How to Develop as an Artist: A Book Flight

Whether you’re a writer, visual artist, actor, director, or artist in any other creative medium, how might you build a mindset that helps you develop as an artist?
Like any question worthy of a book flight, this line of inquiry has layers and complexity. What can we learn about an artist’s mindset from history, kidlit, and memoir?
I’ve chosen three titles for this flight. You’ll likely find that the titles listed here spark reading ideas of your own. Feel free to mix and match, swapping titles in and out. Above all, I wish you inspiration and joy as you savor the exploration.

How to Develop as an Artist-A Book Flight

How To Develop as an Artist: A Book Flight

“Success is sometimes the outcome of a whole string of failures,” Vincent tells his brother Theo, as he fills canvas after canvas, pursuing his dream. Or possibly it would be more accurate to say that he is pursuing his identity. He also says, “I keep making what I can’t do yet in order to learn to be able to do it.”
In this deeply researched and beautifully crafted work of YA narrative nonfiction, Deborah Heiligman draws us into the world of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother, Theo. Throughout the book, I was reminded that artists are people, flawed, passionate, driven people. I was reminded that becoming an artist isn’t (as we so often try to convince ourselves in our competitive world) a win-or-lose game, but rather a choice we make on a daily basis. Despite how we feel, our circumstances, our successes or our failures, we can always make the choice to create.
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
The imagery in this graphic novel takes my breath away. The spreads are varied, full of tone and contrast, and they flow seamlessly between emotional metaphor and real-world scenes. Our heroine, Paige, is in the process of meeting herself on the pages of her sketchbook. As she learns to see the world with artist’s eyes, she also helps me see my own world with a little more depth.
She and Vincent are artists of vastly different scope and background. Yet in their points of connection, I see interesting patterns. What can their determination, their disappointments, and their growing awareness teach me about my own process of becoming an artist?
I would never have picked up this memoir if my best friend, Emily, hadn’t placed it in my hands. We were on a trip to that most beloved of bookstores, Powells. As it was, I flipped through, wondering what a book about woodcarving might have in it for me. However, from the first line, I was mesmerized. For one thing, Esterly is an incredible writer. For another, he is the kind of passionate artist that I long to be.
Within this book’s pages, you’ll learn about history, about the art of woodcarving, and about a certain kind of mindful attention that makes creative work meaningful. A quote from the book, to give you an idea of the treat you’re in for: “It struck me that this {woodcarving] was like being a writer, staring down at a blank piece of paper, pen in hand. In front of you the same smooth vacant surface waits, and within you the same nervous mustering of resolve, the same sense that the first stroke is important and a bad start might be ruinous.”
If you pick up the books in this flight, I’d love to hear what you think. Let me know what questions they bring to mind for you. And please share your ideas for other titles that ought to be part of this flight. I’m always on the hunt for an excellent read.
Comment below, or tag me on Facebook or Instagram. Happy reading!
Whether you're a writer, painter, actor, director, or artist in any other creative medium, how might you build a mindset that helps you develop as an artist? 

The three titles in this book flight explore the layers and depth of an artist's mindset, from fictional and nonfiction vantage points.

How to Best Enjoy a Writerly Play Book Flight

When my best friend, Emily, told me she chooses fiction rather than nonfiction in order to learn and grow, a lightbulb lit up for me. I, personally, am a fan of self-development books but she is NOT. As a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, her point wasn’t lost on me. Stories invite us to step inside a character, to experience growth through the specificity of their circumstances. Brain scientists now confirm that when we read, our synapses fire in a way that mirrors the actual experience of living through the same events in real life. So, in many ways, reading fiction is rehearsal for personal growth.

What’s in a Writerly Play Book Flight?

Because of Emily’s insight, and also because of my love of books ranging from kidlit to scientific tome, I decided to play around with this idea of Writerly Play book flights. What three books–fiction and nonfiction alike–might provide a deep dive into a specific skill or mindset? In the Writerly Play Book Flights, I aim for one nonfiction title, one middle grade title, and one YA or adult work of fiction. I like the mixture of whimsy, life experience, depth and hopeful resilience that this particular mix offers.

How to Enjoy a Writerly Play Book Flight

I realize that not everyone has hours set aside for reading, and if you’re an avid reader, you probably have a towering TBR list. Remember, you can find audio versions of books on Audible or through your library. You might decide three books is too many to take on, and yet, the idea of a book flight enchants you. Might you pair one of these books with something on your TBR to create a more cohesive and deep-dive reading experience? As in all things, there is no one right way to be a reader. Explore. Savor. Do this your way.

Here’s a first Writerly Play book flight to get you started:

In a Writerly Play Book Flight, I aim for one nonfiction title, one middle grade title, and one YA or adult work of fiction. I like the blend of whimsy, life experience, depth and hopeful resilience that this particular mix offers.

Come on over and check out my growing collection of book flights for yourself!

How to Unstick a Stuck Story: Seeing My Writing Through a New Lens

If we had a Richter scale for the magnitude of a stuck story, I wonder if I could take my lesser moments of frustration more seriously. Maybe I could be more strategic about tackling them for what they actually are … stuck moments. Consider the possible scale. A 4.0 stuck moment causes disturbance and noise, but not too much damage. A 6.0 stuck moment is powerful, and may cause serious problems depending on the situation. Any stuck moment 7.0 and above creates visible shockwaves, destruction and often topples entire projects. Most of my stuck moments register around 4.0. They don’t destroy my momentum, but they still cause disturbance and noise.
Unstick a stuck story

A Stuck Story

I’m busy with a number of content development projects, so recently I haven’t spent a lot of time on my latest novel. I’ve accepted that ebb and flow in my creative process. However, I haven’t been taking 15-minute experimental moments to simply noodle around with my novel. I normally would play around that way in any demanding season. I’d find that exploration joyful. Even if it’s not the moment to do full-scale revision, I’m still a writer. And writers need stories to engage their imaginations–always. Except that I haven’t been doing those healthy, creative things. I’ve been in a 4.0 stuck moment.
The trouble had to do with the climax. Usually, when I start a story, I see the climax as an image or a movie in my mind. I brainstorm, plan and write toward that vision, leaving room for surprises along the way. In my current novel, I had an image, but it happened six chapters into the story. Thus, I was adrift when I passed that moment into the heart of the plot. Not to be discouraged, I wrote my way into the fog, and finished a draft.
The climax turned out to be a battle of wills. Physically, this moment was utterly anticlimactic. My finished draft left me disappointed and unimpressed. Now, I’ve written eleven novels at this point, so a little disappointment isn’t enough to register a 7.0 stuck moment. I figured it wasn’t a big deal. I’d come back when I had a better idea.

The Stuck Story Lingers

Except I didn’t have a better idea. Worse, I started feeling fuzzy around my edges. I knew something was lacking, but didn’t know what was wrong. The problem? I was a writer without a story. My imagination was bored.

A New Lens

This weekend, I went to see Wrinkle in Time for a second time. One thing I explore in Writerly Play is the value of using the Library. This means looking closely at art–books, paintings, music, performances, film, sculpture, you name it. In particular, I considering an artwork a second or third time is significant. The first time through, we’re caught up in the experience. We ought to be. However, follow-up experiences can be more intentional. We can think about the what, how, and why.
While watching the climax scene in A Wrinkle in Time, I understood what had been bothering me about my standoff scene in my novel. The obvious realization that “something had to happen,” may sound trivial, but the value of the discovery was in the specificity of the movie’s successful climax. First, watching a well-crafted, active climax involving a battle of wills made hope glimmer at the end of my tunnel. It could be done. Second, the colors, shapes, movement, pacing and dialogue gave me concrete elements to consider. How might each of those elements play out in my story?

Beyond Imitation

I used to be so afraid of imitation that I limited my creativity. I’ve started to see that examining the specifics of a beautiful artwork helps me to take my own work to another level. As I’ve become more confident in my own voice, I’ve learned how to gain insight from masterworks while remaining true to myself as an artist.
For me, the next step seems to be making a practical connection between 4.0 stuck moments and intentional exploration of lenses. Rather than walking away from stuck stories and hoping my subconscious will reengage, maybe I could seek out doorways into that exploration. Little stuck story moments may not be earth-shattering, but they are still uncomfortable, and life would be happier and more colorful if I could limit them. Lenses invite my imagination out to play. They aren’t about responsibly fixing problems, but rather about the process of discovery.

What Lenses Might You Try?

I’d love to hear your ideas. What lenses have helped (or might help!) you see your work in a new light? Please share in the comments or tag me on Facebook or Instagram. Let’s inspire one another … and banish those stuck stories!
If we had a Richter scale for magnitude of stuck stories, I wonder if I could take my lesser moments of frustration more seriously. Maybe I could be more strategic about tackling them for what they actually are ... stuck moments.

An Invitation to Writerly Play

Pencil and Shavings

How did Writerly Play come to be?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown up my hands and wailed, “I know I’m capable of more … but what’s the next step?” Sometimes it feels like genuine creativity glimmers on the horizon, just out of reach. For a long time, I scurried from project to project, wondering when I’d finally feel like a real artist, one who was grounded, thriving, and successful.

Fortunately, I didn’t let myself wallow in those questions.

Instead, I dug deeper. What did I mean by grounded, thriving and successful? What did being a real artist mean to me, and what was the gap between where I stood and where I hoped to be?
I reflected. I talked to a lot of peers and students. I even sent out a survey on the creative life. The results were astonishing. No matter how far along artists are in terms of professional success, the majority of us perceive a gap between where we are and where we intend to be. For me, this was a wake-up call. I might never reach a point where I felt like a real artist, at least if I kept defining that identity through external professional success. I needed a practice, a way of living the creative life on a regular basis. I needed a way for day-to-day wins to count, so that I could gain a sense of momentum.

I needed a way to clearly see the creative process.

That’s what Writerly Play is: a framework to help us individualize, map and problem solve the creative process. I call this blog Writerly Play because every post is part of my personal deep-dive exploration of what it means to live as an artist, and the beating heart at the center of that exploration is Writerly Play. What exactly is the Writerly Play framework, and how can it help you live as a grounded, thriving, successful artist? Come on over to my recently revised Nuts and Bolts of Writerly Play series, and explore the possibilities with me.
Here’s to you and your creativity,
Writerly Play helps you individualize, map and problem solve the creative process. Want to try? #creativelife #amwriting

Naomi’s Playlist: Station

My playlist is an eclectic collection of tools that help me approach my work as play. I love them so much, I want to share them with you!

Object: Accessing my online tools on my desktop computer more easily.

What Didn’t Work: Trying to remember the apps I needed to open and keep tabs on, logging in and out, having tons of tabs open at the same time, taking tons of time to find my way from one tool to the one I needed next.

My Aha! Moment: I stumbled across Station accidentally, and nearly danced for joy. Imagine you could have a dashboard with all of your online tools collected in one streamlined toolbar. Then, add to that the ability to save specific windows within each of those tools. So, say on Google Drive you’re always visiting a couple pages. What if you had a tool that made saving those windows simple, and you could easily toggle between the windows you needed with no lost time navigating? Amazing, right?

Usually, I hang out with a tool for a while before I add it to my playlist, but this one is so good, I wanted to share it with you right away. If you use online apps such as Google drive, Buffer, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook Business Manager, Airtable, Slack, Evernote, (or any number of others) this app is going to rock your world.

How I Play:

  • I went through the tool list and added the tools I use often.
  • I sorted the tools on the scroll bar so that the similar ones are together, and the most used ones are at the top.
  • As I work, I’m adding pages to each tool to make navigation easier and easier as I go.

Player’s Notes:

  • The set-up process is simple, but it does require logging into everything to get started. You’ll want to make sure you’re feeling patient.
  • It’s tempting to set up everything perfectly right away. However, adding pages as you go is very easy, so I’d recommend setting your dashboard up on a basic level and then fine-tuning as you go.
  • Right now, Station is free, but I can’t imagine that it will be forever. Be an early adopter!

Take it to the Next Level:

  • Station has some tools to help you quiet notifications and can help you truly get into the zone. Play around with how you might use the tool to deepen your concentration and get deep work done. 

Excuses: The Snarly Enemies of Creative Momentum

Excuses: The Snarly Enemies of Creative Momentum

I’m not a fan of excuses.

And, not in a blow a whistle and shout, “Get to work!” kind of way. More in a roll-up-my-sleeves, experiment-until-you-figure-it-out kind of way.

Excuses are snarly enemies of momentum. They snap at our heels and grab for us with grubby little fingers, hoping to drag us into inertia quicksand. Once we’re sunk, wow is it difficult to scrabble our way free.

A large part of my job, working with educators, with students, with artists, with my team at Society of Young Inklings, is to glare excuses in the face and say, “Not on my watch.” So, it’s probably not surprising that I feel particularly grumpy when I wake to the sound of excuses throwing a dance party at the foot of my bed.

Here we are. It’s March 5, and my last blog post was on January 20. For the larger part of 2017, I posted once a month or so. Now, there are definitely reasons. For one, I’ve been posting more regularly over at Society of Young Inklings because we’re in the midst of a (very exciting) growth curve at our nonprofit for youth writers. Also, I’ve been hard at work backstage on larger creative projects that I can’t share just yet.

Still, to me, these reasons have the sharp scent of excuse to them.

Knowing that I mean to blog, and don’t, takes wind out of my sails every week. Over time, I prove to myself that I’m the sort of person who plans but doesn’t necessarily follow through. My confidence erodes. My optimism suffers. The excuses pole-vault from one area of my life to another and before I know it, my life’s rhythm is completely out of whack.

Today, I’d finally had enough. I decided to hop online and share a little of my thinking real-time. Maybe you’ve had situations like the one I’m in, where you realized that your expectations and your reality weren’t matching up. What did you do?

Here’s what I’m thinking.

  • I could take an official break from the blog. This would be a reasonable strategy, and would send the excuses packing. Unfortunately, it would also mean I couldn’t blog, which is a problem. In the past few weeks, I’ve actually been prepping for a more regular editorial calendar. I’m looking forward to blogging regularly … I’m just not quite ready yet.


  • I could set a launch date for my new approach and build toward it. While a date is also a deadline, I actually like the sound of this possibility. It gives me breathing room, and also a healthy dose of accountability.


  • I could force myself to start today and carry on, posting once a week, rain or shine. But, you deserve my very best. My posts ought to rattle fresh creativity loose for you, or at the least, send you back to your projects with renewed enthusiasm. If I bully myself into blogging when I’m not ready, I fear I might inspire you to bully yourself, too. No, thank you.


  • Or, I could decide to close down the blog. But, I love writing from my heart to yours. So, for me, that’s really not an option.


I may have found a solution in the possible launch date, but I want to explore how to make it a viable one for the long run. Because the truth is, my bandwidth for producing meaningful content will ebb and flow. As an author, book deadlines come before blog intentions. As a founder and Executive Director, the stability and health of Society of Young Inklings are also top priority. And beyond work commitments, I have health, family, friends, to name a few. And life isn’t always predictable.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot of excuse-extermination strategies. Most often, I return to the simple question starter: “How might I…”

Step One: Craft a question to focus my attention tightly on the problem. 

How might I be realistic, true to my priorities, realistic, and make an excuse-free commitment?

Step Two: Brainstorm options.

  • Commit to post infrequently, maybe once a month.
  • Repurpose old posts along with the new ones.
  • Create some short-form post formats. Every post doesn’t have to be epic. (Readers appreciate short, too!)

Step Three: Choose an approach and experiment.

I think I’ll commit to starting the blog again on April 3. I’ll post on Tuesdays and possibly add a bonus post on Thursdays. Some posts will be small. I’m not going to demand perfection. If I’m in a busy season, I’ll show up on Tuesday and tell you so. It might just be a sentence or two. But what I learned writing this post, (and here’s what I hope might be applicable to you, too) is that even mid-process, our thoughts can be useful. 

Are you battling excuses, too? Maybe it’s not a blog for you, but it’s a book, or a painting, or even an exercise routine. Would it help you to stop, ask yourself a focused “How might I …” question and brainstorm solutions?

It certainly gave me a fresh gust of wind in my sails.

Thank you. Knowing that you’re out there, living life, popping by the Writerly Play blog now and again for ideas and inspiration, means more to me than you likely know. Perspective, growth, clarity… I gain all of these and more by shaping my ideas on the page, and especially when I hear back from you. I love hearing what you see and notice and wonder. So, please. Always, always, feel free to reach out and share your experiences, too. Tag me on Facebook or Twitter, or comment below.

Tell me: What expectations do you have for yourself that you’re not sure work right now? How might you adjust those expectations to make life work better?

Or tell me: Have you met the excuse gremlins? What kind of havoc do they cause in your life?

Excuses are snarly enemies of momentum. They snap at our heels and grab for us with grubby little fingers, hoping to drag us into inertia quicksand. Once we're sunk, it's difficult to scrabble our way free.

Here's my real-time thinking about how I'll fight back this go-around. I share a simple problem solving strategy that often works for me, and land on a solution that I'll try out. What's most important, though, is that hopefully this thinking can inspire fresh perspective in your own battle against excuses, too. If, that is, you're fighting any! ;-)

Collecting Ideas: 10 Quotes to Fuel Your Creativity

The wide-awake way that children’s authors view the world that never fails to inspire me. Here’s a dose of wisdom to inspire, stretch and most importantly, motivate you to keep collecting ideas. Where are they? Tiptoeing around your world, whispering to you, inviting you to follow and explore.

Want more quotes from children's authors to inspire your idea-collection habit?

“But the sensibility of the writer, whether fiction or poetry, comes from paying attention. I tell my students that writing doesn’t begin when you sit down to write. It’s a way of being in the world, and the essence of it is paying attention.”

— Julia Alvarez

“I often have trouble falling asleep at night, so when I’m lying in bed I think up stories. That’s where I do a lot of my thinking. I also get a lot of ideas while I’m reading – sometimes reading someone else’s stories will make me think of one of my own.”

— Linda Sue Park

“Sometimes you have to stop trying to force it, walk away and let your subconscious show you the way. Fill up on life for a while.”

— J. K. Rowling

“Artists need to fill themselves to overflowing and give it all back.”

— E. B. Lewis

Want more quotes from children's authors to inspire your idea-collection habit?

“You can make up your own story when you look at a photo.”
— Brian Selznick

“The main thing to do is pay attention. Pay close attention to everything, notice what no one else notices. Then you’ll know what no one else knows, and that’s always useful.”

— Jeanne DuPrau

“We cannot stay home all our lives, we must present ourselves to the world and we must look upon it as an adventure.”

— Beatrix Potter

“Maybe we are all cabinets of wonders.”

— Brian Selznick

I know, I know, I said ten quotes on collecting ideas … but I couldn’t help myself. I added a few extra.

“Take a step, breathe in the world, give it out again in story, poem, song, art.”

— Jane Yolen

“The city is like poetry; it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.”

— E. B. White

Collecting ideas is one of the cornerstone habits in the Writerly Play Attic. Curious to know more? Writerly Play a story-based lens to help you individualize, map and problem-solve the creative process.

If you’ve ever found yourself stuck and unsure what to do next, or if you crave a more trustworthy process for bringing your ideas to life but don’t want to feel trapped by a one-size-fits-all solution, I hear you. I hand-crafted Writerly Play because I needed it, and my students needed it, and my peers needed it. You don’t have to stumble around in the fog when you’re bringing a new, beautiful creation to life.

Want to give it a try? The first step is figuring out your creativity style.

And hey, do you have any favorite quotes on collecting ideas? Maybe yours are from children’s authors, or from someone else entirely. Please share! Share in the comment section below, or share and tag me on Facebook or Twitter. I’m always collecting new inspiration. I hope you are, too!







Three Simple Strategies for Capturing More Ideas

You have thousands, probably millions of ideas, I know you do. The trick is capturing them and keeping them somewhere convenient.

Why do we lose ideas?

Consider the key hook by the front door. Until we install it, our keys drift all over the house, refusing to be found when it’s time to dash out on an errand.

A key hook is such a simple, inexpensive solution to an everyday problem, a problem that wastes tons of time and plunges us into a ferociously terrible funk. Unfortunately, this simple life-hack eludes many of us multiple times in our lives.

The solutions for lost ideas are similarly easy to implement. I’ve collected three for you in this post, but my hope is that you’ll create even more of your own, based on how your life works and where your ideas tend to show up.

Popcorn Catch-All

Ideas are likely popping into your mind all day. Choose a simple, trustworthy place to keep them. Where you choose to keep them isn’t nearly as important as the key point: You have to choose a spot and stick to it. Try somewhere on your phone such as in an Evernote notebook, Google Keep, Day One, or in a small notebook you carry with you. The more you use it, the more valuable your catch-all becomes. When you need an idea, you’ll have a growing list of them.

Story of the Day

Every day, tons of things happen. First, there are tiny interactions with family, colleagues and friends. Then, there are mini-experiences such as an excellent cup of coffee, a particularly beautiful sunrise or the surprise scent of jasmine when you’re out on a run. Finally, there are the major moments that surprise, frustrate or excite you. Capture these life moments–the small and the large–by writing down one story per day. You can write a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole page. You can use a photo to tell most of the story. No matter how you format it, be intentional about noticing what happens to you and keeping track. Over time, you’ll have a collection of moments that helped you learn and grow, and that you can use in many different ways.

Post-Conversation Brain Dump

Whether it’s a meeting, a coaching session, a mastermind group brainstorm or manuscript feedback from a friend, that conversation gave you at least one idea. Make the most of your interactions by taking a minute or two afterward to write down a few thoughts. Use a template to speed up the thinking process. And don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. You might not remember every single question you want to follow up on, but if you capture even a portion of your insights, that’s a portion more than you’d have if you’d let the day speed past without jotting them down.

It’s not about the hook.

Maybe when I mentioned a key hook, you thought, “I don’t use a hook, I use a bowl.” (Or something else entirely.) Whether you use a bowl or a hook or a pegboard doesn’t matter. The point is noticing that you have a little problem that can be solved in a simple way.

No matter how you choose to capture your ideas, make sure that you DO capture them. Create a little system for yourself, and notice how it pays off. Do you already have a pretty fabulous idea system? I’d love to hear about it! Tell us in the comments below, or tag me and share your ideas on Facebook or Twitter.

The Only Way to Eat an Airplane…

… is one bite at a time.

Hopefully you don’t eat airplanes, but if you do (and even if you don’t), check out How to Eat an Airplane by my friend, Peter Pearson. Hilarious stuff. An excellent gift idea for nearly anyone on your list.

Honestly, though. This morning, I woke up to a list that included:

  • Skeleton an online course
  • Revise program launch marketing materials (emails, blog posts, etc.)
  • Read twelve novels in progress and provide feedback

Those tasks were only three of about twenty items. Is anyone else’s life like this? No, I take that back. I know this kind of overwhelm is the norm for most of us.

Before you send me emails explaining how I should better manage my to-do list, I honestly have been working on planting my feet in reality and putting a better system into place. And even if it doesn’t appear true, based on the evidence above, I actually have been making progress.

The real topic I wanted to write about, though, isn’t to-do lists. I’ve been thinking about how to tackle enormous projects, especially when I have more than one of them on my list–which is always. I wear more than one hat, and that means having more than one project. Most artists are in my same boat.

I’ve thought a lot about systems and processes, but the thing that has mattered most is mindset. Specifically, the story I tell myself about how I’m doing. When I’m disheartened, I work slowly. I need breaks and chocolate. And then, because of the chocolate, I need naps. If I focus on what’s working, my brain fog clears, and I can see the next right step. Or, yes… I can take the next bite of the airplane.

Recently, November ended. If you’ve been following my blog, you know I committed to revising my novel for NaNoWriMo. And … I finished! Except, I didn’t finish exactly the way I pictured finishing. The last few chapters were summarized rather than drafted. Still, the novel is one cohesive piece, and so much progress was made. Now, I could tell myself I failed, because technically I didn’t write all the way to the end. Or, I can tell myself what’s actually more true, that I kept at it, that I did the work I needed to do, and that I sent it to someone for feedback at the just-right stage.

The point is, whether I call my effort a success or a failure is up to me. And since I gave the book my very best effort in the time I had to spend, I think that calling my work a success is more healthy than beating myself up. What’s more, allowing myself to feel proud of what I achieved, rather than obsessing on what is left to do, keeps me in motion.

That plane is still there, waiting to be eaten, after all.

If you’re in a similar place, juggling many projects … I’m guessing so many of you are … keep in mind that you can definitely review your workflow, focus, and find ways to work smarter. What may be even more powerful, however, is revising the story inside your head. Don’t let it run on autoplay. Be intentional about celebrating your successes.

And keep going. One day, you’ll wake up and it will be time for the last bite of that airplane. Until the next one shows up! You love challenges, after all, so make peace with the process. That’s where you’ll be most of the time.

Revision is Like Untangling a Knotted Chain

When I write collaboratively, or for hire, I storyboard a book ahead of time. The creative limitations push me to work within boundaries, and honestly, cause me to take fewer risks.

On the other hand, when I write a book of my heart, I usually choose a question that beguiles and enchants me, which refuses to let me go. I follow my curiosity, tumbling through the drafting process, allowing the characters to be more than actors in my master plot. I find myself being surprised, challenged, pushed to consider alternate perspectives. I end up with a messy draft, but the final product is always a more interesting and original novel.

Recently, while reading Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, I found that my experience is common to other creatives. One of the many insights the book shares is that often, smaller amounts of progress are made when a question is posed to a creative and he or she works within limitations. Larger leaps happen when the creative both defines AND resolves a question.

When I think about it, this reality makes sense. Once twenty people have identified the fact that we need a book that shows us what happens when x meets y… the eventual books written may end up having many similarities. However, if the question is one most of us hadn’t yet asked, the resulting book is likely to push us to think in startling new ways.

The reality of this in my own writing process is that revision feels like untangling a delicate chain. I find a starting place and work to loosen one knot, only to realize that I’ve created another. The line from beginning of project to end is not straight or predictable. And yet, the unpredictability of this approach, the joy of discovery, the fact that I learn and grow through the writing, makes the struggle worthwhile.

I believe the artist’s job is to spend time wrestling with questions. We aren’t required to have more answers than other people, but we do need to ask more questions. We also need to spend more time working through the questions. The more time invested, the more work that we can do. Through conversations with others, revision, reflection, and feedback, we become more of who we desire to be, and our work becomes more than what we, personally, could have made it.

Maybe it’s not the most efficient way of writing a book. However, for me, it’s the way to end up writing a meaningful book.

So, here are some questions for you. Why are we all in such a rush? What are we all missing, due to our impatience? What might be possible if we slowed down and learned to savor the process?

I’d love to hear about your revision process, and how you deal with that ticking inner clock. Share below, or tag me on Facebook or Twitter. Let’s find ways to take the time we need to make our very best work.