Own Your Creative Process

by Amy Sundberg

As writers, we are constantly being inundated with advice, collective wisdom, and snapshots of other writers’ creative process. On any given day, the internet hands me several blog posts about writing, writers posting their daily word counts, writers obsessing over submission stats, and writers kibitzing over every imaginable aspect of craft, business, artistry, and process. Whether upbeat or despairing, these tweets, status updates, and posts give us a window into the writer’s life…and a guaranteed reason to worry we might be doing it all wrong ourselves.

Mary wrote 1423 words today, and I only managed 400. Robert finished a story today, and I had to spend all day brainstorming. Phyllis is self-publishing, and Peter has more sales than me, and why haven’t I heard back from Big Shot Agent when my friend Christy got an offer from her two weeks ago?

Add this to the well-meaning advice of friends and pros alike, and it’s easy to see how writers can become completely overwhelmed. I have to write two thousand words every day like Stephen King, or I’m a failure as a writer. I have to write every day, and I need to finish what I start. If I think what I’m writing sucks, I need to plow through and just hope I can fix it later on. I need to outline, or I need to not outline. I need to revise every single thing at least five times. I must write at the same time every day. I need to finish two novels this year, or twelve short stories, or send one hundred submissions to pro markets. I need to belong to as many critique groups as possible, blog, tweet, Google+, and Facebook every day, and while I’m at it, why don’t I beat myself up because I can’t singlehandedly cause world peace?

It’s not that the advice in the previous paragraph is bad. In many cases, it’s quite good. But what it fails to take into account is that we’re not some collective Blob of writers but individuals. We each have our strengths and weaknesses; we each have our own pace and our own long-term goals. We all learn at different speeds and in different ways. And each of us has some kind of life outside of writing, which will inevitably sometimes be more difficult or draining than other times. We move house. We have a critical yet crazy deadline at work. We get sick. We have babies. We lose people we love.

This has been on my mind a lot because in the past year, I’ve had to throw out a bunch of really great advice about process. It was no longer working for me. And I spent a lot of time beating myself up for not being the perfect writer. But you know what? None of that self-flagellation accomplished anything. All it did was make me feel more stressed about writing and less able to write well.

Instead I have learned to own my process. I do what works for ME, right now. Not what works for my friend or Ms. Random Famous Writer. I’m always open to new ideas, but I get to take responsibility for how I’m writing. I get to decide, and I don’t need to apologize to anyone. What is most important is that I’m fulfilling my writing goal of becoming the best writer I can be.

An interesting side effect of owning my process? Now that I’m not so concerned over how I’m writing, I’m finally producing more and better material. Sometimes our process needs a kick in the pants, and sometimes it just needs us to embrace it and let it happen.

Amy Sundberg is a writer and musician who blogs regularly at practicalfreespirit.com. Her stories have been published in Daily Science Fiction, New Myths, and Crossed Genres. She loves musical theater, ice cream, Anne of Green Gables, and learning about neuroscience, and she lives in California with her husband and her little dog.