I was in a rut for a long time. Let me explain.
“Discovering” my writer self happened when I was in elementary school, when my teacher assigned creative writing assignments and I realized that creative writing was everything I wanted to do in my life. Discovery can be a process or an instance, and in this case it was a moment in time that divided my life like a new chapter in a book. In elementary school, following one of those creative writing prompts, I started writing my first novel. It was a three-year endeavor, and those three years were beautiful. Most of the novel I wrote by hand, and the three composition books I filled up are still on my shelf at home—when I flip through them, I can often picture where I was when I wrote a particular scene. The writing process was new to me, but that made it exciting. The process of writing was as much an adventure as what I was writing about.
I think the problem with finishing that first novel was the open-endedness of the question: what now? I was in eighth grade, halfway through junior time, entering into one of the difficult periods of my life academically, socially, and creatively, and there were no signs telling me what I was supposed to do with my creativity once I had finished that first novel. That’s the thing with art—nobody can tell you what to do with it. Nobody can tell you, “Okay, now you’re supposed to write a story about x that makes you feel y.” Art is in your brain, so you’re the only one who is able to access it, to seek out those next steps and feel around for inspiration.
Thankfully, I discovered National Novel Writing Month, which was a lifesaver in terms of my written endeavors. I’ve written in the past about how much Nanowrimo helps me. It’s a godsend, really, because as they years progressed I found that it was the only thing that would get my butt in the chair to really write. High school sucks. It sucks away time and energy and motivation. Where is the time to write when you have six hours of classes, four hours of extracurriculars, and piles of homework on top of that? It’s suffocating, quite frankly. When I got to college and reflected on the writing I’d done since finishing that first novel, it disturbed me. I could go for weeks, maybe months, without writing anything significant. There were peaks in activity when Nanowrimo hit, which is why I’m so grateful to have had that anchor in my life, but very little creative energy elsewhere.
Let me tell you, creativity is a choice. I know, people tell you everywhere that producing art is one part inspiration and two parts showing up and doing the work, but I’m here to let you know that it’s true. It still took me two odd years of college to pick up the momentum I’d once had, but, in thinking about my future and thinking about all of the writers that I’m surrounded by here at Iowa, it was essential that I pick up the slack. What I’ve learned here is that there won’t be time to write, but you have to make time. You have to choose writing; you can’t just let it come to you.
As much as I feel like a successful AA member for saying this, I’m so proud to say that I’ve been writing something every day since July. Again, this is one of those age-old pieces of advice that wizened and successful writers toss about—make time to write every single day. And no, I still can’t dedicate three hours in the morning to writing like many professionals do, but making the pledge to get something down on the page, even if it’s only a few sentences, has helped me in so many ways.
You spend every day with your characters, for one. It helps continuity, and it helps you feel your way through the story. It forces you to stay constantly in your imagination, which is where you should be living anyway.
Since making that pledge over the summer to write every day, I’ve felt the joy of writing coming back to me, that joy I felt back in elementary school. “Choose joy” is a rubbish statement. Instead, choose to do what you love, and joy will inevitably follow.
It’s gotten easier as time passes to write every day, and by opening up that part of myself again, I feel like I’m able to play. This is also my advice: don’t hold back. Try out new things. Bend to the whims of your imagination. In the past I dismissed certain creative impulses as being invaluable without realizing that every opportunity to explore the craft is valuable—now, I allow myself to write anything. If it’s part of my current novel? Great. If it’s terrible fanfiction that will never see the light of day? Spectacular. Even if you know what you’re writing is going to be incomprehensible, write it anyway.
I might return to the rut, but right now I’m loving being out of it. It’s the end of the first week of this year’s Nanowrimo, and I couldn’t be feeling any better. I guess what I’m trying to say is, do what you love. Listen to what you love. Actively seek it out, and make time for it.
I lost it for a long time, but the reunion is wonderful.
For all of you writers, best of luck with Nanowrimo. You can add me as a buddy or follow my progress by visiting http://nanowrimo.org/participants/pennstance.