The Creative Process – Part 1 – Wishing

WISHING is the first stage of the creative process and is about nurturing your desire to create something. This is where you look for ideas and inspiration, and research stories to obsess over.

The Desire to Create

To create anything you need a space in which to do it – not just a room of your own and time to write, but space inside your head. This can be one of the greatest challenges of the creative process, and even if you manage to carve out some time to work on your ideas, the contents of your mind can throw you off track before you even start.

To hear the voice of inspiration you need to get quiet enough to listen. Meditation can help to still your mind, but you can use anything that works – walking, gardening, listening to music, knitting (really!). Experiment to find what works for you and build it into your routine. If you want to create, it must become so much a part of your life that you can’t imagine it not being there. To be still you need to empty your mind of clutter and distractions. No Facebook updates. No endless twittering.

Inner stillness is the key to inspiration.

When you empty your mind of clutter it clears a space for what wants to be created to come out and play. As you quieten down inside, hold the idea in your mind, turn it around, look at it, and let it breathe. Ask questions about the idea to encourage it to expand. What does it want to be? Who is this character? What’s he doing? Why? Don’t force it or second guess. Let your imagination go loose, let it play, and see what happens.

Write it down.

Sit with your idea and wait. Be vigilant. Inspirations will appear that feed into your idea, so pay attention to everything going on around you. When you have a good idea the world comes alive with synchronicities. It’s like the idea, or character, or image, is magnetic. It draws in other ideas and images that resonate. Connections form, associations explode. You start to feel the shape of the story spreading out and moving inside you.

Give it space to stretch.

Hungry Mind

This stage of the creative process is exciting and energising. It’s fun to explore and discover new ideas and connections between things, but it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the possibilities running around in your head. The idea balloons into giant proportions, it sprouts heads, it runs off down an alleyway with you trailing after it thinking, “Hang on, I’m not sure I should be down here…”

This is where you start to argue with yourself about whether or not the story should be written at all, before you’ve even worked out what it’s about. It’s a difficult state to be in because you’re not sure what’s going on and you don’t feel in control.

You don’t have the idea, the idea has you.

The anxiety of this stage is called Hungry Mind anxiety and the swirling chaotic mess in your head is a good sign. It means you want to create something. This is the kind of anxiety you will have to accept if you want to spend your time creating anything so you better get used to it.

The worst thing to do in the face of this anxiety is to shut down, turn away, switch on the TV, or go online. You need to get to a place in your head where the anxiety doesn’t stop you creating.

You need to feed your creativity.

How to Starve your Mind

Hungry Mind anxiety is dealt with by ‘appropriate feeding’ – in other words, you nourish your desire to create by doing things that support your creativity and encourage it to flourish. There are many ways to sabotage your creativity. Here are a few examples of inappropriate ways to deal with hungry mind anxiety.

Gorge on Facts: Are you a whiz at quizzes? A walking version of Google? Do you spend all day obsessing about story structure? Put your inner geek to sleep or he’ll sabotage your creative writing. You’ll spend more time filling your head with froth or learning every variant of dramatic structure, than creating. Too many details at this stage is deadening. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Only Eat Sweets: If you only ever watch sitcoms and musicals, and avoid anything remotely challenging, your brain will atrophy. Make sure your mind has a balanced diet or it will get fat on sentimentality. Don’t avoid the dark side.

Have Intellectual Conversations: The only people who care about intertextual structuralist hermeneutics or the intentional fallacy are academics. Avoid this kind of brain numbing mental masturbation or you’ll disappear up your own arse faster than you can say formalist explication. Put your inner academic to sleep. I’m not saying don’t think. Goodness knows, most people don’t think enough, but let your heart and guts join the conversation. You have a whole body – use it. Don’t live in your head.

Dismiss your Ideas: When a great idea hits, don’t dismiss it too soon. If you let all your brilliant ideas go without giving them a chance, you’ll never create anything. You’ll drift into a state of nihilistic indifference and no-one will care, least of all you. Hold on to your inspirations.

Think and Chew Gum: Are you doing too many things at once? Stop! Don’t distract yourself or allow yourself to be distracted. When writing, write. Don’t try to watch the football/cricket/tennis at the same time, and tweet and update your blog and text your mates, and write your masterpiece. It won’t work. Focus.

Join a Club: Are you a Freudian or a Jungian? Atheist or Jedi? Don’t side with anyone or label yourself this, that or the other. If you label yourself as one thing in particular, you limit yourself. Never mind sitting on the fence – tear the fence down! Let your mind be free.

Lie to Yourself: How often do you tell yourself you’re working on your novel when you know you’re not? Stop it. The worse thing you can do is lie to yourself. You’re fooling nobody. Be honest about what you’re doing.

Attend a Workshop: Do you line up classes like dominos and then knock them down? You can spend a fortune, and eons of time, going to writing workshops. You think you’re writing (see above), but never do any proper work. Yes, you must learn your craft, but at some point you must also write. Writing is how you learn to write, not listening to someone talking about writing. Don’t be a dabbler.

Feed on Drama: In a bid to ‘live life to the full’ (you’ve got to have something to write about, after all) you drink and shag yourself silly, have passionate arguments in public, throw furniture at the walls. You tell yourself this is research. It isn’t. Remember Julia Cameron’s adage: Keep the Drama on the Page.

Underestimate Yourself: Give up before you start and never use the resources of your mind. Underestimate what you’re capable of and assume the worst. Tell yourself you know nothing and nobody is interested anyway. This is the fastest route to hell that I know. Don’t be too modest.

Nourish Your Creativity

The best way to deal with anxiety at this stage of the creative process is appropriate feeding. There are plenty of things you can do to feed your hungry mind that don’t leave you with mental indigestion. Here’s a few examples:

Follow the Work: Do what the story requires of you. Research your subject and dig deep into your characters. Let the story lead the way. Do what you need to do to create the right atmosphere and draw inspiration to yourself. Search out nuggets to enliven your story.

Plant Seeds: Give your imagination something to work with. I have a folder full of ideas, scraps of paper covered in scrawl, clippings from newspapers, and half thought out possibilities. Every now and then I sift through what I’ve collected. Something will always surprise me and trigger a new story idea.

Think by Feeling: Don’t over-think everything. Keep in touch with your feelings by feeling them – laugh, cry, and live. You are not feeling when you’re talking or thinking about your feelings. As Bruce Lee says in Enter the Dragon, “Don’t think, feel.”

Feast: Dig deep into your research for the work. Obsess over it, dream about it, devour it. Let your story penetrate every pore, and every nook and cranny of your life.

Enjoy the Masters: Return to and relive the books and films that have inspired you. It will fan the flames of your enthusiasm. Remind yourself why you wanted to write in the first place.

Revisit your old Work: Enjoy your finished stories. Congratulate yourself on a job well done. What did you learn? How did the work change you? Remember how good it felt to finish.

Serve: Share your enthusiasms and your joy. Teach others what you need to learn. Service forms a large part of the motivation for this blog.

Quieten your Mind: Be still and silent. Surrender to the trance of working. Let the writing take you, and let it lead you where you need to be.

Think Well: Analyse what you’re trying to do. Think about life and art. What have the masters taught you, what do you know from experience? Think about why you think the way you think. Why do you write the stories you write? Why this story? Why now?

The important thing at this stage is to affirm your desire to create. Do everything in your power to support that desire. The more you undermine yourself at this stage the more likely you are to give up. And you know you’re not a quitter.

In Part 2 we’ll look at CHOOSING.

>Read the whole series here

Images: Dream Girl; Writer’s Block; Imagination