to the world of blogging. It’s a pretty cool place, and I look forward to seeing you around more often.

  6. Ah, it looks like you’ve been through the eye of a needle this week too! Writing this week’s post was a struggle for me as well – all black clouds and smoking guns. It wasn’t quite the post that had been forming in my head either, but oh well :). And the next morning, the world seemed different somehow, like I’d finally squeezed through to the other side.
    Isn’t it awful when a book you’ve been looking forward to reading by an author you admire, just doesn’t work? It’s happened twice recently – the first book I just didn’t enjoy the story and didn’t care about what happened to the characters, and the other one – oh, there were some absolute gems, but the language she used was unreadable to me (she is a devout Christian and referenced the bible on every page). So disappointing!
    I loved the reads, especially the Gretchen Rubin article and the blog about the woman who went from a kindergarten teacher to a best selling author through self publishing. I wonder though – all those stories I’ve heard about successful self publishing are romance novels. That’s not really my genre 🙂

    • Through the eye of the needle, indeed. I absolutely adored your post Weekly Inspiration #39. I had bookmarked it earlier after a quick peek, but just gave myself the treat of sitting and reading it slowly. I just love your encounter with the river and the river dragon. I felt like I had experienced a vicarious release of pressure while reading about your dive into watery realms. Thank you for that!

      It is awful when a book you’d had high hopes for disappoints. At least I’ve learned to let go of books if they fail to capture my heart. I want to make as much room in my life for the favorite reads, and if that means putting the mediocre ones aside unfinished, so be it.

      Funny you chose to comment on those two blog posts (Rubin’s and the one about the Kindergarten-teacher-turned-writer) … or, maybe not. You seem to have a keen sense for points of connection. The Rubin one has me thinking a lot about habits in general and I’m exploring some different tools and practices that I plan to share in a future post. As for the one about the Kindergarten teacher, I actually hesitated to post it because it seemed like such an “outside” case. And, I’m with you, romance just isn’t my thing. There’s nothing wrong with a (good) romance, but it sometimes makes me sad how many people are so focused on the traditional idea of romantic love, and miss out on so much of the other magic that exists in the world and in our hearts.

      Anyway, I digress.

      Thanks, as always, for being here, Sara. I hope your autumn arrives more fully soon, and you can stop suffering from heat-tangled sheets and mosquitoes. 😉

      • You would not believe it Jamie, but the very next day, Autumn arrived. Not a minute too soon, believe me.
        I too put away mediocre books now. The press of all the amazing books I have yet to read is felt keenly, and life is too short, you know?
        I feel the same way about romance – sometimes I like to read what is called chick lit, because I like stories about friendship and connection ( yes, well spotted), but romance, just romance by itself? Boring. There is so much more to life.

      • Hooray for autumn! Though we are just breaking into spring here, part of me envies you the sensation of fall. It is my favorite season, and one I look forward to even when I’m enjoying the others.

        I also find straight-up romances boring, and prefer stories that are about all different kinds of friendships and connections. I am currently reading Joanne Harris’ sequel to Chocolat, which I think may fall at least partially into that category, although it also includes a little magic, much culture, and what feels to me a bit like poetry.

        Here’s to filling our short lives with the best books! 😉

  7. It takes a wise countenance to trust in yourself. The ebb and flow of creativity has a rhythm, and like the tides, it cannot be controlled.

  8. Thanks for this post. I have had a difficult days writing today. I try to empty my mind of personal arguments that may have occurred in my private life before I start writing. Unfortunately that is sometimes easier said than done. That coupled with the lack of sleep thanks to my gorgeous 2 year old son. It’s a combination that spells disaster for a lot of writers I’m sure. Some days are easier than others. However, the days when it does click are well worth the wait! 🙂 when that creative mind returns it is welcomed with open arms!

    • Hello, Mark.
      Sorry to hear you’ve also been having a tough time this week, but you sound confident that there will soon be better days when the writing “clicks.”

      I think that my moment of gray was influenced by some circumstances of my personal life. Writers, like any artist, are especially challenged to separate life from work because our work is derived – directly or indirectly – from our lives, our experiences. The writing can be a mirror, an escape, or a safe haven. It can be a way to dive deeper into ourselves, or create an artificial distance (a distance, which I believe is only an illusion). But whatever our relationship with our writing, it is woven into the fabric of our days. It is part of who we are. A writer cannot truly quit being a writer the way someone else might quit a job.

      This is why we ride out the difficult days. Writing is not an option. Easy or hard, it’s part of how we exist in the world.

      • I completely agree Jamie. An escape or a safe haven is the perfect way to describe it. 🙂 it’s our world until we are ready to share it. Thanks again. Mark

  9. Funny I just accidentally clicked on this post while taking a break from my writing today; in fact-today I am writing about procrastination! “…strive to always be moving forward in some way…” hit home for me, and I thank you for that kick in the pants I needed! 😀

    • What a happy accidental click! Glad you landed here. 😉

      And glad that something in my post spoke to you and maybe helped (in some small way) to keep you moving forward.

      Happy writing!

  10. It’s interesting how many writing people have had trouble these few days getting out on the sheet what they wanted or planned to. I liked the way you presented the problem, and absolutely agree with one of the comment replies that several projects sound pretty reasonable. I’ve been struggling these couple of days to put down a story I planned, but failing to start it off, then trying to write down the middle part that seemed closer to me at the time, and finally giving up as a whole. On the other hand I wrote a very nice intro into another story (I do not know how long it will be at this time, it was just an idea until yesterday) that came in just the right way, maybe even more emotional than I intended at first. I never know the details until the story travels the distance from my head to my fingers.

    Anyway, nice post, I think I’ll be following your blog form now on!

    • Thank you, Ivan. I’m glad you’ll be following the blog from now on. 😉

      And, I’m also glad that you were able to switch things up with your muse in order to keep writing. And, how wonderful that the story that ended up coming to you was one so unexpectedly emotional. I hope you continue to ride that wave for a while!

    • Oh – absolutely! When I feel really stuck, picking up a book can help me stop my wheels from spinning. It’s almost like the words on the page are medicine for what ails, working in the background to cure my creative paralysis. I swear, sometimes, I can almost feel things loosening up as the ideas begin to break loose. 😉

      Thanks for being here and taking the time to comment and share!

  11. Jamie – I’m sorry to hear you’re at the low end of your energy cycle; perhaps it’s already on the upswing since I’m a couple days late in reading. As a tangler, I’m fascinated by your link to info on Mandelbrot and I look forward to studying more about him. The way you linked his work to how we utilize our own patterns of energy and creativity was such an eye-opener. It has made me think of several personal correlations – all grist for future blogging. Thank you!!

    • Hello, Sammy!
      Well, my productivity is on the upswing because my deadlines demand it. 😉
      And my creative/muse side is squirming around impatiently, ready to get back in the driver’s seat as soon as I can clear some of this roof-over-our-heads work off my plate.

      I’m so happy to have introduced you to Mandelbrot. I don’t know that much, but saw a show once about all the naturally occurring fractals. It’s pretty darn fascinating. And, as a tangler, I can totally see how you would be visually drawn to those patterns.

      And – yay for providing grist for future blogging. That’s the BEST! (Happy to oblige.)

      Thanks for coming by. Always nice to “see” you.

  12. Dearest Jamie

    “No longer heavy and colorless, the sky now appears gently lit from within, the edges deepening to a chalky blue-gray that liquifies in the still surface of the river. Gray can be beautiful – even inspiring – if we can accept it for what it is and learn to create in accord with its rhythms.”

    WOW – you are one of the few writers who leaves me with no choice but to read, revel in and respect their every word! Muaah

    Anyway, if I waited until I was ready to write, I would never write. LOL

    I have never experienced a state of ‘flow’, even while penning some much-loved pieces for my clients. I have always struggled with focus and productivity, and my ongoing struggle with eating disorders doesn’t help.

    But, like you mentioned in one of your comments (which are just as engrossing as your main posts), ‘writing is woven into the fabric of our lives.’ It is certainly woven into the fabric of my being.

    So even I am not writing, I am thinking about writing or obsessing about my failure to write! LOL

    Since last week, I have decided to leave Wednesdays for my personal creative pursuits, which gives me a break from hustling to meet external demands! 😉

    LOVE you, love your work and love this new blog theme (noticed it last week 😉 ) #HUGS

    Kitto

    • Hi, Kitty! Sorry my reply didn’t show up attached to your comment. It’s here, though! 🙂

  13. Hello, Kitty.
    Always so nice to “see” you here. 🙂

    Thanks for all your kind words, and congratulations for putting Wednesdays aside for your creative pursuits. That’s a Big Deal! Good for you! I am hoping to do something like that in the not-too-distant future … maybe every other Friday or something like that. We each need our own, little creative haven. It can be so hard to find/make, and – once we’ve discovered it or carved it out of our day – tough to protect from all the encroachments that Real Life sends our way.

    I hope you are able to build a figurative moat around your special Wednesdays. 🙂

  14. I’ve only just coma across your blog suggested by Google, I know my stories may never be as impressive as Charles Dickens, and my other articles may lack the flair of more experienced writers
    But I do have a passion for writing the only foggy time, is finding new subject to write about once that comes into view and a suitable title – the fog lifts
    Keep up the good work of writing on your blog

    • It’s always a good feeling when the fog lifts, isn’t it?
      I’m glad Google sent you our way. Nice to “meet” you. 🙂

      I find that curiosity is a good provider of subject matter. Like a small child, I ask “Why?” a lot, and also, “What if …?”

      Enjoy the exploration, the discovery, and the writing.

  15. Pingback: From Live To Write -Write To Live- Writing from the Gray Space |

  16. Pingback: Your Favorite 2015 “Weekend Edition” and “Short and Sweet” Writing Posts | Live to Write – Write to Live

  17. Thanks very much, Jaime. I have given quite a lot of thought to structure to finally get my book project going. I have been more of a panster than a planner so this has been quite a change for me but as I’m writing non-fiction, it’s been quite effective xx Rowena

    • Excellent! Glad to hear that any of this helped, even if only in a small way. Having just read Stephen King’s memoir/craft book (“On Writing”), I have admit that this die-hard plotter can see the appeal of pantsing. I think, however, that my Type-A personality would rebel and go rogue. 😉

      Good luck with your project!

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