On Creating Taking a Long Freaking Time

May 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

Guest post by Steven Grahmann.

It’s probably cliché to say I got the idea for my novel in the shower, but that’s how it happened.

I’d always wanted to write a book about my favorite topics – outer space, culture, bullies, and an ordinary kid becoming extraordinary without having to develop superpowers. But I needed an idea that would draw all those things together. That idea had eluded me for years but it popped into my head one morning, and yes, it was in the shower. I started writing as soon as I was dry. And I figured the process would be fast and furious – I’d be done in a year, tops.

That was five years ago.

Sometimes it depresses me, how long this has taken. It makes me feel guilty, too. Have I done something wrong? Should I be waking up before the sun or spending my evenings in coffee shops listening to The Decemberists on my headphones and hammering away? Or should I be practicing more – journaling or blogging everything that happens to me in order to hone my craft and get the juices flowing? Should I be working harder?

I’ve learned a lot of lessons during the process of writing my book, now titled The Ordinaries and in its fourth draft. Here’s one lesson: the creative process often takes longer than you, and others, think it should. Here’s another:  there are seasons in the creative process – and sometimes, it’s ok not to create at all.

I’m not sure that “seasons” is the right word, actually, because it implies that it’s out of my control, like winter. No, I’m pretty sure I have complete control over when I create or don’t create. So the main reason my book is unsold, unpublished, out of tune and unfinished is that I’ve chosen to do other things rather than complete it. As someone who defines himself (for better or for worse) as a creative person, this was an extremely difficult – and extremely important – truth to grasp.

There have been times when I’ve needed to rest instead of create. There have been evenings (many!) when I’ve chosen to play with my kids instead of rushing off somewhere to write (I’ve even told myself “I’ll have time to finish the book when they’re teenagers and hate me.” Writing simply can’t compete with the fact that they like me right now). There have been times when I’ve been celebrating, or engaging with others, or staying healthy, or grieving, and I need to put my energy into those things instead of working on my book. There are times when I’ve decided that the amazing thing in which I just took part was a piece of art in itself, and I don’t need to write it down or add it to my book or share it with other people – it was mine and the memory is enough. And through it all, my process – this process of fleshing out the idea that struck me in the shower that morning – has stretched out longer and longer and longer.

And even though the way I feel about that is complicated, I think it’s ok. We creatives have to give ourselves a break. Good things take a long time. There have to be breaks in the process of creation, or else there’s no time for living. And if we don’t live, we have no stories to tell.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go play Legos with my kids.

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