Recently I’ve been thinking about what to focus on next. I’m getting good with creating a blog post every week and a new short story at least once a month, whilst also going back and editing and refining my previous stories. Most of the short stories are now finished, meaning I won’t tinker with them for a while. However, I have several writing projects that I’ve been working on that have come to a halt (this includes 3 novels!). The trouble with them is they don’t work, they feel wrong, and/or I’m completely stuck with what to do next with them. In the past I would have just persevered with the stories and got into a right tangle with it all and wondered why they were terrible. But now when I face this ‘arghhhh!’ moment I give myself space and time to think. And I’m kind to myself; I give myself whatever time I actually truly need. But whilst I’m giving my writing-self a holiday, I make sure I keep busy, so I’ve been reading and reading and reading and doing lots of other stuff too.
Reading is amazing, it gives my subconscious time to de-frag and that’s an important part of my creative process. I used to tell myself off when I was at a stop sign, thinking I should be ‘doing’ something. But of course I’m always doing something. Even when I say I’m not writing I’m gathering, researching and making stuff up. I write in my journal, send myself texts and emails, and scribble nonsense here and there. And reading can be so enlightening. It is both fun and research. I’ve also been completing other projects. I’ve been restoring a whole house worth of furniture I bought very cheaply second-hand. Most of it was in a poor state to look at but functionally sound. Now it all looks great. I’ve just got four chairs left to paint and I’m done. Also I’ve been working on making a boned-leather corset for a friend of mine, which is just about finished too. These are all things I’ve never done before, so they keep me sane, productive, and they challenge me. Plus, completing these tasks gives me the satisfaction of actually finishing projects, which is good for the soul and reassuring to my writing-self.
Whilst I’ve been doing all this other stuff, my extremely wise subconscious has been working hard solving the issues with my writing projects and dreaming up new things too. I think my imagination is made up of time, space, awareness and questions. I think by giving myself the space to think, I help inspiration by creating a rich soil for the little seeds to grow in.
Inspiration can come in all shapes and sizes. A while back I had an idea for a reworking of Rapunzel and following my inspiration I wrote a draft, worked on it and worked on it some more. But it just wasn’t right. Polishing it did not turn it into something it really was not! It was just all wrong and I didn’t know why, but after years of writing I knew exactly what to do with it. Hugging it goodbye, I put it quietly in a drawer and left it alone. I suppose it’s probably a better metaphor to say that I put the work I was stuck on in the compost heap of my mind, because that’s more like the thing that happens. I take my rubbish drafts and throw them in with all the other discarded things. Then over time, everything slowly decomposes. This is the important bit. Letting it rot helps to breakdown the structure, all the worries and let it become just the essence of the initial idea again. And, once time and magic has decomposed it and it’s something fertile again, I dig it out and see what grows.
The other thing that goes into the mix are all my collected thoughts and ideas. I save all these in my journals. Over the years I’ve created quite a collection. Each is pretty disorganised, with the only order being chronological, but even then it gets a little messed up at times because I sometimes get a new prettier journal and switch to that instead. But everything goes into them: notes, random ideas, lists, dreams, names of books or films to read, tickets, doodles plans and drafts. And like the compost heap, what goes in there is invariably forgotten until I pick it up and have a flick through. So often I am amazed by the gems I’ve collected. Sometimes, in times of inspirational drought, I’ll pick an old one off the shelf and find old inspiration that I wasn’t skilled or brave enough to shape into being at the time.
And ironically it was my real garden and stepping away from the work that gave me inspiration this week. I was out in my garden picking some of my veggies when suddenly I knew what I needed to do to fix my Rapunzel story. And the solution was so simple. But that’s the way it goes I suppose, sometimes we just need to step away and let the magic happen. So be gentle on yourself and remember sometimes stepping away from a project is much better than tying your head in knots.