Disarray Leads Writer Astray

When the itch to write wouldn't go away, I decided to do something about it. I bought how-to books to see what writing was all about. That's when I learned that writing is a process, and not to expect  results overnight. To enjoy the process itself--to have fun--and the end result will take care of itself. At the time, I had no idea what the writing process would entail.

Over time, a writing process did develop into a tool I use every day. Recently, however, I've taken the leap from writing short stories and articles to writing my first book. Oh my, suddenly my calm, solid, reliable plan developed leaks! There was much I needed to know. And much in my life that needed to get organized if I was ever going to succeed. Below, I've laid out the step-by-step process I use and my most recent revelation in the hope that it will help you. Here goes:

My house needs cleaning, my office needs organizing, but so often I ignore all that and get right to work. I shove aside the books and papers that clutter my desk, or if I'm feeling particularly creative, I have been known to pop my WIP right on top and dig in, often for hours on end.
I've come to the page convinced that I've covered all the stops. I:
·         stack my notes so I can find whatever information I need

·        include with my notes an outline, whatever ideas have occurred in the shower or at 3:00 a.m., pictures I'm using for characters and scenes; in short, anything that helps me visualize where I'm at in my story

·         tune up by reading a few previous chapters or pages

·       gather the latest problem-solving I've done, which I attack in two ways, either by stating the problem head-on and thinking up solutions, or putting the problem aside and doing something else, like sewing, or taking a walk, or shopping; and take a break, knowing that at some point in my mind's restful state, ideas often present themselves for further investigation

·       sometimes have a seemingly insurmountable problem, so at night when I'm getting ready for bed, I write it out and read it several times, which I believe sends the problem to my subconscious, thus allowing my subconscious to work on it overnight

·       keep in mind that the toughest problems often take more than one day or night to solve. I continue this process while searching for a suitable solution

·         still don't like it, so I put it down and let it cool for a week or so

·         edit, polish and prepare the passage for my writing group and readers to critique

·         enlist the help of a professional editor when I think my draft is ready
The Missing Link
Before I opened the envelope from my editor, I thought all my draft would need would be tweaking. It needed much more than that, though. But I wasn't discouraged because I liked my editor's suggestions very much. But before beginning work, I made myself take an honest look at my work habits. I'd made writing such a priority that I got into the habit of not putting things away, telling myself I would finish a household job later, etc. I realized that even though I was sitting at my desk many hours each day, I was perhaps not as productive as I thought I was being. Meanwhile, the rest of my life had stacked up into a big, unorganized heap.
That's when I decided to get organized. I went to work right away. I cleared my desk, took care of unfinished business and sorted, cleaned, finished jobs and polished. Then I took a break. Once I returned to my work I realized that organizing everything else in my life had helped to organize my writing life, too, and after that, my WIP started to fall in place. To my Great List, I added: clean up and organize.

Being Organized = Being Productive
I look at my desk now as I write--it is not organized. Enter the beauty of chaos. I think I need some chaos to create. So, I go back and forth, creating with chaos, taking a break to organize, and then creating some more until the need to get organized presents itself again. Creating and organizing take turns; I do each one separately.
Help from an Old Friend
As I busy myself with my new set of suggestions from my editor, I turn to an old friend, Julia Cameron, for inspiration. I don't know Julia personally, but had become a tremendous fan of hers when I first ventured down the writing path. After reading books on writing and publishing a few articles in our local newspaper, I discovered The Artist's Way. Each day I wrote my Morning Pages. Each week I took myself out on an Artist's Date. Gradually, the ideas rolled out on the page, and I began to sell in earnest. According to http://juliacameronlive.com/about-julia-cameron/, Cameron is "credited with founding a new human potential movement that has enabled millions to realize their creative dreams." I'm one of those millions. In the same article, Cameron strikes at the heart of the matter: "Most of us have no idea of our real creative height. We are much more gifted than we know. My tools help to nurture those gifts."
I looked Julia up on Amazon.com and was pleased to see that she had written follow-up bestsellers, Finding Water, The Vein of Gold, Walking in this World and The Right to Write; in addition to three more devotional-type books that I keep on my desk and refer to for inspiration, Heart Steps: Prayers and Declarations for a Creative Life; Transitions: Prayers and Declarations for a Changing Life; and Blessings: Prayers and Declarations for a Heartfelt Life.
Above all though, Cameron's memoir, floor sample, helped me round out my Great List of Bullets. floor sample reminded me of the value of MP's and I began to write them again, in different places that made me feel warm and whole, either with a steeping cup of tea first thing in the morning, or my last cup of tea at night before bed. And . . . Cameron wrote that she has found that writing three pages of a novel per day (in addition to writing MP's) makes her a productive writer. It doesn't sound like much, but she wrote that the three pages add up to a novel in a shorter time than one would imagine.
My take after finishing and thoroughly enjoying floor sample is, in addition to writing the MP's, to write those three polished pages each day, and then feel free to pursue other interests. If I happen to be editing a completed manuscript, I don't count the pages but edit in the same amount of time it would take to finish the three pages, and be done with it. So now, I've not only found a way to stop work and get organized in order to promote productivity, but I've learned to be satisfied with finishing three pages or their equivalent each day. Also, I've added in a good measure of throw-it-all-to-the-wind chaos. The bonus is that feeling satisfied with the work accomplished each day has actually re-energized the other aspects of my life; which in turn, as we writers know, only adds the fuel that feeds our writings!

Your take: I hope in some way your own creative process has been helped by this post. Please leave a comment with your thoughts. I would love to hear from you.
Next month: Keep a Personal Account of your Progress
Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six short stories for children, and is in the final editing stages of her first book, a mystery story for 7-9 year olds. Publishing credits include seven biosketches for the library journal, Biography Today, which include Troy Aikman, Stephen King, and William Shatner; Highlights for Children; Pockets; Hopscotch; and true stories told to her by police officers about children in distress receiving teddy bears, which she fictionalized for her column, "Teddy Bear Corner," for the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention Newsletter, Dayton, Ohio. Follow Linda on Facebook.
Labels: Julia Cameron's blog, An Interview with Julia Cameron


Kathleen Moulton said...

Linda, what a fantastic article! I'm keeping this one tucked away for future reference. I have not begun a book yet, but I have a couple of ideas I want to pursue.

Thanks for some valuable information.

P. Herron said...

This was inspirational! Especially as I look at the messy piles on my desk (each one essential, of course!) and my stacks of clothing as I pack for Highlights. Okay, resolution: when I get back from Highlights, I WILL clean my desk. Maybe this explains why doing laundry and putting it away is so cathartic! Great article, Linda!

Linda Wilson said...

Thank you Kathleen and Pam! I'm so glad the article has helped! Let's just say Pam's wise mantra whenever we need it: I WILL clean my desk, I WILL clean my desk, I . . . !

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, what a great post. I tend to write in somewhat of a mess in my writing area. I do though occasionally organize it. And, it's so true that even if you write one page a day you're ahead of the game, compared to writing nothing. I think I'll look into Julia Cameron's books. Thanks for sharing.

Linda Wilson said...

That is indeed rewarding that, #1, you liked the post, and #2, that you're thinking of looking into Cameron's books! Next on my desk is "Walking in This World," which I'm looking forward to reading.

Magdalena Ball said...

Great insight into the creative process. I tend to tidy and clean first (can't stand clutter), but I think it means that my output is less. Maybe I need to come to terms with mess.

Linda Wilson said...

Is mess good? Perhaps that is the question ! I always enjoy your comments, Maggie ; they're always insightful!

Anne Duguid Knol said...

This is absolutely wonderful. I also came to writing with the help of morning pages and I'm certainly going to clear the decks before November. I can feel the clutter weighing me down.Belated thanks for the book list too Linda. I meant to write...but that's another problem with the clutter. It gets in the way of good intentions.

Linda Wilson said...

Thank you, Annie. At least when the desk is cleaned up it's easier to find things! You're welcome about the book list. I'm working my way through the list now and enjoying it immensely.

Heidiwriter said...

Oh yes, that cluttered desk...! sigh.

Linda Wilson said...

Yes, but I tend not to care when I'm having fun writing! I imagine it's an ongoing challenge for us all! Thanks for writing, Heidi. It's good to hear from you.

hpvanduuren said...

Thanks for your post,

Some time ago I read something about - Organising -. The article also had a Photo from Albert Einstein sitting behind a pretty messy looking desk. So I do believe that being organised isn't the same as having a neat looking workspace.

Although it usually does feel better to have it somewhat tidy, there are also some other things that can be interesting to think about for example to create a Workspace that can help Inspiration.

You can actually read a post about Writer's Workspaces that Inspire with for example also things like Motivating Writing Memorabilia on your walls etc. etc.

Linda Wilson said...

Yes, hp, you bring up an important distinction between organization and neatness. I was actually talking about organization, though once you're organized your desk tends to be neat. Your comment digs deeper though, I think, to having files and papers organized so that if a question comes up from a publisher, the answer is easily found. I strive to keep my files organized, but sometimes I'm boggled if I get a question about an article many months old and I have to find the exact paper to answer the question. This I try to avoid. I will look into the post you suggested and give more thought to what you said. I do have writing memorabilia displayed on my bulletin board but it's a mess!

Debbie A Byrne said...

Yes, I will agree with the disarray! I am so not organized. Great post.

Linda Wilson said...

I'm working at organization much more now! Thanks for writing, Debbie.

What Is More Valuable Than Fame

By Terry Whalin (@terrywhalin) Many writers believe writing a book will make them famous. They believe getting their book into the market wi...