Writing and Your Inner Five-Year-Old

Oh man, it’s Monday. Wage slaves and oppressed workers unite, or at least go have coffee together before rallying behind your natural rights to be awesome. And while you’re rocking your lattes and morning wake-up calls, let me talk about something I’ve noticed in the last few weeks.

There exist writers who have allowed their inner child to get locked into tantrum mode, and the tantrum about whatever topic seeps into the creativity, turning an otherwise pancake-loving, mac-and-cheese-devouring inner five-year-old into a dervish of complaints, wailing, and aggressive not-listening.

No, this isn’t where I say “If you can’t think of an example, then you’re that writer” because the chances are that you aren’t that writer. Many of the writers I talk to or meet aren’t tantrum-engines and aren’t three seconds and a rejection letter away from slamming themselves to the ground and pounding the world with closed fists and screams about how the world is both unfair and out to get them.

But, since we all have an inner five-year-old (mine hangs out with my inner ten-year-old and they play a LOT of video games), I thought today would be a great day to sit them down, crack open some juice, and have a chat.

The creative world is hard, and it might not be easy or quick, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Remember that time you were at the playground and you couldn’t reach the monkey bars, or that time you sat in the spinny seat-thing and went around and around until you weren’t sure you’d be able to stand up straight? Remember how you got really mad at the bars and the seat, like they had besmirched your honor and you were ready to take them to Weehauken at dawn?

It wasn’t their fault. They’re just bars and chairs. They can only be bars and chairs. The systems for traditional and indie publishing are just like the bars and chairs – they are how they are, and sometimes you’re not going to be able to fully enjoy them at the time you’re there.

This is where rejection comes in. Not reaching the goal isn’t the goal’s fault. Just like the playground, it’s all in your approach. Maybe you’re a bit short (query misses the mark) or maybe you’re not seated properly (you’re not building an audience as effectively as you could be). And maybe you need help getting onto those bars.

(I’m loathe to suggest that a ‘grown-up’ help you in this metaphor, since I don’t want anybody thinking there’s some great deficiency or immaturity or subordination. This is more about accomplishing the goal, not the child-parent power dynamic.)

Just because you need help does not mean you have failed in some way, and just because you needed that taller person or kid to hold you up so that you could grab those bars does not mean you shouldn’t be on the playground at all. Which leads me to the next point …

Just because you need help does not mean you’ve failed. Creativity is seldom a solo endeavor in a vacuum. We might all work alone, we might work alone while surrounded by other people, but our creativity is not a single-player game. Some of the things that influence us, inspire us, and motivate us happen outside of our thoughts. We see other people’s books on shelves. We hear other people on podcasts. We read their books. We see their films. We remain creative but there is so much other stuff in the world that can fuel and encourage and challenge us. And sometimes in order to make our goals happen, we can only get so far before we ask for help.

And there’s ZERO wrong with that.

Whether that help comes in the form of coaching or an editor or feedback from a writing group or notes from beta readers or divination via tea leaves, there’s nothing wrong with needing it, seeking it out, or receiving it. Ideally the help is going to benefit you, even if the process for gaining those benefits involves hard work (rewriting a part of the book can be stressful and tough, but it can ultimately lead to a stronger book) and takes time.

You’re not a failure because you weren’t flawless and perfect the first draft, the tenth draft or the seven billionth draft. You’re not a failure because you had to ask someone for advice. You’re not a failure because you googled a few things. You’re doing whatever you need to do to make your work the best it can be, and that’s to be celebrated, not shamed.

Having said that, here’s the last point of the day.

Sometimes though, you do have to play alone. It can be a lot of fun to interact with others, talking shop and finding the good gossip. It can be encouraging to spend time among your tribe of writers, steeping in a creative atmosphere to recharge or re-align your productivity. But there comes a time where you can’t wait for other people to show up in order to initiate whatever you want to do. Yes, I know I just said that people don’t create in a vacuum, but people also don’t create in a swarm of bees either.

Or at least I hope not, because that sounds terrifying.

For all the fun of freeze tag and “chase me while I giggle and sweat and ignore parental directives to slow down or look where I am going’, there does come a time when you need to get your butt in the chair, close the door to whatever room you’re writing in, and get to work. The MS isn’t going to miracle itself out of your brain without the investment of time and some kind of effort.

Creativity is work, even when it’s fun work. But since fun is often shorter term than work (remember that time you thought it would be way more fun to start that new project and buying supplies was a hoot until it came time to actually DO the project?) we can often end up chasing it which can lead to a string of started things left unfinished, and a lot of work abandoned by the side of creative roads before it really was given a chance.

As I think about it, it’s in some ways a necessary part of creativity, to mark the path you take with the husks and guts of jettisoned guts. Every project is a teaching tool, and every effort improves craft.

Over the last twenty years, I have not found a productivity substitute for actual work. And as much as I love my friends, as much as I enjoy lunches and snack time with other editors and publishers, in order for me to get work done, I need to close the door, get myself in front of the keyboard and make it happen. By myself. I just work better than way.

I’m at GenCon later this week, so this blog will likely be quiet until after I’m home.

 

Happy writing.

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