Midweek Muse: Not so fast…

Image by Bruce Brouwer via stock.xchng.
I wrote a piece recently for my friend Holly Ordway’s terrific site Hieropraxis.com about the way my brain works through the process of writing, comparing it to solving a mystery. If you’re interested in reading the full bit, you can check it out here: Creativity as Sleuthing

The thing is, since then, I’ve been questioning myself. Do I really do that? Well, yes, usually… but ALL the time, is that how writing works for me? No, not really, not always. I wasn’t deceiving or deliberately leaving out the “rest of the story.” I simply forgot the other forty percent or so of my process.

With a few days to reflect, other ways of writing come to mind, like the times when I am just “in the groove.” On these rare occasions, a piece comes out whole, with me left gasping, weeping, in awe, a happily muddled mess of gratitude. I read it, feeling as if I am seeing the revelation of my life, a gift wrapped in sweet words that so rarely come with such ease.

That groove is not unlike the mind-altered states I used to see growing up in my neighborhood where all manner of mind-altering (illegal) substances were readily available. These substances, they made people feel for a time so untouchable, and all things and all others so lovely and perfect and groovy. The nice thing about being “in the groove” naturally is you don’t have any of the nasty and unfortunate side-effects of coming down off of a drug-induced high. I’ve learned, though, not to fully trust the product of those moments. I enjoy them and take the gifts with gratitude. But I now let them sit for a day or more before inflicting them on the world. And I find a good honest reader who has not been sniffing the same air as me. I ask that person to tell me if the piece is “all that.” Maybe it is. Or maybe it is simply a work in progress.

There are also those times when it comes to me like a relentless task master, at some inopportune moment (like three a.m. or while driving or taking a shower). There is the demand: “Write this down, now.” Such sure voices must be obeyed. So I do. I get to pen and paper as quickly as I can extract myself from the inconvenient circumstance, and I get the words recorded. Funny thing, though, is frequently I will look at those words a day or a week later, and I just shake my head, wondering what that was all about.

Then there is transactional writing, which is the bulk of the non-sleuthing sort of writing that I do in my regular work life. I am asked a question or given a specific assignment. “Tell me what you think about this.” “Tell me what I should think about that.” “Give me three good reasons why I should go with Plan A.” That sort of thing. In this context, I don’t have to create a motive, define an audience, or select a form. It’s straight response. Sometimes there is a bit of research involved, but usually it is someone needing me to take all the known factors and simplify them – make a sound bite out of five pages worth of copy. So I give it my best shot, and expect feedback.

You see, even with the “easy” transactional stuff, there’s always another point of view or a second or third way to consider the facts. Things always look different the next day.

All of that to say, what matters is this:

  • Receive the words with gratitude, however they come.
  • Let them rest.
  • Find a trusted reader, and seek feedback.
  • Keep writing, and rewriting.

Contrary to popular belief, writing doesn’t get easier with practice, because you will keep pushing yourself to say harder things in more challenging ways. But if you keep trying, you will get better at it.

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