In honor of getting back to my creative roots, I’m taking things slow. It’s easier to build up momentum that way. I wholeheartedly agree with jumping in with both feet, usually, but this time, things feel like a slow-burn approach. Mostly because jumping in feels foreign and uncomfortable. It’s not something I’m used to anymore. In fact, it feels like something I’ve never done, even though I know that isn’t true. So I keep telling myself this is the way to do it. Don’t guilt yourself into it. Don’t feel bad if you don’t. Do what feels right. Even though I know once I get going, it will feel right. It’ll feel normal…for the first time in a long time. If I know that, why does it feel hard? Why does it feel like I’m a hack? Like a wannabe? Why is it uncomfortable to sit down and create? That, my friends, is the question.
A slow-burn approach, ( i.e. only utilizing writing when it feels good) isn’t extremely productive when it comes to word count. This I know. But it allows me to do what I love to do most before a world unfolds; daydream. Often times I won’t talk to anyone about a book I’m working on. Not in the early stages. I have a strange legend-like fear that tells me if I voice the idea too soon, it may leave. Maybe it hasn’t grown roots in my soul yet and all it takes is a whisper to allow it to escape, never to be seen again. Foolish? Perhaps. But not a risk I’m willing to take. Maybe I just want to keep it to myself for a little while longer. That seems equally as likely.
When I’m ready to talk, it’s either because I have it all figured out and I’m excited, or more often than not, I’m stuck. I enjoy having a soundboard; someone to talk about my ideas with. They don’t even need to speak or provide me with the answers. I just need to talk and the problems resolve themselves, or the ideas unfold in a natural way. In some cases, I need feedback on what I’m thinking or where I’m stuck. With that in mind, an interesting thing happened to me on the weekend.
As you know, it’s been a few years and then some since I published a novel. In that time, it appears my oldest little girl has grown up. They both have, in fact, quite a bit more than I’m comfortable with, but alas, such is life. I digress. With the knowledge of my oldest having grown up seemingly overnight, an interesting thing happened. She became a part of the soundboard system. Usually, it’s me and my wife, but this time, she jumped right in too. I guess she’s old enough to partake now. Who knew?
So here we are, sitting at the kitchen table, and I’m emptying my brain of all the ideas, some of which are written down, others are drawn; some residing in my head permanently. In the midst of it, my oldest daughter starts rapid-firing questions at me.
Normally I don’t like questions about my story when I’m still trying to figure it out. Not because they’re not legitimate questions, they are, but because they don’t necessary apply to the creative barrier I’m trying to overcome. Also, it’s frustrating to not have the answers. It makes me feel unprepared. I’m aware they are questions that, at some point, will require answers. They’re a part of the world that needs to be built, but when I’m trying to talk it out I don’t want minute details, I want a bulldozer to take down the current obstacle, or some glue to adhere ideas together. In this case, I had already broken the rule and talked about the idea before it was written. I had a plot and characters and a magical system being built. I had the overall idea in place, but not the nitty-gritty. Lucky for me, the idea didn’t float away.
I was so caught off guard and excited by her interest and interjection into the brainstorming process that rrther than feel unprepared by the barrage of questions, I embraced them. They weren’t criticisms at a crappy idea, they were genuine questions of interest. At first, it was “answer this or that,” and I wanted to be encouraging of her participation. I did the best I could, in some cases making it up as I went. In some cases, I could only answer “I don’t know yet.” That didn’t slow her down and the questions kept coming, and the more that came, the more I tried to answer, whether with actual answers or trying to figure it out on the spot.
Low and behold, the answers started to come.
The wall I wanted to breakthrough crumbled, not by talking out the challenge I felt was in front of me, but in answering the questions I don’t usually want to deal with this early in the project. It was revitalizing and exciting to have her and my wife listening and inquiring while I put pieces in their place. How did something usually uncomfortable turn out to be amazing? That was an interesting thought.
I realized that this applied to so many things in my life. In everybody’s life. Often times the questions we fear the most; the things in life we avoid because they’re scary or in some way uncomfortable, are often the things we need the most to move forward. We avoid them because of the discomfort. Who wants to be uncomfortable? No me. I want things to fall into place naturally, and everything to have a nice slow, la-de-da sing-song approach and fall in my lap. If only life were so easy.
The truth is most of us don’t know a lot of things. And it’s not our lack of knowledge that holds us back. It’s often-times our lack of drive to go out and chase what we want. Acquiring it may involve doing something we’ve never done before, or crossing borders to unfamiliar lands, which are new and strange and therefore…uncomfortable.
There are a lot of things worth doing just a step or two out of our comfort zones. But it can be a horrible feeling taking those steps unless it happens in a way we don’t notice. A way that feels natural because we weren’t on the defense. We weren’t apprehensive because we were so engulfed with what we were doing we didn’t notice we just crossed into the dark lands, that shadowy area just beyond the trees that isn’t a part of our kingdom…sorry, bad Lion King reference. Disney+ has got its hooks in me.
Back on track.
If we can get so involved in what we’re doing that we forget to be afraid, we don’t realize we’re progressing until we turn around and see how far we’ve come. So how do we get there consciously? How do we force ourselves to become so focused we don’t realize we’re outside of our designated comfort zones and doing something we’ve never done before? Or something it feels like we’ve never done before?
Well, that’s the million-dollar question, my friends. I’ll expect your answers by Friday, I have things to get done that are beyond my comfort zone, and I need to know how to get out safely.