Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: work

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.

Sweat the Hard Stuff

        The hardest stuff is always the best.

        I’m tired right now. I gave a sermon on Sunday. It was inspired by a conversation four angry Baptists had that I overheard. I’m always wrecked two days after giving a sermon. Preaching is, honestly, one of the funnest things in the universe. Stressful, tense, but fun. But it drains every drop of emotional, mental and creative energy I have. Come Tuesday, I have an IQ of 60, lack the imagination to draw a circle and nearly weep when I see an ugly cat.

        So it’s hard to do the hard stuff in the week following a sermon.

        Which sucks, because the hard stuff is the best stuff.

        When you have to sweat a bit to create or consume something.

        When it’s tough, but you’re still good enough to pull it off.

        Reading a profound poem.

        Writing an emotional scene.

        Cooking a pot of palak paneer that makes your Pakistani wife go ‘Hai Allah!”

        Those are great.

        Those are hard.

        Especially after draining myself on a Sunday morning.

Death of Dreams

     Do you, um, have a minute?

    Because I think we need to talk. Have a seat.

    I’m not too sure how to begin…

    I want you to remember that I respect you. I love you. And I believe that you are your own person and you have to make your own choices and follow your own path.

    And I’m not judging you. God knows I have enough problems of my own to handle without trying to handle yours.

    But I’ve noticed something and I thought I ought to bring it up.

    What happened to you?

    Remember how you used to talk? All those wild dreams you had? You were going to save the world, weren’t you?

    You had it all planned out, too. Well, some of it at least. You had a mission. You had a goal. An epic quest, as it were. You were going to stamp out hunger or write a book or bring spiritual enlightenment to a dark place. You pinned quotes and posters that reminded you of your God-given quest all over your dorm room. You annoyed people to death with your constant rantings about that quest. We all knew you had great things coming your way. And not the normal, run of the mill great things. Not just a nice job, sexy spouse and fat credit account. Oh no. None of those were nearly enough for you. You didn’t want to own the world. You wanted to save it. To fix it. To leave it better than you found it.

    Do you remember? Can you remember what it felt like? Gathering together with your friends and getting the adrenaline pumping? Some days you felt like you could run into the streets and get to work right away.

    And you almost did!

    You even kinda started.

    And then…

    Well…

    What happened?

    When did you settle?

    Did your dream change? It’s okay if it did. Like I said, it’s your life. You’re a good person, even if you let go of the dreams of your past. I really believe that.

    I just wonder…

    Do you still dream?

    Because if you do … when are you going to wake up and build it?

No ‘scuses!

     I’ve been gone for a long time.

     Not just offline. Haven’t made much progress on any projects for about two months.

     Want excuses? I got tons. Good ones, too. Excuses that would make you shake your head and mutter, ‘Gosh, poor Matt.’ Especially if I could tell you my excuses in person. Because I can sure spin a story.

     And I can still work on new excuses, too. There’s always something going on to take my mind away from my work. I have enough excuses lined up to put everything off for the rest of the year, really. I could do it. Don’t imagine I haven’t thought of it. It wouldn’t be hard.

     And I would do it, too. And you wouldn’t blame me. My excuses would leave you with nothing but sympathy for me. Wouldn’t that be nice? To play the role of the martyred writer, desperate to tell my story but, alas, the universe is working against me. Was a gloriously tragic tale! How romantic! How pathetic! How … common.

     That’s what every failed writer/artist/musician/dancer/chef/yogi/spiritualist/humanitarian/idealist does. And their dreams are stillborn.

     Sympathy is a pat on the head. Nice. Kinda warm. But giving birth is better on every level.

     Your sympathy is not worth nearly as much as my story.

     If I give in to the excuses that call me, I’ll get a friendly pat on the head.

     If I flip the bird to the excuses, climb the obstacles and write my stories, I’ll give birth to a world of characters and emotions and stories and lives.

     And, who knows? I might even get that pat on the head anyway.

     I’m back. See you around.