In January I was doing a depressing slow dance, trudging to my desk writing stories but not truly creating. I started with a creative moment and spark, and then quickly veered toward planning and methodical revising. By nature, I am a to-do list person. Note taking and organizing are my blankies. Armed with my trusty checklist, I can surmount any mountain and make it to the other side. As I mark tasks off my list, though, I am fooled into believing I am moving the needle in my writing.
I certainly had excuses to be plodding along- the pandemic, my husband’s cancer, a new house that was feeling like a money pit. Signing up for another conference, another critique group, buying another book on writing- I was an expert at growing my checklist. Meanwhile, my sense of overwhelm was out of control.
Then in February, I participated in a Writing Barn weekend focused on Chapter Books. Despite Zoom fatigue and some physical challenges, I stayed glued to my computer, eager to learn everything about this genre. The second day of the intensive, Hannah Barnaby (author of Bad Guy, Garcia and Colette Go Exploring, and the recent Monster and Boy) presented on breaking boundaries and finding joy in writing chapter books.
She talked about another side to writing, the side that moves away from the rules and moves into the realm of unleashed creativity. In other words, how I might embrace my own unique weirdness and move away from a formulaic approach that beats the joy out of the process.
The rules about writing anything- picture books, chapter books, YA, etc.- abound in books and webinars. Every writer is looking for “the way” to write something, the elements that make up a good manuscript. But when a piece of art truly resonates, that vibration comes from inside. I needed to understand what inspires me and acknowledge the uniqueness of who I am. My ability to create anything authentic and genuine is reliant on my finding my “heart.”
Perhaps this should have been obvious but a lightbulb finally went on for me during the weekend. I get things done, but my joy in doing anything is often minimal. I am so focused on the endpoint and, as a result, missing out on the journey. I am holding myself back, being my own worst enemy, coloring carefully within the lines. My stories are good, not great, because I don’t spend time playing and creating. My characters are shallow because I don’t “know” them. I need to squelch my editor and unleash my muse/clown/inner child.
I turned a corner, and the path ahead is both frightening and exciting at the same time.