The Nature of Creative Insight:
I’m an incurable creative. I’m a slave to my creative inspiration. It comes as insights when I meditate deeply. I get a mental image of story as vivid as if I were watching a movie. It comes in a flash, and in that flash I see a whole story, not all the details, but enough that I sense that the story already exists. I’m not writing it so much as revealing it.
Stephen King talks about writing in this way. And I’d hazard a guess and say that the richest books in terms of underlying themes come to their authors this way—not from their conceptual mind, but from creative insight.
The upside of this is that my books are different. Apart from the Diamond Peak Series, which is a straight metaphysical fantasy, they have a mix of themes and genres that make them interesting—at least to intelligent people who can see the multiple themes and how they’re woven together.
The downside of this is that my books are different. That makes them hard to market because it’s hard to find the right words to describe the genres in one or two words—and Amazon only gives you two choices.
The problem with seeing stories rather than planning them:
Seeing stories rather than planning them also makes them tricky to pull off. It can be tricky to write what I see without diminishing or distorting it. And sometimes they just don’t seem to be working. Sometimes I think I have them finished, then I send them off to beta readers and get feedback that indicates that a massive re-write is required. If I wrote simpler things, I wouldn’t have this problem, but the stories that reveal themselves to me have many threads and they can be hard to juggle.
Take Dispossessed for instance: How do I get the balance of sex, spirituality and politics right so that I don’t offend those who are primarily interested in the spiritual aspect, and don’t overload the romance readers with metaphysics and social and gender politics?
Why give up:
So what do I do when it all gets a bit too much, when the feedback indicates that I haven’t managed what I was trying to achieve at all and that a total re-think is required? I give up.
My husband knows what happens then. A few days later, or even the next day, I throw myself back into my project with renewed enthusiasm.
‘But I thought you gave it up?’ he says.
That’s the trick. When you give up completely, you let everything go. That means that you get a clean slate. Mentally you relax. You have nothing more to lose, because you’ve already let it go. That enables you look at your work afresh. And if things are stuck or just not working, then looking at it afresh is what you need.
How to give up properly:
For giving up to move you forward with a project rather than stopping you dead in your tracks, you have to let it go so completely that it’s a relief. You need to see the days ahead as blissfully free of demands on your time, so you get a real sense of freedom to do just what you feel like doing at any particular time. No need to finish that draft or get it to a beta reader by the end of the week. No need to do anything.
Only then can fresh inspiration come. But don’t wait for it to come. You’ve given up completely, remember. If there is any holding on left at all, your mind won’t be free to allow fresh insight to arrive.
I usually give up at the end of the day when I’m tired. It’s a good time to give up because then you can sleep without worrying about your project. A good night sleep works wonders. If you’re fresh in the morning, things won’t look quite so daunting.
But you’ve given up, remember? So you’re not to do anything on your project unless you have fresh insight and get really inspired.
You’re not giving up in order to finish the project; you’re giving up because that’s what you need to do at this point in time.
Sometimes I give up and the new inspiration comes after I’ve taken a walk and had a cup of tea. It’s not the time length, it’s the completeness of the giving up that is important. You must totally surrender all agendas.
What not to do just after you’ve given up:
- Don’t go telling the world you’ve given up (husbands and immediate family are okay);
- Don’t cancel your beta readers;
- Don’t delete your website;
- Don’t delete your document.
If after a week or so, you’ve decided that you really are going to abandon the project, then fine, go ahead and tell those who need to know, but still don’t delete anything, because you may come back to it in a couple of years. It may take that long or more before you get motivated to look at it again.
The too-hard basket is not a permanent receptacle:
I wrote Dispossessed in 2012 while my agent was trying to get a publisher for Lethal Inheritance. I knew then that I didn’t have the skills to make it work as it should, so I put it in the too-hard basket. It took me 5 years before I decided it was time to take it out of that basket, but I always figured that I would.
I have another book in that basket too—it needs a complete re-write—and a third one in the ‘waiting for new inspiration’ basket.
I know it will come when I’m ready for it, so long as I’m not trying to force it.
True inspiration of the depth you need for a radical new approach can only appear in an empty mind.
Have you ever given up a creative project then gone back to it later? What happened then?