Now for Something Completely Different
By Amy Groening
When I was 10 years old, I started writing my first “novel”. It was a fantasy novel about my teddy bear and her sidekick, a large purple dragon, as they journeyed through a magical warzone in the land of Panzania. After scrawling it out in several notebooks over the next two years, I had the best editor and typesetter I knew (my father) type it up and lay it out for me in a Word document. A whopping 64 pages long, it had hand-drawn maps, character sketches, and even plush toys. Convinced I was now a full-fledged author at the tender age of 12, a child prodigy on her way to the inner circle of published fantasy writers, I announced to my family that I would get to work on the sequel forthwith.
And then I stalled. While the words had come so easily to me for Book One, I just could not seem to get past the first few pages of the sequel. I had my excuses: I was a busy adolescent; I had a dog to walk and a bedroom to clean and I was about to enter the 8th grade; I just didn’t have time to take on a several-year project like that again. Admittedly, I think I was also starting to realize that the book I had written was not as good as the books I was reading; what was the point in working on something that turned out to be less-than-perfect? By the time I had turned 14, I had established that I would not finish anything that took me longer than a week to complete, and so short stories and newspaper articles became my main draws.
Because of this, I am constantly amazed at what I have found working at Word Alive Press. The fact that so many people manage to complete books, while still running through their busy lives, maintaining careers, having families, houses, and pets to care for, is mind-blowing to me. Simply finding the time and energy to bring a project like that to its conclusion is incredibly impressive.
But what do you do when you feel this stuck? One of my creative writing professors told me that if you’re feeling stuck, literally force yourself through it: sit at your computer and just hammer out random words—or even just random letters—until something comes out. This did, actually, help. Being in creative writing classes to begin with, helped. Talking to other students trying to sort themselves out helped. Writing down lists of writing fears and then finding quotes from famous creative minds to combat those fears helped (my favourite one is this one by Ira Glass).
There is still this nagging question, however, of why writing went so smoothly for me when I was a child. I suppose I had not experienced enough of life to be discouraged by it yet. I also suppose that I had a much more intense sense of play when I was young, and that is very important in writing: the ability to try something new, something odd, something you haven’t seen before, to do things in a way that isn’t usually done.
I have found that nothing snaps me out of a creative drought faster than doing something completely different. If your writing is stagnating, chances are, something else in your life is as well. Get out of your routine—whatever it is. It doesn’t have to be about writing; if you’re a writer, your entire life is secretly about writing, from brushing your teeth to eating breakfast. Take a trip, go to a restaurant you’ve never gone to before, try a creative medium you’ve never tried before: if you’ve never painted, go buy yourself some acrylics and make something new, even if it’s just splotches of colour on a page. Go rock climbing, horseback riding, try to make a new friend. Find new facial expressions to make, try eating dinner under the dining room table instead of at it, brush your teeth upside-down (yes, this is as unpleasant and messy as it sounds). Go to a film festival, go to a different church, make yourself start a conversation with the person standing next to you at a bus stop. Go under cover for a day and pretend to be someone you’re not. If whatever you’re doing right now isn’t helping you, do something else.
Admittedly, finding a sense of play has not enabled me to hammer out novels. But it has helped me to keep writing small projects, and keep eyeing bigger ones. And as Ira Glass says in that famous quote, “It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
About this Contributor:
Amy Groening is a Project Manager at Word Alive Press. She is a passionate storyteller with experience in blogging, newspaper reportage, and creative writing. She holds an Honours degree in English Literature and is happy to be working in an industry where she can see other writers’ dreams come to life. She enjoys many creative pursuits, including sewing, sculpture and painting, and spends an embarrassingly large amount of time at home taking photos of her cats committing random acts of feline crime.