Restoring creative flow – tips and techniques

Restoring creative flow – tips and techniques

Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash.

A while back I sent Pierrot’s Song to my publisher. And I started thinking about what to work on next (and blogged about it – click here). I had a number of choices, and then something came up and I had one more. It became very hard to know which one to follow. But eventually I made my choice. I’m working on two projects at once. One is a new one that requires a fair bit of research so it has a clear direction. When I sit down to work on it I know exactly what to do and it will flow without any effort. The other is a YA Spec Fic series, and every time I tried to work on it, until today, I just couldn’t get into the flow.

When I pulled this project out, I had a very rough outline of the story, and a complete draft of the first book.  But it all felt a bit nebulous. I read through the first book to remind myself of what it’s all about. I made notes as I read so I could start editing it. But then I thought about how I had planted seeds in Harlequin’s Riddle that would come to fruition in Pierrot’s Song. And I knew I couldn’t edit this new book properly until I had the series fully plotted. I knew from past experience it wouldn’t flow until I knew where it was going.

Longer stories need multiple arcs

Not every writer works by creating a detailed plot, and I’m not saying everyone should, but it’s the way I roll. A three book series should have a story arc for each book, with a clear conclusion. But it should also have a story arc that plays out across the whole trilogy. Plus I always find it way more satisfying if I’m reading a series and I can find clues and foreshadowing in earlier books. So I like to give that to my readers too. You can only add that sort of thing in to a first book if you know what’s going to happen later on.

The problem with plotting the new series was that my rough outline, done five years ago, was far too vague. So I knew my first task was to create a detailed plot. But it just wouldn’t flow. I’ve spent the last two weeks picking at the problem, trying to think my way through it. And getting nowhere.

Techniques for finding story

I realised thinking really hard and hoping a story would appear from the strain wasn’t the answer. It certainly wasn’t how I’d developed stories before. So I went back over my notes about the series, trying to get into the mindset I had originally. I wrote the first book of this series for my PhD, so there were a rather extraordinary amount of notes. But they were academic style musings about climate fiction and the influence of other authors on my writing and the use of the hero trope in Disney movies. None of these were doorways into story.

Next I went back over my character notes, which were fairly detailed. I felt the inklings of story thoughts arising. I had known these characters really well. After all, I had created them. But it was sort of like seeing an old friend after five years – I had to spend time getting to know them all over again. So I went back and read parts of the book again to immerse myself in their voices and thoughts. And that magical thing happened where I started to know them from the inside out, rather than the outside in. They weren’t just descriptions on a page, they were real people. If only inside my head – for now.

I also looked at some of the concepts that had inspired me to write the book. These came from mythology and from recent responses to climate change such as the transition town movement. Since I first wrote this book climate change issues, and community responses, have moved rapidly. By Google searching how teenagers are currently responding to climate change, I found myself becoming increasingly inspired and optimistic.

Giving myself permission

Photo by Chris Abney on Unsplash.

Don’t all the best realisations happen in the shower or at 3am? Mine came to me in the middle of last night. Although I was starting to hear my characters speak to me again, and was starting to get ideas for plot points, I was struggling to find the overarching story because I wasn’t allowing myself to. My mind was dominated by the worry that I should be working on something that would pay by the hour, such as editing or teaching. Pardon me while I get all political for a moment here, but the neo-capitalist model tells us we have no worth if we’re not bringing in income and contributing to the economy. Having recently finished several extended editing jobs, I had the financial capacity to spend time on my own projects. But I wasn’t allowing myself the mental capacity. And it was getting in the way of my creative energy.

The plot begins to flow

Today I gave myself permission to work on my creative projects. I gave myself a severe talking to about the value of art and creativity in our culture. This is a fundamental belief I hold, but occasionally the economic rationalist model sneaks up and hijacks my thinking. But I work hard to bring in income sometimes so that I have free time to write my stories at other times. And I need to stop feeling like my creative time is not ‘real work’. Because it is.

Reacquainting myself with my characters was important for recovering their voices. Reminding myself of the key ideas behind the books helped me remember the impetus for the story. Getting myself up-to-date on the incredible leadership teenagers are showing in relation to climate change was inspiring. And after I gave myself permission to spend my time being creative, even though it’s not generating an hourly rate of pay, the ideas started spilling onto the page with the ease I’ve known in the past.  I had rediscovered my story.