Whatever your writing dream is, you’ve probably figured out it takes time. When you write, time disappears, simply vanishes into the ether. At the end of the writing session, you pull your head from the creative swirl, feel your body settle back into itself, and notice you are breathing. It was tremendous, one way or another, to be in that space.
Maybe the space was gorgeous and lush and fast. At other times, it felt excruciating, like having a tooth pulled without shots of Novocain. The angst (say it like smarty pants people do – ongst – and it feels a little better.) The doubt. The disbelief in your creative power.
All you want is a bit of freedom to create and dance around like a wild spirit hammering at the keyboard. I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to stay connected to that energy and rhythm – and to become a full-time writer. I’m nearly there, but it has been two decades in the making. Do you relate?
So, here is what I’ve learned along the way, since 1990-something. Five critical lessons that I’ve leaned into and drawn strength from. They aren’t immediate or probably even sexy. But they have given me the ultimate creative freedom AND allowed me to build a career my way.
Know your why. Why are you writing? Who do you write for? Understanding that and re-evaluating it now and then (things change!) is the first step to freedom a writer.
If you write for yourself, that’s just fine. Play, have fun, contemplate, and inspire yourself.
If you write for others, that’s just fine, too. Do you do it as a hobby? As a potential career? Knowing these things will help you understand what is required to pull it off because you can educate yourself to have the freedom to achieve that dream.
Patience. What, are you kidding? That’s the first key to creative freedom? Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! Finally, someone admitted to me (and the other podcast listeners) that patience is the key to this writing journey.
I’ve spent years being impatient, as I tried to figure out how to write, what to write, how to publish, how to build a career out of it. A person does not have to want it for a career – but even to love it as a hobby or a way of life requires spaciousness, breath, seasons.
And then there is that week every month when all things we aspire to go off kilter. The full moon in all her glory blasts me to smithereens every 4 weeks. I try to dodge the shrapnel aimed right at my heart and confidence. Bam! Bam! Straight through the heart and you’re to blame….
This week the universe must’ve known I needed to hear from it. I received the message three separate times that patience was the key. All the podcasts I listen to that build me up day by day, week by week leave me excited and ambitious. They hesitate to admit it takes time. Write your first book, build your first business, make your first zillion dollars in mere minutes.
Oh shit. I’m a failure. Wait. I’m not a failure. It’s just taking a little longer than I bargained for. When I take the noise out of my ears, I remember my love of craft and artfulness both in writing and making a life. I remember it’s a journey of curiosity, not speed.
Perseverance or diligence– take your pick. Pick your lock. Unlock freedom to enjoy being the writer you are.
Fortitude…that’s another good word. Sometimes things happen quickly. Sometimes they don’t. Relax already!
But keep showing up for the moment, and it will take care of you, lead you inward and outward all at the same time. We don’t have to figure it out – we just have to stay open.
How do you show up? You carve out time on a regular basis. Time, you say, I don’t have time! How much are you binge-watching or binge-reading or binge-staring-at-the-wall (that’s my favorite)? Valuing creativity means being present, cultivating time and space for it to flourish. You don’t wait for it to arrive – because it is already within you. But you do have to give it space and instruments to come out of you. Creativity is like blood in your body. It’s there. It’s your spirit and consciousness. It’s there. Sit down and spend time with it.
Give me 10 minutes
For years, I’ve done timed writing in ten-minute chunks – and it works for all the habits I’m developing. I show up for 10 minutes for things I value. Just 10 minutes and if it turns out to be more, great. But at the very least (and it is the very least), I’m building that muscle, creating a habit. I do this with writing, meditation, exercise, and even as a way to hold off eating that goodie (just give it 10 minutes and see if I still want it!)
And then there is structure.
Have you tried limits or boundaries? I never liked rules or regulations. Pshaw. Who needs it? I wanna be a creative genius. Then I found out real ingenuity comes from finishing what you start. So I started small. I gave myself ten minutes on the clock and a question. When I gave myself a framework instead of ultimate freedom, it helped me cut through the hesitation. I worked my stuff out quicker. I learned faster. And then I got on to what I really wanted in a timeframe that is less than eternity.
Give me ten minutes on a clock. Give me a genre with all its structures. Give me a problem to solve. And then the creative juice commences onto the dance floor to shimmy and shake, for better or worse, but always for the experience of it.
I struggled for 15 years with writing because I had no structure. I had beautiful lines, interesting characters, but I didn’t understand tension or the bones of the story. Then I wrote my first mystery. It taught me more than all the 15 years before. I learned every story is a bit of a mystery or at least mysterious. Every story. Even literary, high-tone, ten-dollar word stories have mystery in them. So, whether I ever write another mystery book again, red herrings, foreshadowing and back flashing and other assorted tricks of the trade have given me incredible creative freedom.
The final key is to release. Release, release, release control of the outcome. Have an aspiration, but know there is no recipe for life. We aren’t cake (Now I want cake… homemade chocolate frosting. No. Penuche. Or cream cheese frosting. Oh, it’s all so yummy!). Liberate yourself from expectation. Instead, make the effort the moment calls you to.
I also mean release your work out into the world. Let at least one other person (not your mother) start reading your material. And in doing so, you release control. You don’t get to tell them what experience to have with your writing. Ask for feedback, but release your ego. Learn from it. Always learn from sharing your work. You don’t have to change a thing if you don’t want to. But you won’t find freedom as a writer without it. Unless you truly are only writing for yourself in your journal, we write because we have a story to share. And sharing can be painful. People aren’t always as adept with words as you are. So, forgive them if they seem like meanies and idiots (because until you start getting feedback, you won’t know what you don’t know!)
I, for instance, am a comma klutz. Whatever I learned 30 years ago in high school about commas apparently disappeared from my head. So, now I’m relearning. I make a lot of mistakes. It doesn’t mean I’m stupid, just forgetful and out of shape. It means there is room for improvement. Is that really such a bad thing? Are you so afraid of what people think? Cheer up, beautiful dreamer!
Tell your stories, let go of the outcome, and send them out into the world to play. Then go back to your desk and write the next thing.
I hope these help you understand true creative freedom is about getting out of your own way and doing the work. Have fun with it!
Keep writing and being mindful of the journey as an artist,