Whose Bright Idea Was It to Talk About Staying Creative? Probably Mine.

Hanging-Light-Bulb-PictureThis week’s topic is…staying creative? Oh, boy.

When the Debs chose our topics for the year oh-so-long ago, this topic probably seemed like a homerun. Easy peasy, we must have thought to ourselves. Smug bitches.

Not so smug anymore: I now report to you from a writing desert so vast and desolate that I fear to tell you about it. It’s embarrassing, is what it is.

It’s not as though I’ve never experienced a creative slump before, but since I started writing again seriously, found an agent, and sold The Black Hour, I haven’t had one quite this troubling.

You think: If I got it together to write a book once, surely I can get it together to do it again. But here’s the dirty little secret first-time novelists have to learn for themselves. Once you’ve sold your book, you’re on the treadmill. Not all genres want a book a year, but the mystery community is basically built on this premise. Welcome to the ThunderDome. What’s your next book about?

In addition to any expectations your publishing team might have, it’s a different life writing a second or third book. Debut novelists get all the time they need to hone that first book. Sure you have a family. Of course you have a job. But you can write a book, too! But try adding another layer: promotion of the first book in addition to writing a new one.

And that’s where we are. In the Serengeti of Writing.

I’ve tried all my life to find a balance between being an ambitious person who has a few things on her bucket list she wants to accomplish and being a person who can enjoy the moment. But now I’ve got a lot of outside pressure to teeter off the ambition side. Look, I’m an excellent teeterer. (I once fell off my own, actual treadmill.) But I miss the part of me who knows how to enjoy the moment. She is getting totally screwed right now. She’s also the one who produces most of the writing drafts around this place.

So to lure the mindful part of myself out of hiding while the ambitious side is still gleefully checking off bucket list items, I’m trying a few things:

Writing challenge with a friend. My friend is having a baby and wants to get as much writing done before her due date as possible. I’m joining in on her deadline. Sans child, of course. Ambitious Self loves this one.

Building a book soundtrack. I listen to music when I write. It helps me focus. But the tunes have to be right. So I build an iTunes playlist for each project and add to it over time as the project changes. This tactic is for the Dreamy Self. She likes the band Beach House, and she thinks the Lorde song “Team” is helping to write her book.

Working ahead like a mofo. You’re reading this on June 9th or beyond, but guess what? I’m writing it on May 12th. I’m assuming that lots of opportunities will surprise me the closer I get to publication day, so I’m doing everything I can do now three weeks ago.

Remembering that this is what I dreamt of. My friend Lynne Raimondo says she’s her husband accuses her of “moving the goalposts” so that every time she accomplishes something new, a new goal pops up before she can enjoy any success. Well, that’s how we get on down the road, isn’t it? But we should also get a road stop once in a while. And then that’s where we stretch our legs and look out at how far we’ve come.

We’ve come pretty far. Now. Can we stay creative?

What tactics would you use?

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Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

This article has 10 Comments

  1. I love this advice, Lori! And I know that you’ll be out of your slump in no time. I have realized that when I actually have a quiet, solitary moment of just not thinking about anything (I know, when does that ever happen!) that’s when my best ideas come. And definitely listening to music! My first novel is very Southern, so I’ve been listening to country music like crazy! Have a wonderful week!

    1. Music—with headphones, especially—helps focus me in a way almost nothing else does. I know lots of people who can’t write to music with lyrics, but luckily that’s not a problem I have.

  2. For the first book I wrote, I had a soundtrack that got me into story mode right away. Didn’t work so great for Chasing the Sun, unfortunately.

    So true what you say about moving the goal posts vs. stopping every once in a while to enjoy where we are. I’m in awe of how far in advance you’ve written your posts!

  3. Lori, just wondering how your June 9 self relates to your May 12 post. Enjoy the rest stop before the July 8 release and everything that it adds to an already hectic schedule.

  4. I hope you’ve been able to write since May 12th! I’m on that hamster wheel right now, working on book three and trying to crank that thing out. It’s fighting back and doesn’t want me to move quickly. SIGH. But you’re right–this is living the dream. This is a GOOD problem to have.

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