Jan 22 2020
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Mapping your creative process to sustain your writing practice

One of the guiding philosophies of the Center is that without a solid understanding of your own creative process, you risk hitting a dead end in your writing practice.

When the words and ideas are flowing, it might seem like they will never stop. Taking some time to assess your situation feels like something you do when things aren’t going well; but in fact, doing so while you are in a productive period is exactly the kind of writing mindfulness that will keep you coming back to the page.

Think beyond taking stock of what you are working on at the moment. If you give some thought to how you work, you can maximize your efforts, navigate challenges with if not ease then at least relative calm, and be confident enough to experiment in the future.

I suggest mapping your creative process through the following three-step series of questions:

Where have I been?

Look back to when you first decided you wanted to become a writer. Maybe you were a child penning short stories, a teenager writing angst-ridden poems, or a young adult taking a writing elective in college. Maybe mid-career, you found yourself taking on more writing responsibilities and realized you enjoyed the work. Or maybe you found writing in retirement. How did writing, and reading good writing, make you feel at that early stage, whether it was yesterday or 50 years ago? How and when did you know that you wanted to keep writing? What has your writing life looked like since that pivotal moment?

Furthermore, what challenges have you overcome? Be thoughtful about those barriers, because in the space between recognizing and steering past problems is where your commitment to your art was fortified. I am a writer; pause and revel in that awareness. And if your biggest challenge has been just getting to the page or screen to begin with, then that is the journey for which you need to pack. Knowing where you started and how far you have come is the best way to determine your next step forward.

Where am I now?

Are you writing now? If so, what is working for you at the moment? Consider what, where, when, and why you are writing, too. What is the project, and what is enjoyable about writing it? Do you have a comfortable, dedicated space for writing in your home that is helping you to be more inspired and efficient? Have you identified the perfect time of day to capitalize on your energy and free time to write? Or the perfect day of the week? What is the impetus behind this writing project? With all of these considerations, how can you replicate what’s working to promote future success?

And if you are not writing now, what might help? Take a blank sheet of paper and make two columns, one titled “Barrier” and the other titled “Work-around.” Create a list of reasons why you feel unable to write, and then a possible solution beside it—even if that solution feels unattainable. For example, a barrier might be “I work long hours” and the solution you brainstorm might be “Quit my job.” Most people can’t just decide to quit their jobs, right? But writing it down can lead you to imagine what it would be like to have all the time in the world to dedicate to something you’d rather be doing than working. Such imagining might motivate you to revisit that problem and spend more time coming up with a reasonable solution, one you might actually be able to implement. If half of your “work-arounds” are unreasonable, then focus on the ones that ARE reasonable and you will make at least some progress.

Where do I want to go?

You have identified what is working and what isn’t working with regard to your writing practice, and even jotted down some reasonable solutions to the unique challenges you face in trying to sustain your practice. Now, what is your end goal or goals? It’s time to write it out. As with the list of barriers and their corresponding work-arounds, feel free to be unreasonable! If the ultimate dream is to write a novel that makes the New York Times bestseller list, write it down! Be honest and unashamed of your goals.

Now, sort those goals according to how tangible and quantifiable they are considering where you are now. Think about how attainable they feel. Is there a trajectory, or are the goals disconnected? If you see a path, can you break it down into mile markers? Are you willing to keep track of those mile markers and revel in the little successes along the way? Because now that you have tapped into this awareness about your creative process, keep the light on and keep checking in with yourself.

What do you do to sustain your writing practice? Will you try mapping your creative process? Share with us in the comments!

Related reading: Writers, set micro goals for major progress

Respect the process to meet your writing goals

Take yourself seriously as a writer in 3 steps

Why you need to write about your writing

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