Practicing Perfectly: Or at Least Consistently

Picking up where I left off in last weeks post I’m going to discuss some observations about the benefits of consistent effort. It’s funny just how quickly we, or more accurately, I can forget why we do things. I got back into the practice of writing every day a little less than a week ago, and what a difference a week makes. Gone is the feeling of fear and loathing that took hold while I was inactive, replaced by a kind of joy and momentum.

I’m amazed at how the ideas are flowing in and feeding on each other. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t as if I’m effortlessly pounding out perfect prose, but it is coming easier than I expected. It appears that, for me at least, stimulating creativity is like priming a pump; you have to force some material in to begin the process. It may take a bit of effort to get going, but it can maintain itself, as long as the prime isn’t broken. In the short time I’ve been back to work I’ve made numerous changes in both plot and several of my characters. I have no idea how much of this new material will make it into the final draft, but that doesn’t matter. I think the ideas are good in general and feels good being productive again.

To use my exercise analogy again, though it seems that my creative muscles may have atrophied a bit they’re gaining strength more quickly than I had anticipated.

If I can manage to get some work done every day that moves the story forward it seems to prime my imagination in a way that inspire revelations even when I’m not actively working on my writing. Some of my best ideas come as I’m riding my bike or cutting the grass or cleaning house, times when my body is occupied but my mind seems to free-associate. Ideas pop up randomly about the story I’m working on, the blog or even the story I have outlined for my next project.

It reminds me of something Hemingway once said about stopping writing at a point where he knew what would happen next. I work in a similar way, though admittedly not completely intentionally. I actually like to stop when I have only a vague idea of what I would like to happen next with nothing set in stone. Then later, often when I least expect it, my imagination will take my characters down avenues that I didn’t know existed in the story.

None of this happens unless I’m practicing my craft. This doesn’t mean forcing myself to sit in front of the computer at a given time to pound out a predetermined number of words every day. In fact, I try to reserve Sundays for contemplation of where I want both my writing and my life to go over the next few days. Even then though, there seems to be a residual effect that keeps the ideas coming and I usually end up with at least a hand full of notes about ideas for when I start writing again on Monday.

The bottom line is that I must do something every day if I want to continue to make progress. I also need to remember just how easy it is to lose that momentum if I’m not diligent in that effort. It’s a shame really, just how easily bad habits seem to develop out of the blue, while good habits take so much work to maintain. In the long run though, the work is worth it.

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