Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: creative process

On The Creative Flow and Kidney Stones

     Sometimes there is a flow, y’know?

     Sometimes it all just comes out, rushing and tripping over itself to get on the page. It comes so fast and so hard that you spend hours and hours throwing it down, but the stream still doesn’t let up. Not until you’re finally mentally and even a bit physically exhausted. Then you pack up, go home and have a great day.

     But sometimes it’s different. Sometimes it’s like having kidney stones.

     You can feel the flow, deep inside of you. It wants out. No, it needs out. So you go to the place where you can get it out, but it doesn’t come the way you want it to. It comes out in frustrating trickles. And it hurts. It hurts so much that you don’t even want to do it anymore. So you throw it down and walk away.

     But you can’t stay away for long. You need to get it out. Even though every time you try, the pain flares up and you begin to hate the process.

     What do you do then?

     Keep trying. Keep working. I know it hurts. I know you can see blood in it and it kinda smells funny. That’s fine. It’s alright. It’s still coming out, and that’s what is important. Eventually the stone will pass. It’ll pass when the pain and the struggle is at its zenith. Then, suddenly, you’ll be cured and the flow will return.

     I’ve had creative kidney stones for a week now. It hurts. I feel like I’m bleeding onto the page. I’m probably going to miss my self-imposed deadline, unless this stone gets passed today. But I’m not too discouraged. I’m still standing over the toilet, trying my best. Sweating and groaning and swearing, but still here. It’ll pass one day.

     And, yes, I did just liken the entire creative process to urination. So there.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Genius

     Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, gave a great TED Talk about where creativity comes from. Watch it.

     For years I have thought that genius and creativity was from the outside. The artist does not generate her art, she translates the whisperings she hears onto page or canvas or sound.

Things That Make Me Creative

Things that aid my creative spirit:

  • Quiet. Peace. Silence. Stillness. There is something holy when you are alone and still. And when things gets holy, wild stuff happens.
  • Noise. There is even more holiness in noise! The bustle of a coffee shop. The movement of traffic downtown. Kids in a park. Noise is a product of life and it gives some of the best creative energy I’ve tasted.
  • Mysticism and Meditation. I’m a spiritual person. When I retreat into prayer and mindful meditation, I connect myself with the Divine. Sometimes I verbally pour out my spirit. Sometimes I merely sit and breathe with mindfulness. Sometimes I use a mantra. Whatever path I take, touching God is a beautiful, energizing thing.
  • Wandering. Literally. I wander around the house. I wander around my neighbourhood. No plans or goals. No thinking. Just wandering. And, as I go, my muse starts walking beside me. I say ‘hi’ to her. She says ‘hi’ back. And suddenly she’s telling me about all the neat things she’s been thinking about.
  • Tea. Green. Steeped for two minutes in 80 degree water. Any longer and it’s bitter. Green tea does wonders for my soul.
  • Diet. I cannot do anything creative or useful after eating something deep fried. A (relatively) consistently healthy diet has energized all my creative endeavors.
  • Reading. I can’t produce if I don’t consume. All the great writers disagree on how writing gets done, but they agree on this point: If you don’t read, you won’t be able to write.
  • Doom II. Quick, mindless, plotless video games. I unplug for ten minutes and come back to my work refreshed and sated.
  • Yellow Notepads. When I’m stuck, out comes the notepad. Things become unclogged when I’m scribbling and drawing arrows and lines and plotting things out.
  • Sleep. Sometimes it’s not about laziness or a lack of drive. Sometimes I’m just tired and I need a nap. And I refuse to feel guilty about it.

What drives your creativity?

Revision, Rewriting, Redoing

     I finished the first draft to my second novel on October 30th. It’s a rush to hit the save button and laugh over the epic word-count.

     Now what? Print, pack and send off to the drooling masses?

     Not for a long, long time.

     I’ve compared the creative process to giving birth. It’s messy, painful, and sometimes you can’t remember why you’re doing it. But the baby at the end is always worth it. After the baby (novel) is born, what do you do with her? Do you dress her up, pat her on the head and send her off into the world? Not a chance. She’s not ready. She’s not complete. She cannot stand on her own two feet yet. So you spend the next few years raising her.    

‘The first draft of anything is shit.’ – Ernest Hemingway

     Thankfully I love rewriting and revising. I’m already halfway done my first pass. I have no idea how many passes I’ll need. It’s a great feeling to finally squeeze out the first draft. It’s an even better feeling to mark it up with red pen and turn it into the novel that it’s meant to be.

     I think a lot of people get discouraged as they write because they recognize what they’re writing is crap. The thing is, it’s supposed to be crap. The first draft is just giving birth. It’s bloody, loud and not a thing you’d invite your neighbour to be a part of. You do it in secret, or maybe with a ridiculously close person. The baby needs to be cleaned up before you trust her with extended family. And most of the world doesn’t get to play with her until you decide she’s ready.

     It’s the same with your novel. Don’t worry if it seems whiny or trite. Don’t worry about the shallow dialogue and the painfully obvious plot holes. It’s supposed to be that way. Your revisions will fix everything. Everything.

     So write that crap. You can clean it up later.