If I could go back and give my previous self any advice about this whole writing thing, it’d be: treat your writing like a business.
See, I always thought I was the creative sort. And I guess I was, but for pretty much my entire twenties, I thought that creativity was this gift; this mystical, un-pin-down-able thing that I was just lucky to have. Now, I still believe that’s true — to a point — but I’m learning that there’s a lot more to creativity than the occasional kiss from the muse.
Because the problem with thinking that creativity is magic — that some people “just have it”, and others “just don’t” — is that one of two things happen. One: you don’t appreciate it, because, like a pile of cash from a wealthy uncle, it just fell in your lap, so you don’t really know its worth. Or two: if (but actually, when) it deserts you, you have no idea how to get it back. And while the muse may in fact carry a cell phone (she does in my as-yet-unpublished first novel), she certainly doesn’t give out her number.
But creativity isn’t magic. Or at least, it isn’t all magic. Creativity is like that kid who wanders around the neighborhood looking for other kids to play with. He doesn’t call in advance. He doesn’t send you a note to say he’s coming around. He just tools around on his bike looking for places to play and people to hang out with. And if you happen to be out in your yard playing when he shows up? Well, you’ll have the craziest afternoon of playing space baseball and ninja cowboys and Calvinball, until the kid has to go home and you have to go in to eat dinner. But if you aren’t out in your yard? That kid rolls right on by. He won’t knock on your door, he won’t peek in the window to see if you’re waiting for him — he’s got places to be and hell to raise with the other kids who are already outside.
Which is why, if you want to encourage him to visit, you have to spend some time playing in the yard, even when he’s not around.
This seems counter-intuitive. There’s no point playing in the yard by yourself, after all. The fun is in playing with a friend, in tapping into your collective imaginations and adventuring together through the boundless reaches of the imaginations of little kids. Playing by yourself is boring; what’s the fun in doing a backflip off a tree branch if nobody else is around to see it, or in throwing a ball over the house if you have to walk around the back to retrieve it?
But if the neighborhood kid doesn’t see you out there playing already, he isn’t taking time out of his day to see if you want to play. And creativity is just like that: if it doesn’t see you already working, already flexing your creative muscle, it’s not going to waste its time knocking on your brain to see if you want to make something awesome. The muse has places to be, novels and poems and stories and paintings and interpretive dances to inspire.
And that’s why we have to treat writing like a business.
You don’t do business when you feel like it: business needs doing with consistency, and pretty much all the time, or else the business dries up. When you treat writing like a business, you make time for it every day. You set aside time for it, and you protect that time like a mother bear protecting her young. You do the writing even when you don’t really feel like it, because if you don’t handle your business even when you don’t feel like it, you lose your business.
The unfortunate fact is, we don’t always feel creative. And it can be hard to force ourselves out into the yard to play when we’re just not feeling it.
But if this is a thing that matters — and I would argue that if you’re writing at all, or thinking about writing, then it matters to you at least a little bit — then we have to get out there anyway.
Because if we don’t? Well, the muse has plenty of other house calls she can make.
This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.