Creative Cycles: The Path to Learning About Myself, The Writer

The Author, Vacationing in Arizona

By: Michael James Greenwald

I’ve got another Confession to make (Dave Grohl evidently isn’t the only one), which is apropos, considering this week is an Open Confession Week. Timing, I guess, in life, is everything.

I haven’t written this week.


It’s true.

Welcome to the Sunday edition of the Confessional, my peeps.  I’m writing these words fighting off frustration, for those of you who know me, know my greatest weakness might be impatience and my foremost adversary could be my own perfectionism.

We here at PLC dedicated a whole week to the discussion of writers block.  If you missed it, or to revisit (always a good idea), Amy N. probed into the stylistic issues of WB, Amy M. described WB as analogous to depression and listed psychological strategies to combatting WB, and S.C. took the hard-line approach of not making excuses (maybe I need to fly Drillmaster S.C. to Chicago to do an intervention) and getting the work done.

I’m not going to talk more about WB.

Before this week, for a good month, I had a nice writing roll going.  You know the one, where before you go to sleep the night before, you dream about fixing your morning cup of coffee and sitting at your desk and typing your way into the next scene.  Every sentence, every paragraph, every scene reads like magic.  Your fingers, at times, seem to operate without the consciousness of your brain.  Beautiful phrasing, metaphors, imagery, appear on the page in bunches.  You know those days, right?

Ron Carlson says simply, “the writer is the one who stays in the room.”

Easy to say when things are going well.

But those days inevitably arrive when it’s as though you’re writing with recently fractured fingers (hmmm, that’s the best metaphor I’ve developed in seven days), and typing each letter is excruciatingly painful.  Sentences are clunky, containing no arcs, and read as emotionless as a Wall Street Journal article.  Single scenes, which at times, were written over the course of an entire day of work lay flat and listless on the page.

Terrible.  Horrible.  Writing.

That’s been my past week.  The kind of writing that if I’d show it to my mother, she’d frown and ask, “Wait, why didn’t you go to law school?”  Or to my girlfriend, “Honey, that’s…honey…you know I love you…but…well…maybe I should be the writer and you should bartend four nights a week to pay the mortgage.”

So, now it’s Sunday, and the Confidence that swelled over nearly a month of Boom Writing has deflated to levels where I am having difficulty typing this blog (and think it sucks monkey balls, at that).

My father is bipolar.  I don’t bring this up for sympathy, but to build toward my point.  I am my father’s son (see, that could be the best incite I’ve developed all week).  So, though, I do not believe I am bipolar, I do (and my friend’s will attest to this) have bipolar tendencies.  I have cycles–not the cavernous depressions that my father suffers through, nor the hysterical mania I know other people with the disease struggle with.  But I do have cycles.  Some weeks my confidence in my work and my choices is really high.  Other weeks I know I’ll struggle to work at all, struggle to live sometimes.

Boom and Bust Writing.

(An analogy that works on even more than one level when it pertains to writing being comparable to mining for gold…hmmm, maybe I am poking my head above the depressive, gray cloud)

But I know that wherever I’m at, in terms of productivity and mood, next week (next month, tomorrow) most likely will be different.  When I’m having a Bust week (like this one), that’s a solace; when I’m having a Boom week (like hopefully this upcoming one), it’s fear of an upcoming regression.

The point I’ve been building to (if I was having a better week I’d have been able to disguise this thesis statement more skillfully) is as a writer, you must KNOW YOURSELF.

You must know your weaknesses and strengths, know techniques to keep your motivated over the length of a novel, learn from hiccups and Bust Writing days, Bust Writing weeks, Bust Writing months, and most importantly: KEEP YOUR HEAD UP.

I’m learning to deal with my Creative Cycles.  To not get too elated when I’m in a Boom and not beat myself up when I’m in a Bust.  To use Busts to prep for the next Boom:

1) Spend time with family, friends, kids (spending time in my real world)

2) Observing this real world we live in (which we neglect when we are in Booms in our fictitious worlds)

3) Reading a lot (spending time in other writer’s worlds)

4) Listening to a lot of music

5) Researching

6) Working out dialogue, setting, scenes in my head

7) Thinking about my characters, my story, my world

8 ) Working on another project: a short story, a blog, poetry

9) Organizing submissions, MFA app materials, query letters

These are some of the things I do during Busts.

May I make a suggestion?  Okay, I will.  I want, when you’re finished reading this blog, to take a moment, maybe a sequence of moments, if you are a list person get a paper and pen, and figure out what are your weaknesses, your strengths, techniques you use to buoy your writing productivity.

Write your own writing Confession, if you will.

If you’d type your Confession in the comment section of my blog, that would be even better.

I’d find it helpful to know I’m not alone; as would, I’m sure, the other three people (two of whom I pay and the other one I sleep with) who read my Sunday Confession.

But really, in all the truth I can muster in my exhaustive state, use this exercise to know yourself.


One of the fifteen…[crash]…uh, ten commandments of writing.


Okay, go…

Michael James Greenwald fights off his sometimes daily dose of depression with his fingers. He’s a student at Story Studio Chicago, applying for a Ragdale Residency in the fall, and considering allowing UT, Austin a second chance at deliverance, by accepting him into their MFA program for 2011 (HOOK ‘EM HORNS!!).

For now, he works in his family business of owning and operating bowling alleys in the South Suburbs of Chicago. He is also a fiction writer, with a short story collection Stories from a Bowling Alley and a novel The Rainbow Child due to be published in the next several years. You can read his blogs at sleepsunshine and his confessions every Sunday on his group blog at Venture to his Facebook page or feel free to email him with any comments or suggestions for further topics, or if you had any interest in being a guest blogger on either one of his sites.

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