Shifting my perspective on the creative process


You may have noticed that we at The Salvage are all about rituals. It wasn't always like that for me. I'm really late to the game on this one.

I had thought that my creative process was supposed to be romantic: emotional, chaotic and spontaneous. Without borders. Without an outline. Unedited. I was always called to creative action by anger. 

That hell-fire approach left me burnt out, unproductive, and with a collection of shitty, embarrassing poetry and kept me from writing about what was actually important to me. My anger was and still is important - it's always going to be prominent and has been a valuable asset and catalyst. But now, I can channel it more effectively.

Shifting my perspective on what the creative process is all about was the first step. When I realized that I wasn't putting out my best work, nor comfortable with how I was perceived, I understood I needed to make a change. I'm not a tragedy and I'm certainly not always in a rage (quite the opposite, for the most part) but I was allowing myself to be, and that was what my work and "image" was portraying.

Quite frankly, I needed to chill the fuck out. There's a lot I can blame and list to justify past me, but present me is more sympathetic. To get out of the dark place, I had to want to get out of it. Once I wanted to get out, I had to learn and lean on new ways of working to...make this actually work for me.

After some reverent soul-searching, I remembered my first true love: essay writing. It sounds ridiculous, but it's true - nothing else gave me the sense of confidence and accomplishment the way building an A+ (or just A, because university) did. I decided I could apply everything I loved about essay writing to my creative writing:

  1. Having a point: Being able to answer the question, "So what?"
  2. Creating a detailed outline: Organized as fuck and ready to bang out the details with thoughtful content.
  3. A plan to execute: I will do this and I will kill it!!!
  4. A timeline: Not for everyone, but I'm big on a deadline because I need to know when to stop obsessing over something.
  5. Breaks and emotional recovery: I don't need to be at this constantly and it's okay to detach and come back to it later. If I'm getting too frustrated, I'm not doing it well.

Creating with intention is (not hyperbole) approximately five billion times more productive than not. I was very, very wrong to feel like (but not fully believe that) academic writing needed to be completely separate from creative writing. It doesn't - I can be a creative, intellectual person with boundaries and spontaneity. 

The benefits of my shift are plentiful. The quality of my work has improved. I am less stressed out and ashamed of what I've made. I have goals and I'm not just pumping out crap because I'm feeling enraged or heartbroken. I can explore a wider range of thoughts and ideals with more control and - wow I never thought it was possible - more ease.

You are never too far along or entrenched in your process to realize a shift might be necessary. When you give yourself permission to take a step back from your work and assess where you are versus where you want to be, you will be creating space for you to grow.

So, if you're like me and ostensibly "set in your ways," look for opportunities to shift your thinking. What are you stuck in? When did you notice a dire need for change?