Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Creative Cycle Will Kill You

First of all, you can thank my art degree and the glories of MS Paint for that fabulous image.

Second of all, the Creative Cycle will kill you.

But! And here's the kicker.

Only if you let it.

See, right now, I'm in the deflation part, which means that instead of doing anything useful, I'm haunting Twitter and Facebook, stalking Goodreads, shopping for corsets I don't need, and occasionally stealing glances at my Gmail waiting for a seratonin hit like a lab rat hooked up to a sugar dispenser. But that's part of my creative cycle. It happens every time. Let me explain.

1. First, there is the seed.

The idea. The spark. The inspiration that grabs your heart at 11:37 at night and makes you scribble on the back of a drugstore receipt with an eyeliner pencil. The idea fills you, expands you, makes you realize you can do anything! You dream, you chew it like a unicorn gnawing on magical glitter cud. You live in your mind until you have it all figured out.

2. And then you have to do it.

This is the doing phase. You have to write that book, no matter what. If you want to stay home in the same fleece pants for two weeks and eat nothing but calamari and never sleep, you do that. If you need to dress up and go out and sit at a place with free refills and drink coffee all day in your fancy boots, you do that. No matter what it takes, you do it.

And then it's done.

And for about twenty minutes, you feel overwhelming relief.

Then the next day comes, and you feel...

3. The deflation.

No energy. Honey badger don't care. You want a nap. Or maybe you should work? Should you look at it? Start the next revision? What if someone else is writing the same concept and finishes it before you do? What if an editor has a space for it and you miss it? What if THE WORLD BLOWS UP? So you look at it, and then you realize that...


There are plot holes. Characters that have issues. Messed up view or tense. You've completely forgotten that chapter 1 centered on the heroine being an only child while her brother becomes a main character in chapter 4. The motivation is off. The pacing is off. The bit with the robots is FLAT OUT. There's so much work on this rotten piece of trash that it will never become anything more than a crap smudge on a thumb drive.

And that right there is what will kill you if you let it.

You can't let yourself forget that you have reached the bottom point of the creative cycle. The PMS of the menstrual cycle of your mind. If you can get through this bit, it's all downhill from there.

Because one day, you think... maybe I'll look at it again. Maybe it's not too bad.

So you decide to do the hard part.

4. You look at it. And you fix it.

You lay it out, graph it out, and the holes are easy to see. You know how to make him more likable, her more real. You know exactly how to amp up the excitement in the middle. You can fix it, and it will be good.

So you go back to work. It's not manic and panicked and frenzied. It's measured. Intelligent. Planned. Fulfilling. Logical.

And when you're done with the careful work, you've come full circle.

And it's done.


The hard truth is that making something of value takes time.

It takes excitement, hard work, patience, pain, an acceptance of criticism, and a dedication to making it right, no matter the cost. I didn't understand that, when I was younger. I thought things could spring fully-formed from my head and be perfect.

They can't. Not for me. Not for anyone.

So don't let it kill you. Don't even let it get you down. When you hit the point of deflation, do whatever you must to get past it, even if that involves going to bed for three days with a box of Captain Crunch. It's a natural part of the process, of the cycle.

We are creatures controlled by chemicals and muses and gods and monsters and things we'll never understand. The one thing in our power is choice. You choose to create. You choose to strive.

And when things get hard, you choose to go on.



Anne Riley said...

Very nice! I am in the drafting phase of my 4th manuscript and every once in a while, I want to lay down and die. But I am pushing on!

Sunny Rising Leather said...

Just reading this after looking at a hammer formed lily I made yesterday, and today it was a shameful thing.

Then your words

then relief;

thank you!!!


Paige Kellerman said...

Thanks, I needed this, today. I'm smack in the middle of my current WIP and trying to chug through to the end...

EttyOop said...

Thank you so much! I actually have even shorter cycles. I don't let myself finish the WIP. I write and write and write. Then there's a span of time when I don't have time (kids + work + whatever. Life in the way). And when I revisit said work? I am miserable and hate it and need to ignore it all. I currently have 3 novels I'm in the middle of. But I can't get past a certain point because I don't let myself. UGH! I have issues with the whole "this is a first draft. chill out" thing.

Good to know it's not just me!

delilah s. dawson said...

Etty, sometimes I get to that point, and I write this:
[insert awesome scene here]
and then I write the next scene I want to write and wait until much later to fill in the bit that's impossible. It seems doable later, when it's just a little chasm instead of the Grand Freakin' Canyon. =)