Three Thoughts for the Creative Journey

This week we’re writing three things we each wish we’d known when we started out on this writing journey.

When I think of that sentiment – “I wish I’d known” — this final-shot movie sequence plays out in my mind. A post-apocalyptic landscape with bedraggled minions gathering around the ruins of the town square. The weary Army general turns to his second in command, shakes his head and bemoans, “If only we’d known.” The camera pulls back, revealing the desolate cityscape as all of the survivors gaze up into the smoke-filled sky. Fade to black. Roll credits.

Over the top? Sure, but it makes me laugh.

Here’s the deal: every day I sit down to write, I feel like I’m starting this journey new. Every day feels like the first day. Every story is a new experience full of new lessons, new losses, new victories. So what can I tell you of “what I wish I’d known” when I’m still discovering it for myself?

That being said, there are a few things that I’m finding remain consistent along the path. My guess is they transcend writing to art in general. Maybe even life in general. I hope you find them helpful.

1. Things get ugly before they get beautiful

I wrote a post about this in my Twelve Posts on Writing series at Amy Writes.

…often in creative work, the thing you’re working on has to get ugly — really ugly — before it turns beautiful. Don’t give up on the piece in its ugly phase. Rather, acknowledge the ugliness as part of its journey. Stay faithful to the piece. See it through to it’s conclusion. It may not always match the original idea you had for it; but odds are it’ll be better than you anticipated.

Right now, my WiP looks like a storm-tattered white flag at the top of a sinking frigate. (What’s my deal with the war imagery today? Sheesh.) I trust — have to trust — that if I keep patching the holes and scraping the barnacles away, I’ll have a sea-worthy vessel that’s ready to sail. You will, too. Don’t give up on your work when you hit the ugly phase. Before you know it, it will stun you with its beauty.

2. Not everyone will support you

Here’s a sad reality: Not everyone is going to support you on your creative journey. Some will, and those who stick with you through the good and bad deserve your undying love and support. They are your unsung heroes. Tell them so.

Unfortunately, there are some who will see you as either a means to use to their own ends, or as an obstacle they need to bulldoze to get their way. Oftentimes, these individuals look and act like they’re on your side.

(Note: One book I’ve found very helpful in this area is Julia Cameron’s Supplies: A Troubleshooting Guide for Creative Difficulties.)

When you’re suddenly cut off at the knees by someone you thought was on your side, it can be shocking. How do you recover? Be thankful you see them now for who they are. Communicate your love and appreciation to your unsung heroes. Forgive yourself for trusting someone who hurt you. Then get back to your creative work, knowing that…

3. You’re only competing with yourself

You’re going to hear about others’ success stories along your journey. So-and-so got an agent. Whats-her-name sold her first novel at auction. That-one-guy’s book got a film option. And you’ll be there, all alone at your desk or drafting table, doing work that doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere.

If you hear nothing else, please hear this:

Creative work is not a race.

Good art takes time. You’re on a journey. Your journey. Those other people? They’re on their own journeys. Some people make mad dashes to the finish line. Others take casual strolls around the lake. No two journeys are the same. Your finish line may look very different from another artist’s finish line. There may not even be a finish line. Ever consider that?

What do I wish I’d known when I set out to do this writing thing? What am I learning every day? It’s simple: Enjoy your work. Enjoy your loved ones. Enjoy the journey.