I got an email from a writer the other day who had questions about writing rituals. I’ve talked to a good many writers who have these same questions, and of course, I’ve also seen many of the articles out there on the writing routines and habits of famous writers. We writers seem to have a fascination with how other writers work. We want to know what their desk looks like and if it includes a view, what time they start working in the morning or afternoon, and if they do anything “special” to make the words flow.
This fascination we have with the work process (not the creative process, that’s something different, but the actual nuts-and-bolts procedure of another writer sitting down to work), this has always intrigued me. Why do we place such importance on the rituals other writers have in place around their work process? Why are we so hungry for these details?
Although I have always considered myself a writer, I have also spent many years not writing. In fact, for most of high school, college, and my 20s, I didn’t write at all. Not one story, not one poem. During that period, I was mostly entangled in living the life of a depressed alcoholic, while trying to keep my shit somewhat together in the meantime. So, you could say I didn’t have time to write, but the truth was that I was really in no place to write.
I didn’t start writing seriously—and by seriously I mean that I committed to sitting down and doing it at least once a week—until 2006, one year after I got sober. Two things happened when I committed to the practice of writing. Number one, I found that it was hard. It challenged me on nearly every level and forced me to look honestly at my addictions, my demons, my self-loathing, and my depression. Number two, it felt better than anything I had ever done before. It felt like a huge relief to open doors within myself that had been closed for years and let all those long-buried thoughts and feelings pour out of me onto the page.
Writing my first novel was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It took me two full years to get through the first draft, and I felt like I was slogging my way through the entire time. I would write sections of the book and read over what I had written and cringe. Sure, I also had days where I felt like I had actually written something good, but most of the time I was full of self-doubt.
I’ve been writing seriously for about 12 years now, and while a lot of things have changed along the way, one thing has pretty consistently remained the same: I always seem to feel dissatisfied with my writing life.
Sometimes I’m unhappy with the writing itself, but experience has shown me that almost all bad writing can be improved if you just work hard enough at revisions. What I’m really talking about is something different, something deeper. It’s an insidious feeling of never being where I wanted to be, of always striving to reach some goal, and then reaching it and still feeling like I didn’t get what I wanted.
If you’re a highly creative person then chances are you’ve gone through periods in your life when you felt creatively stifled. Maybe you had a brutal work schedule or you were caught up in a bad relationship and your head wasn’t where it needed to be to make good art. Or maybe you had critical parents and you just never had the self-confidence to put your work out into the world. But no matter what the reason, all of us at one time or another have wished we could bring more creativity into our lives, and then we’ve gotten blocked on how to make that dream a reality.
Why is this? Why is it so hard to tap into our own creativity and make it work for us?