Weekend Edition – The Secret of Creative Space Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Your writing needs more than time. It needs space.

space nebulaThere is never enough time to practice your art. You are forever battling against the many demands life puts on the precious hours in your day, fighting for your creative life. You eventually learn that you’re never going to simply find the time, you have to make the time, stealing a few minutes here and a few minutes there. Making choices in order to make art.

So you work hard to carve out pockets of time for yourself. Maybe you get up a little early, or stay up a little late. Maybe you forgo an hour of television, or learn to work amidst the chaos of children who haven’t yet gone to bed. Lunch breaks, waiting in line, your public transport commute – you commandeer these moments for your creative crusade. Each day you wrest another small bit of time from the clutches of life’s obligations and responsibilities.

You are doing a good job. A great job.

You are making progress, taking all-important baby steps towards building your creative life. But, at some point, you start to feel like something isn’t quite “clicking.” The initial elation of (at last!) acquiring time for your art has lost a bit of its shine. Your cache of minutes and hours is growing, but you aren’t feeling any more creatively fulfilled. Something is missing.

•••)o(•••

As intangible as time is, it’s still only an instrument, not an inspiration. Time alone will not release your creativity. Minutes and hours are only an inert ingredient in the creative process. Without the right catalyst, they will just lie there, staring at you reproachfully as they slip, unused, through your anxious fingers.

More than mere time, you need space.

I’m not talking about physical space. I’m talking about headspace.

It’s not enough to simply make the time, you have to give yourself the gift of that time – wholly and without strings.

You have to step into your stolen moments as open, light, and unencumbered as you can be. You want to be happily distracted by the things that pique your curiosity, not tangled up in your day-to-day worries. You want to be able to surrender all your attention to the creative task at hand, setting everything else aside, if only for a brief moment.

You want to lose yourself in the creative process.

This blissful state is often called “flow,” and you find it when you slip into that state of being where you are not so much working on your art as becoming your art. This is the space where your creativity thrives. This is the space that you need to create within the minutes and hours that you’ve fought for.

•••)o(•••

It’s tough to create instantaneous headspace when you’re cramming your writing into the nooks and crannies of a busy day. Though I don’t believe in waiting for the muse, I also don’t believe in on-demand creativity. Imagine inviting your muse to a creative session, and then – the minute she she sits down with a cup of tea – commanding her to inspire you. That probably wouldn’t go down very well, right?

While there’s a case to be made for simply going through the motions in order to jumpstart your creative process, writing is not like laying bricks. Laying bricks is very straightforward. You place one brick atop another with mortar in between, and – over time – you build a wall. It doesn’t much matter what you’re thinking about while you’re stacking the bricks. It’s a purely mechanical process, and the outcome is dictated simply by how much time you put into the effort. More time means more bricks means a bigger wall. Simple math.

Writing, or any other creative endeavor, requires a different kind of approach and an entirely different kind of equation. Creativity is not simply a matter of time + effort = art. Though this approach might eventually produce work you’re proud of simply through persistence and a kind of brute force, you will find the process more pleasant and the results more pleasing if you can add headspace into the mix: time + space + effort = art.

 •••)o(•••

How do you create headspace?

Think of it like giving yourself breathing room.

Like letting go.

Allow your canvas to be blank. Clear your mind. Daydream. Stare out the window into space. Take away the pressure to produce. Eliminate expectations. Schedule creative time to do nothing.

Give yourself permission to step outside your life for a little bit. Forget about your worries. Be someone else. Think someone else’s thoughts.

Setting aside time to work on a particular creative goal is an admirable practice. But letting your inner task master own and manage all your creative time will eventually lead to burn out. You can’t always be pushing. Art is not a race. Consistent work and productivity are good things, but there’s a balance to be struck. All work and no play makes Jane a little sad and crazy. And it definitely robs her of her creative fire, leaving her frustrated and uninspired.

There is a natural ebb and flow to your creativity. And while you cannot ever run out of creativity, you can drain its energy. You can push too hard for too long and get stuck, like a wind-up toy that just keeps trying to walk forward even though it’s hit a wall.

Before you get to that point, give yourself a break. Step back. Explore. Play. Go ahead and fall down the rabbit hole. On purpose. Forget about word counts and just rest your creative muscles. Remember that usually epiphanies come from unexpected quarters. Sometimes the best way to get your synapses firing is to stop trying so damn hard, and instead just relax.

Creating headspace is a matter of removing things in order to make room for other things. Prioritizing things differently, just for a little while.

 •••)o(•••

You will not always be able to add the catalyst of headspace to your writing time. Sometimes, you will only have time, and that’s okay. When that happens, focus your efforts on the more automatic parts of the writing process – editing, research, etc. If it’s all you can manage in that moment, just go through the motions of putting one word after another. Don’t worry about a lack of inspiration. Remember that the ebb and flow is natural. Feel free to make mistakes. Do the work, but don’t let the critical voices in your head make you judge the work before you’re ready.

But when you have the opportunity, give yourself the gift of space to create. Give yourself permission to work without a specific goal, without a safety net, without a predetermined path. Let go of preconceived notions, weighty expectations, and creative assumptions. Claim your creative freedom and rediscover your creative joy.

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: “Just Right” Story/Book Lengths

Painting by Katharine Pyle

Painting by Katharine Pyle

Do you ever wonder about the typical lengths for different kinds of stories and novels? I do.

This week was the first of six classes in the flash fiction course I’m taking via Grub Street’s online venue. While I’ve been learning a lot about the flash fiction form by reading Rose Metal Press’ Field Guide to Flash Fiction, I loved the very simple definition that Sue Williams provided. In a brief video introducing the concept of flash fiction, Williams states that a flash fiction story differs from other similar forms (such as vignettes and prose poems) because it has three elements: character, conflict, and resolution.

As I began noodling on story ideas for my first homework assignment, I repeated this trio of criteria in my head like a mantra, “Character, conflict, resolution … character, conflict, resolution …” I bounced each idea that came to me off these three concepts, and found that it was pretty simple to tell when I had an actual story vs. when I just had a vignette or a prose poem. I still haven’t finished my homework, but I’ve got some good starter ideas.

While I was wrestling with how to tell my stories in the extremely condensed flash fiction form, I came across a Writer’s Digest post that provides “rule of thumb” word count ranges for a variety of written forms. In Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post, Chuck Sambuchino provides an overview of not only standard target word counts for various genres, but also a little insight into why these word counts land where they do, and when it’s okay to break the rules.

Here’s a quick rundown of the standard, “safe” word counts according to Sambuchino:

  • Adult Commercial and Literary Novels: 80,000 – 90,000
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy: 100,000 – 115,000
  • Middle Grade: 20,000 – 55,000
  • Young Adult: 55,000 – 69,999
  • Picture Books: 500 – 600
  • Westerns: 50,000 – 65,000
  • Memoirs: 80,000 – 89,999

 

What I’m Reading: Lots and Lots!

salem athaneum stacksDo you read more than one book at a time?

I used to be a monogamous reader, sticking to just one novel at a time. In recent years, however, I’ve become an overtly polygamous reader. At the moment, I’m reading one novel on my Kindle, listening to another on Audible, and chipping away at several paperback anthologies of short stories. I’m also wrapping up the Field Guide to Flash Fiction and just picked up another book of essays on the craft (which I may or may not get to before it’s due back at the library).

I wonder if my increased reading pace has something to do with getting a little older and feeling the pressure of so-many-books-so-little-time. I feel a certain defiance that makes me want to ignore the rest of the world so that I can read more. I swear that when I’m sitting at my desk, diligently hammering away on client deadlines, the books in my reading pile across the room sometimes whisper to me.

Does that ever happen to you?

 

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 creative surrender

Here’s to giving yourself creative space as well as time. Happy reading. Happy writing. See you on the other side! 
.
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.
.

40 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – The Secret of Creative Space Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

  1. Thanks for the post Jamie! I can relate to this ten times over as I battle against those time demons. Every minute is precious to me. Lunch breaks and short 30-40 minute evening sessions are a common occurrence in my writing life at the moment. Sometimes that’s all it takes to escape to your literacy world. It’s about making the most of the time you do have. Thanks again! Mark

    • It’s definitely about making the most of the time you have, not always pining for more. Sometimes, even a few minutes can – as you said – be enough to spirit you away to your story’s world. I spent a few minutes this morning (as I was making my daughter’s school lunch, slicing watermelon, and feeding the cats) working through the story I’m building for my next flash fiction class assignment. Though I wasn’t sitting and writing, I got a lot done in my head. 🙂

  2. That’s a tricky one for me. I’ve found that I need not only physical time but also an uncluttered mind to be able to write good stuff. I can churn out plenty of rubbish in less than stellar conditions (sometimes also blog posts, fragments of poetry, book reviews) – but the really important stuff, like poetry and novel writing (particularly the novel) needs a lot of blank space around it. That’s my downfall, sadly, because I seldom have that luxury of stepping back, resetting my mind, getting those creative juices flowing unhindered again, without work, family and other background worries kicking in (or else noise, interruptions etc. etc.). I may have 1-2 weeks like that per year – and it shows. I am super-productive and creative during those weeks. But they simply occur far too seldom and I haven’t figured out a way to reproduce them in my day-to-day life.

    • Hello, Marina. It’s been a while. So nice to see you! 🙂

      “Blank space” is the key, isn’t it? And, it’s so hard to come by.
      I am envious of your 1 – 2 weeks per year of being able to step back and reset. I always have the best of intentions to do that for myself (even if it’s only a day here and a day there), but it never seems to work out the way I planned. For the moment, I guess I need to forge ahead and figure out a way to create a reasonable facsimile of such space in my “real” life.

      Early mornings are usually a good bet, but only if I haven’t stayed up working too late the night before.
      I can also sometimes create a little cocoon of time in an odd corner of the day – my daughter’s riding lesson, for instance, has become an hour in which I work on musing and outlining these weekend edition posts. It’s not perfect (there is stuff going on around me – noise, movement, etc. – and I do watch my daughter and even take the occasional video), but I find that I’m starting to condition myself to create during that time.

      I hope you find some way to bring blank space into your days here and there. It’s good for you!

  3. Apologies, automatic spellcheck thinks it knows best! Should read:
    Truly inspirational and so true!

    • Ha! gotta love automatic spellcheck. 😉

      Thanks, Angelique. Nice to see you again, and I’m glad these ideas resonated for you.
      (Thanks for saying so!)

    • Hi, Kelly.
      Thanks so much. I sometimes feel like I’m getting a bit too “teacher-y,” but it’s just a natural inclination. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom. 😉 Mostly, I am just excited to share what I’m learning. I’m like a little kid who figures something out (finally!), and can’t wait to tell EVERYONE ALL about it.

      Thanks for being here & enjoying the rambles!

  4. Creative space…yes. It’s a gentle approach rather than the Protestant whip cracking butt kicking approach that we may be tempted to use 🙂 Creativity has different rules than say cleaning the house or going for a run – we can’t just make it happen through sheer will.

    • Exactly. Persistence and drive have their place, but they must be balanced with that gentler approach. It’s like that old saying about attracting more flies with honey than with vinegar. (Not that anyone should be trying to attract flies …) 😉

  5. Yes! Thanks for articulating this so well – with a demanding schedule, I have to write during my scheduled time whether the muse is there or not. Some days things flow and other days it feels like a grind. I like your reminder to let things go once in a while. Currently between drafts, I’ve found that giving myself permission to use that time without a specific creative goal in mind has been refreshing.

    Also appreciate the writerly posts you always round up – thanks!

    • Hi, CJ.
      ” … time without a specific creative goal in mind …”
      Yes. I want that. 😉

      Sometimes that’s the best way to get yourself from the grind to a flow. Just letting it all go for a bit can be the best way to grease those creative cogs.

      Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoy the post round up!

  6. Duuuuuuuude I am so glad you mentioned headspace! I find that clearing my mind for at least ten minutes through meditation or exercise definitely helps me take advantage of of the nooks and crannies of time I’ve battle for throughout the day. It still takes me a while to get into it, because I’m not an on-demand writer unless it’s a feature or article I’m working on, but creating fiction duuuude if I know I’m going to have an hour I have to prepare otherwise I sit there and 50 minutes go by until awesomeness happens. Then I’m left with only ten and time running out before the buzzer sound of life goes off. So glad you posted this 🙂

    • You make me laugh. 🙂

      I would love to explore pre-writing meditation. I dabble with meditation a bit, but I suppose that is definitely NOT the way to approach a good practice. I do find, however, that if I’m sitting at my desk and starting to go into panic mode on a deadline, stepping away and doing a little meditation (I particularly like the guided meditations on the Buddhify2 app) can make a world of difference in my outlook and my ability to get stuff done.

      I’ll have to think on this some more … and experiment.

      TKS for the inspiration!

  7. You described this very well, thanks! To write you do also need “nothing time.” You need time to watch the patterns of the clouds.

    The best writing I have done in the past two years occurred when I had a respite worker join us at a local campground every morning for two weeks to take care of my youngest daughter. I often had only two hours in which to hike to the “writing dock” (aka the fishing dock) with my camp chair, iPad and stylus — to write and swim. I think my brain was ready each morning for that expected time, and I was gloriously surprised at the writing that evolved for me each day. I haven’t been able to duplicate that same kind of schedule since, and have gone back to stealing moments. Sometimes productive, but not the same swinging in the words like I did then. Someday, I would love to go to a writer’s colony, hoping for this same kind of freedom and plunge into the work. Until then, Happy writing, and here’s to stolen moments!
    Mary (campingfancy.com)

    • Hello, Mary.

      First of all, your description of that campground experience makes me want to go camping. And I have NEVER wanted to go camping. 😉

      It’s an amazing feeling when things just “click” and our brains cooperate by jumping into creative mode at just the right moment. When the words flow (or, “swing” as you put it … which I love), it feels like magic. It feels easy and natural. That’s part of the reason that letting go, watching those clouds, and giving yourself the gift of white space – on the page and in your mind – is so, so important. Getting to that place where the words pour out is not (in my opinion) so much about pushing as it is about opening … creating a place for the story to flow freely.

      Thanks so much for sharing. Nice to have you here.

      • You might like fancy camping (glamping). On Wednesday, I am picking up my incredibly beautiful new Alto trailer, with it’s rising crescent of glass windows. I am hoping for enough “space” this summer to feel that writing flow!
        mary — campingfancy.com

  8. Reblogged this on The Neophyte Writer and commented:
    Just what I need. A Food for thought–that one striking blog in which a neophyte writer must ponder upon: Stop trying too hard, give yourself a break and that creative catalyst within you will come out in an ebb naturally.

  9. Ooh yeah yeah – missed my Jamie last week!

    “You will not always be able to add the catalyst of headspace to your writing time. Sometimes, you will only have time, and that’s okay. When that happens, focus your efforts on the more automatic parts of the writing process – editing, research, etc. If it’s all you can manage in that moment, just go through the motions of putting one word after another. Don’t worry about a lack of inspiration. Remember that the ebb and flow is natural. Feel free to make mistakes. Do the work, but don’t let the critical voices in your head make you judge the work before you’re ready.

    But when you have the opportunity, give yourself the gift of space to create. Give yourself permission to work without a specific goal, without a safety net, without a predetermined path. Let go of preconceived notions, weighty expectations, and creative assumptions. Claim your creative freedom and rediscover your creative joy.” 100/10

    I am going to give up writing – why bother when I can never compete with your beautiful prose? 😉

    But, wait, competing isn’t my goal (*grinning*), so let’s just say that you inspire me to “UP” my quality #HUGSSSSSSSSSSSS

    LOVE YOU
    Kitto

    • Hello, Kitto.
      🙂

      Missed you, too!
      So glad you’re not giving up, AND that you’re *grinning* … those are both Good Things!

      I hope your week included some headspace … some open space … some agenda-free meandering.

      Thanks, as always, for including THIS space in your week. Always glad to see you.

  10. Pingback: Weekend Edition – Truth in Blogging Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips | Live to Write – Write to Live

  11. Pingback: Weekend Edition – Conserving Your Creative Energy | Live to Write – Write to Live

  12. Pingback: Saturday Edition – What’s Holding You Back from Your Writer’s Life? | Live to Write – Write to Live

  13. Pingback: Weekend Edition – Change In The Air: The Evolution of a Writing Life | Live to Write – Write to Live

  14. Pingback: Nurturing Your Writing Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links June 26 | Live to Write – Write to Live

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s