Fit Your Process to Your Needs

The time needed is the most immutable requirement of any creative project.

Every project is different. Every writer is different. Don’t expect the time needed to be the same.

How much do you value your creativity? A writer’s creativity must come in many forms. The initial idea might be what you think of when you think of creativity, but consider the words used, the order the story is presented in, the order of the story itself, the character dynamics, and all the practical details that make up the story.

How much do you value your written clarity? Even literary authors want their readers to be able to sift out a basic comprehension of the words without too much trouble. The rest of us generally want to be understood on the first read-through, the words invisible while the reader is in a state of transport.

This isn’t a quiz. The questions are to remind you not to take those things for granted. It takes time to be creative or to be clear.

Creativity

We’re all familiar with “flashes of inspiration” and “eureka moments.” That moment when you find the answer – the brush stroke, the plot twist that you’ve been seeking – seems magical and elusive. The jump from confusion to illumination is so fast and consuming that we forget the thought-path that led us there.

There is always a thought-path. The final piece might come in the form of a subtle clue, like (the legend of) Archimedes in the Roman baths suddenly knowing how to measure the volume of a crown so he could calculate the density. But he had to have thought the problem through enough to know that he needed to measure the volume in the first place.

Or the clue would’ve done no good.

Here are four thought-paths that creativity can take. Try them out.

  1. Take a quick look at the intersection of two subjects. You might see something new, especially if they seem unrelated.
  2. Ask a question and answer it in as many ways as you can. Include everything that comes to mind, no matter how stupid it may seem. Letting your mind get silly frees it to explore new territory.
  3. Commit yourself to “deep work.” This is the hardest path. Purposefully examine every aspect of the issue, and follow every connection in an ever-expanding network of awareness. Being aware of that many aspects at once is mentally demanding work. A concept map can allow you to keep track of the connections you’ve already followed. The point here is to ferret out deep connections and in some cases find a framework that allows you to see the whole in a new way.
  4. Stop thinking about it. Yep, I said it. Believe it or not, letting your subconscious take over for a while is an effective way to find insight. Without your conscious mind blocking its path, the subconscious is capable of providing answers that the conscious mind can’t see. However, sometimes you have to dig back into the subject after a time in order to find out what you’ve learned. Again, a concept map can be quite helpful.

Looking through the lens of creativity and capturing what you see can become a habit. That habit will build a stable of ideas and enable you to always be inspired. (Writer’s block isn’t always a lack of inspiration, though.)

Sometimes There Isn’t a Shortcut

Some thought-paths are short and easy. Others are hard-fought and grueling. You can’t choose which one will bring your inspiration or insight.

Clarity

“Hard writing makes easy reading. Easy writing makes hard reading.”
- William Zinsser

 

If you’re aiming for a state of transport, you need clarity. The quality of your book hinges on it.

Clarity can be spoiled in any number of ways.

  • You know your story better than the reader does, and it can be hard to tell when you’re giving enough information to keep your reader in the loop, balanced between predictability and confusion. Foreshadow too much and you bore them, foreshadow too little and you lose them. Tell every bit of backstory – bore, tell too little backstory – lose.
  • It’s easy to tell when the tone of a passage is wildly out of line with the emotion being conveyed, but there are also subtle shifts that can catch you off guard. You might be mentally emphasizing one word where the reader emphasizes another, changing the entire meaning of a sentence.
  • Sometimes dialogue alone isn’t strong enough to carry your full meaning. Even body language can be obscure enough that the reader can’t follow. Facial expressions and a small emotion “tell” are sometimes necessary. It’s situationally dependent, so don’t fire all guns every time. Sometimes the dialogue IS enough, and that should be the standard that you aim for. But sometimes it simply isn’t possible.
  • Without training, our thoughts are disjointed and need to be organized once they are on the page. Even with practice, mental organization can take time. Mental leaps need to be bridged, ideas separated, and timelines double-checked. You can’t leave it completely to your editor, because if it’s truly a snarl, all you’ll get back is “I don’t understand this sentence” or “I don’t understand what is supposed to be happening here.”
  • Once in a while you have to take the time to find the right word before you can write anything else because the meaning of a passage hinges on it. If you’re like me, the impression of the word can be fleeting and if you don’t capture it then, you’ll never get it. Worse, you might come back later and not understand a bit of what you wrote. Yes, your clarity can be that low.
  • The final way I’m going to list is the lack of clarity in character actions. Who did that? What way were they positioned? Is that physically possible? Oh, they moved?! – You need to clarify that.

In all cases, the best way to learn where your writing isn’t clear is to let people read and ask questions without any prior explaining from you, as hard as that is. If you have to explain things before allowing the reader to read, the writing isn’t clear enough.

Clarity isn’t found in the first draft.

“Don’t get it right, get it written.”
– James Thurber

A first draft is to “hear” yourself think. It’s the essence of collected thoughts, so let your words flow. Clarity requires the first draft as much as it does the final draft.

Then edit. Edit profusely. Edit precisely. Edit to find that golden thread of thought tying it all together.

Your Process

Different Projects, Different Writers: Is Your Timeline Right for You? ...Fit Your Process to Your NeedsBoth creativity and clarity take time.

All of this came up because I’ve been fighting my time needs for creating these posts. With each post representing between 6 and 25 hours, I can’t sustain the schedule that I had planned. It’s my goal to make my articles seem effortlessly clear while delivering large amounts of information.

“Effortless” takes a lot of effort. Tweet it

…Whether you’re writing fiction or framing information for easy consumption.

Every writer has a unique process for how they produce their work. Not only does it take time to figure out how you work most effectively, but each work in progress – be it a book or a blog post – may have its own requirements.

Goals and personal deadlines are great and often needed, but sometimes the creative process isn’t so easily confined.

If your writing, your health, or another aspect of your life is suffering, it’s time to take some pressure off of those self-imposed deadlines. Know your limits, don’t push beyond them. This isn’t an excuse to be lazy about how much you write. It’s a call to quality, candidness about our limits, always pushing but never too far, and allowing yourself time to follow the paths of creativity and clarity.

Push.

But respect your true limits.

 

Do you have writer friends that might benefit from this? Help them out by sharing it with them. 

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About MJ Bush

Geekess. Freelance Fiction Coach and Editor. Founder of Writingeekery, with 8,000 monthly readers.
People watcher, occasional eavesdropper. Analytical creative, fantasy writer. I help writers like you find their unique writing process.

Comments

  1. (William Zinsser was my godsend when I was trying to figure out why my writing sucked.)

    Thank you so much for the thought-paths! I’ve been stuck in a few places for my current project and these are incredibly helpful. Just what I needed. I tend to abuse the “Stop thinking about it” point, but I know I’m just being lazy. Whoops! The same for knowing too much about my story. A lot of my writing’s clarity is lost because I know how the story is supposed to go, but haven’t properly written that knowledge.

    Sometimes when I’m trying to find the right word, but I want to continue writing, I put something like this: [brief definition of the word I’m looking for; adjective] and keep going. It’s so helpful when I have a good flow going already, since the momentary pause and break to find the word can stop the whole process. And sometimes, a word comes to me and I have no idea if I even used it correctly. “Frond?” I’ll think to myself. “Where did that come from?” (That’s when I quickly look up the definition and replace it, if necessary.)

    I find that all of my projects take a different approach when compared to others. For instance, my blog posts usually come in spurts. I write them down hastily and save them for later–some of them are just point form and use so much shorthand that they’re really just written in code. It’s like I’ve written the major threads, and I fill in the fluff later.

    But when it comes to my novels, especially the fantasy one I recently started, I don’t have a clear-cut process. It’s different for each one, too, so maybe I’m still trying to find the process that works. Lately, I’ve been writing randomly–big patches all over the place–and then filling in the small threads. It’s amazing that I haven’t lost myself, because the timeline of the story almost never coincides with the order in which I wrote. However, I’ve written 16k words in two days, so maybe this is what works.

    Thanks again for this post! Suuuper helpful!

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    • Thanks, Coryl! You aren’t alone in having different processes for different projects. I’m a firm believer that a clear-cut process hinders creativity. I’ll be sharing the science behind that in a later post… but a ritual for getting started and allowing yourself the freedom to do whatever needs to be done -like your 16k in two days- is the way to get the most out of your creative process. Hurrah for freedom!

      I’m so glad you don’t have a problem figuring out what you meant. It’s a pain. It’s taken me a ton of practice to be able to tell when one word is pivotal and when it’s not.

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  2. Susan Wilkinson says:

    Wonderful, MJ. Thank you. Just what I needed today.

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    • Susan, you know I love it when I can give someone exactly what they need. Thank you for letting me know!

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  3. Elizabeth Musgrave says:

    MJ- Once again you hit the nail on my head…the head that knows the story and doesn’t want to fill in the reader! The more I’m aware of that particular shortcoming, the more I let the reader into the story…Thanks!

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    • That’s such an interesting takeaway, Elizabeth. I love how sometimes we see what we need to see within the bigger message. Let me know how the filling in is going. :)

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  4. Tawn O'Connor says:

    Just what I needed today (8/19/13). I’m not going to make the deadline for a contest. I grieved for a couple of days. Now I am going to use the “extra” time to make my novel better.

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    • Good for you! It sounds like you’ve moved to a more positive frame of mind… The “extra” time might mean that you win the next contest, eh? ;) Good luck!

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  5. Well I love the moments when the words just flow out naturally. It doesn’t happen too often. So I make sure to take advantage of it.
    Shaun Hoobler recently posted…secret recipes discountMy Profile

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    • I think we all love those times (unless you must get some sleep). If only we could trigger them at will, eh?

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  6. “Effortless” takes a lot of effort.” I’ve never been a fan of one-liners, but this one crystallizes the essential nature of art, irrespective of its discipline. From the outside looking in, we are mesmerized by the “effortlessness” of it, because we were absent when the perspiration part took place. When we become the artist, we are now on the other side of the curtain. Our own willingness to embrace the effort, rather than resist it is the petri-dish in which we grow our truths to the best of our ability.

    Great post. Thanks so much for sharing.

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