Category Archives: Process
One thing I’ve been focusing on this year is the practice of stillness. Consciously gathering all of my energy back toward myself, letting everything external fade into the background, and just sitting with that point of stillness. I’m not into meditating as it’s never appealed to me, but this practice is helping me center.
My energy (yours, too) is sent outward — sometimes across great distances of time and space — to be present with others many times throughout the day. Everything that requires our attention requires a part of our energy. With a family, clients, characters, and a healing ministry to attend to, I have various demands on my energy — all of which I’m grateful for. They are all gifts. They are all with purpose. They all give my life a rich, deep meaning and variety. (I’d get bored doing just one thing.)
But they can also leave me feeling fragmented. The practice of stillness has become a way to center, to own my sense of self, to take back what is my “stuff” and release what isn’t, and to rest. I enjoy the sense of oneness that emerges. One body of energy. One purpose. One being.
It has me longing for a sense of oneness in the roles I have outside of being a wife and mother.
Writer. Copywriter. Blogger. Healer. Guide.
No matter how hard I try to find some way to pull them all under the same umbrella there just isn’t a way. My clients aren’t interested in my healing ministry. My combat veterans aren’t interested in my corporate writing. My creative blog readers aren’t interested in either of those roles. They (you, forgive me if I’m wrong) want inspiration for how to stay on this creative life path. Not how to deal with what it’s like to kill Iraqis.
Yet, throughout all of this there IS one central point and that is ME.
While I may never be “brittarequedragicevic.com” (gosh, no one could spell that anyway!), I do know that there are deeply rooted “soul” themes that play out in everything I do. Helping people lead more joy-filled, holistic lives. Inspiring and nurturing the human spirit. Guiding people to find their way back to their innate power and fully own their power to create a life that feels good.
These are why I’m here. So, how can I better express that as one being? One purpose?
I’ve been thinking about what it means to create a body of work as an artist. To bring variant pieces into one collection. And the concept appeals to me. The writing I do for business clients is owned by them — it’s akin to a product I create for them to their specifications. Yet, I’ve found ways to put more of what matters in life into the messaging. At the end of the day, all of my clients are in business to help people live better, more successful lives. (The fact that my clients and I share the same fundamental values is NOT by chance — I intentionally select clients that resonate with me.) I’m not sure I would put client writing into what I would call my body of work, but it does have a place. And I definitely am putting more of “me” into it than ever before.
My novels, scripts and blog posts do align and do revolve explicitly around my soul themes. The stories I write choose me, but they choose me because I am the one who can best interpret what they have to share with the world.
My healing ministry at lifeafterwar.org also aligns fully, perhaps the most deeply, with why I’m on this earth. And many of the combat veterans who find their way to me are also very talented creatives. So there is even more cross-over.
Hmm. I don’t have the full answer to this yet. I’m still pondering how to feel more at one with everything I do. Trying to unify it all. A body of work appeals because it feels cohesive, it honors the differences as they are, and it brings the sense of owning the energy back to me.
How do you do it?
I would love to hear how you handle your multiple roles and purposes. How do you create a sense of oneness in the midst of all you are in this world?
What do you bring to a story when you begin?
There’s a split camp between writers who outline and plot before they write and those who don’t. At the end of the day, what matters is that your method works – so I’m not going to approach this as a right vs. wrong debate. What I’m interested in is how Stories choose us and how we work with Characters to tell their stories. Every writer is unique and so is their writing process. I suspect that how Stories and Characters choose to interact with writers is highly and deeply personal. No doubt there is a underlying spiritual alignment. There’s also an alignment with how a writer receives, processes and moves through the world. Which camp you fall into most likely has to do with your way of moving in the world. Or, in other words, how you best communicate with the Storyworld.
Outside of the writing world (which only sees the finished product), writing appears to be logical, the author in full control. Fictional stories and characters are make-believe. The writer gets an idea, creates interesting characters, figures out what is going to happen (makes it up??) and writes it down. To the outside world, an ingenious for storytelling appears to be unique to writers. People generally credit writers as the originators of the story and my, aren’t we clever for coming up with such fascinating stories!
Ha. Stop right there.
Originators of the story? Let’s say you get a story idea. Where does that idea come from? It’s given to you, isn’t it? It appears in your mind. Can we really claim that we originated it? I don’t think so.
The Outliner/Plotters – Are You Really In Control?
If you are in the outline/plot camp, you’ll take that idea, mull it around, think about who the characters should be, create them based on well-established psychological archetypes, then decide what is going to happen at every plot point. You’ll have a solid idea of the complete story and the character arcs from start to finish. Then you start writing.
In this position, you are in control of the story. This is where we often hear writers say “then the story and characters took on a life of their own.”
What is that phenomena? You discover as you’re writing within your established framework that you aren’t quite as in control as you thought you were. Characters “come to life” and start saying and doing things that you hadn’t anticipated. The story may take a turn that works far better than your pre-determined plot point. (And if this doesn’t happen to you, you may be trying to force a story into existence. You’re not trusting the process enough to receive what your story has to give you.)
I believe and it’s been my experience that characters don’t “take on a life of their own” because they already have one to begin with. They exist in their own realm. They are fully formed and as unique and individual as you and I. You did not actually create them. Yes, you worked hard to figure out what archetype to use, what backstory to give them, what color of eyes they should have – and that gave you the perception that you’ve made them up. What if, in this process, what those characters were actually doing was revealing themselves to you in a way that your analytical mind could embrace?
Outlining and plotting are tools that help writers organize. They are a method for interacting with the story and characters. A way for the Story and Characters to work with your mind in a way that makes sense to you as a writer.
The Freestylists – Control Isn’t an Issue
In the freestyle camp, as I’ll call it (and where I reside), you get an idea for a story. It may not even be an idea. It may be a scene with a character or two in it. You listen into that unseen realm. You get glimpses of who the characters are. You get glimpses of a thing or two that happens. You may even see the end first. A lead character moves into your intuitive realm and you start having conversations. You sense their presence, their emotional state, and you listen, listen, listen. Like anyone else, they don’t reveal themselves to you in their entirety up front. You’re still a stranger, after all. You start building a relationship of trust. You may have entire scenes played out in detail to you. You take notes.
Then you start writing. And what is revealed on the page is a surprise to you. It flows out as if you are simply a channel. You listen, you write. You write, it emerges. You are deeply touched by who your characters are, what they go through, the conversations they have with other characters. You are a witness. You realize that they trust you. You’re not just a writer, but counselor, friend, confidante, coach, guide. They are, in turn, invested in your artistic career.
You are not in control of the characters or the story; only of the writing. Their story will be far bigger, far deeper, extend back further and out farther than what you will put on the page. As the writer, you have to make decisions about how to tell the story in the most effective way; yet, it’s never your story to tell.
If you work with your characters, if you trust them, they will collaborate with you. They have insight into what you should do. They’ll work with you to make those decisions. (We talk a lot about a writer’s isolation and forget that our characters are with us every step of the journey. We’re not as alone as we think.)
This method is a natural alignment for writers who move through life by intuition, who move in spiritual realms, who are comfortable trusting the process as open-ended and uncertain.
Either Way, Characters Need Your Trust & You Need Theirs
No matter which process you use, you’re going to work with characters. You don’t have to believe that they are anything more than a figment of your imagination (though I would encourage you to question where the things you imagine come from) to tell their stories. Yet, if you do open up to the possibility that they are more than meets the eye, you will find a rich storyworld where you don’t have to be in charge of everything. Your characters will carry responsibility for who they are, what they do and what they won’t do. Sure, you’ll collaborate with them to shape scenes to be most effective; you’ll cut, you’ll change, you’ll ask them to do a scene another way; maybe have some characters step in or out of the written story; but in the end, it will remain indelibly theirs.
And that’s why we write, isn’t it? To give characters a voice, to reveal their stories, and allow them to touch us.
It gets to all of us. We pin “procrastination” on our tendency to avoid doing the work. Work we feel passionate about. Work we spend months, years, sweating away (okay, maybe not actually sweating, but definitely toiling) in silence with no guarantee anyone will ever read it. No guarantee of financial success or fame or that anything will actually get easier, and a high likelihood that there will be rejection and dislike and questions about how could we write something like that and how we’ve offended some people.
We sit at the screen, check email, Twitter, Facebook (I’ve whittled away entire days — good, open, available writing days — just watching my timeline). We pay bills. Check bank accounts. Find cleaning to do. Organize. Make more coffee. Change music. Eat. Stare out the window at branches being thrashed mercilessly…
We all have days like this. I’m not going to drone on about “writer’s block” or “finding the muse” – you can find plenty of perfectly useful, distracting articles on those. No. Everything is about overcoming procrastination. Beating it into submission (ourselves, actually). Forcing. Talking yourself into or out of things. Facing your fears.
What if the days when the writing isn’t flowing and it feels as natural as putting your hand in fire, are intended to be that way?
What if there’s nothing to fight against? What if, instead of thinking we should be able to create, create, create as consistently as we can sit at an office desk and do work by rote, we accepted that creativity has rhythms? That we need to heed those rhythms.
That there is, actually, nothing wrong at all.
You’ve had days when the writing pours through you…faster than you can type, right? Time vanishes. You begin, then wake up from your storyworld 10, 12, 14 hours later, completely surprised to find that so much time has gone by. You’re not even tired — the work so closely aligns with your spirit that you slip back into the essence of timelessness. Those days are gold. Those days you are the channel. The work is the artist.
The work is the artist.
What if on those days when you just can’t bring yourself to begin, it’s not about you at all?
We like to think we are the creators of the work; when in reality, we are receivers, guardians and guides. If we would move out of the way and give heed to the fact that writing in a storyworld is a collaboration between our characters and ourselves, we’d have more grace for those days when our characters need a break, or when we do.
The avoidance? What if it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with whether or not the characters are ready? (Let’s face it, it’s not easy to be a character who has to spend most of his or her time in conflict, pain and fighting. Characters get worn out and need down time, too.) What if it has to do with the Universe needing time to arrange a few thoughts, emotions, reveal something through something that you don’t have access to at this moment?
Granted, there are days when it is your fear that holds you back. Those days you may need to… just begin.
But on those other days when you can’t pinpoint why you can’t get at it – consider that it may not be you at all. Then make a decision to step away from the work. Do something else. It’ll be ready when you come back.
As writers, we spend the majority of our time in revision. It’s where we truly get to know our characters and ourselves. It’s a time of intense concentration that requires different skill sets than first drafts. Revision is where we hone our craft. Where we wrestle. Where we experience the deepest depths, darkest fears, brightest illuminations. It is the real work of a writer and where writers and characters need the most support.
If you’re like most, revision is never done until you decide it’s done. Story is one of the only art forms that can always be improved, changed, re-directed, given new form. Because we spend so much time in revision, there are a few things we can be mindful of during the process.
It’s okay to feel lost.
We think we should always know where we’re going, don’t we? We get critical, trusted feedback; we take time to listen to our guidance on that feedback; we feel strong pressure to know where the story should be going from fade in to fade out. Some people swear by their ability to plot out their entire story from beginning to end. If that works for you, that’s wonderful. It doesn’t work for me. Story unfolds as I write it. I have a general understanding (usually) of the beginning and the end, with glimpses of points along the way. But for the most part, I don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens to the characters. I don’t know what they’re going to say until they say it. That may sound very chaotic, but for me, it works. I am the container that the story flows from. I give it shape and form, a place for the characters to dwell. Knowing up front where we’re all going? Not going to happen. Feeling lost and completely blind at times is just part of the art form. Which leads me to the next point.
Time is irrelevant, even with deadlines.
You’ve got a deadline – what do you do? Keep working. But work without striving. If you strive, you’ll lock down your ability to be receptive. Being receptive is 90% of your job. Keep an open mind toward time and understand that you can’t force it. So, take breaks. Step away. Listen to different music. Be present and available, there to receive. Keep a mindset that you’re on duty. Some of that time, you’ll only be on call. Waiting for the characters, waiting for something (you may never know what) to occur where the next scene or thought formulates. You may need to sit at your screen and just write. You’ll get a feel for the story’s rhythm, how the characters prefer to work with you, and the ebb and tide of your own process as a writer. Just flow, don’t force.
Characters need you more than ever to be perceptive.
Revision is stressful on you and even more stressful on your characters. If you’ve got a solid draft down, they’ve done considerable work with and for you. They’ve poured their energy and emotions into it far more than you have. And let’s face it, most of story is conflict and that’s a tough energy to sustain and endure. Give them a break. You’ve got to get characters to work with you, even if they disagree at first at the changes you (as the Story Director) are asking them to make. Include them in your decision-making process and they’ll surprise you with their willingness to dig deeper. Your protagonist and antagonist carry the most weight and should have the most influence on you. If you think of your characters as a cast (and bear in mind the actors who will embody their roles) and yourself as the Story Director, you’ll be able to ask characters to do or try new things — to fight harder, to reveal more, to defy each other — with the safety that at the end of the day, they’re all still friends.
Characters need you more than ever to be perceptive. You need to be available, there as coach, confidant, leader, ally, therapist, and witness. You will never work more closely with your characters than you will during revision. Build your team. Be compassionate. Be tough. And remember, no matter what, you’re responsible for making the final decisions.
Doubts are normal and necessary.
We all go through it. Doubts, fears, wondering how we’re ever going to pull this off. We run up against challenges that make us quiver. This happens to every one. Success just makes it worse. Doubts are part of the process and this never changes. But think about it — doubts mean we’ve come to a place that is stretching us to either grow as a writer (and a person) or quit. There are no other options. If you grow, you expand your writing acumen, your craft and your experience.
Your mind and spirit need to disengage.
You’re in the midst of revision on a project you feel passionate about. Time passes unnoticed. You are in your story more than out of it. You think about it all of the time. You push on, keep going. Just stop for a moment. Your mind and spirit need a break. The more engaged you are in revision, the more likely that you’re dealing with characters and scenes that are emotionally trying. To the characters, and to you. These emotions may have little or nothing to do with your non-writing life though. You need space to process them. (If you’re not feeling your character’s emotions, you need to dig deeper, because if you can’t feel them, your reader/viewer won’t either.) Let your character’s emotions flow in and through you, but make sure you let them flow away and out of you as well.
Be patiently persistent.
Take the attitude that you will never give up. If what you’re writing means something to you, then set it in your heart that you will do whatever it takes to nurture it, protect it, support it and carry it into the world. Set it in your heart, too, that the process of writing is the real life of a writer. It’s not the film made, the book published. It’s the act of writing. That’s where your successes arise, that’s where you feel the joy. That’s where you are a writer.
There are two sides to creative projects: what the project wants to be, in and of itself, and what we want an audience to perceive and experience. In between there is a space. This space is where the magic happens – where the project communicates to the audience – without us. And where the audience takes over as they create in that space. It’s easy to forget this. Yet, for work to truly live, we need to be mindful of it.
The Work Has Purpose Even Without An Audience
Before we dive in, it’s important to remember that work does not need an audience to matter. As artists, we focus most of our energy in creating the work, giving it everything necessary to survive without us. This is our highest calling, to receive the work, to bring it forth, to nurture it and allow it to emerge through us. The work has meaning simply because it exists. It doesn’t need an audience to have purpose or a place in this world. All those drafts written and put aside in drawers? They matter. They count. Unseen work matters because it exists. (Not to be confused with unfinished work – which may or may not have found its purpose.)
The energy we pour into bringing forth the work is well spent, no matter if anyone sees it or not. On this side of the equation, we allow the work to develop into its fullest form and simply be. When our part is done, we are satisfied and fulfilled because the work stands on its own without us. There is nothing “wrong” in itself with artists bringing forth work that no one else sees. The work’s sole purpose may simply be how it changes the artist.
Yet, most of us want our work to reach an audience.
The Space Between the Work and Audience
Because we want to reach an audience, we usually have an intention behind our work – a reason why we create. We have specific responses we want to elicit in an audience. To entertain, inspire, touch, disturb, raise awareness, incite remembrance, elicit joy, forget, heal, delight, awe – we generally know what we want an audience to experience. So we keep that in mind as we craft our work. We control what we can, calculate where possible, refine and adapt to ensure that audiences respond as we desire. This is our responsibility as artists. What we are paid to do.
But, in our effort to do this, we need to remember the space.
Because the Audience Also Creates
When the work is fully formed and we’ve given it everything possible, there remains a gap. That space between the work and the audience where the audience creates its own experience. The audience interprets meaning, events, intention, and receives the work through the filter of their own experiences and associations. And that’s one thing we cannot control. What is communicated and what is understood can be polar opposites. Which can be why some work fails to generate the response and sales we desire. And certainly why some work, assuming it’s well done, fails to resonate with individual audience members.
But while it is a risk to the artist and investors, this gap is actually something we need to honor. Why? Because this is where the magic happens.
This is where the work can truly touch hearts, minds, souls.
We need to leave audiences enough room to engage in this creation. If we spoon-feed them every aspect, spell-out every meaning, leave nothing of intrigue or uncertainy, we deprive audiences of their ability to receive the full impact of what the work desires to create in them.
As we craft, we need to be mindful to leave spaces where the audience can meet the work on their own terms.