One of the best seminars I had attended during Gen Con 2016 was Structuring Life for Creativity, which was presented by Sandra Tayler. It is a subject that I think a lot of writers struggle with; after all, we are all busy. Sometimes, our creative selves and our writing take second fiddle to life’s craziness. I have struggled between work (where I write and edit all daylong), freelance editing, my own personal writing and editing, social life, and leisure. I had good practices in place throughout high school, college, and even working in retail. But recently in my adult life, I’ve been struggling to create, so Tayler’s presentation really struck a chord.
Since attending her session, I have been writing regularly again, except recently … but it is a secret project that taps into another creative side of myself. I walked away completely refreshed and want to share some of my key takeaways from Tayler’s seminar:
#1 Examine Your Priorities
Tayler stressed that prior to examining the creative process, writers need to examine their priorities. To do this, she recommended sitting down and creating a list of everything you have going on in your life. Determine what is most important. One question during this process that really spoke to me was: “What are you going to feel sad about not having accomplished in 10 years?” That item, of course, should be prioritized.
While prioritizing, don’t completely cut out downtime. Tayler said downtime is vital to the creative process. Even if you are watching television, you likely will be analyzing the show’s characters, plots, etc., which will lead to creative thoughts that can be layered onto your own work.
#2 ID Your Support Network
Everyone needs their cheerleaders; some also require accountability people and babysitters. Find them and keep them. However, be on the lookout for people who masquerade as supportive. These people will often appear supportive on the outside but find ways interfere with your creative process in some way or another. If they are someone dear to you, someone you cannot drop completely, you will just need to shut them out of your creative life.
If that fake supporter is a significant other with whom you must work with, set boundaries for your creative time, even visual cues that tell your family that you are deep in the creative process and not to be disturbed. If those boundaries are not respected, take your creative process out of the home. Give your significant other a way to contact you — such as calling the library not your cellphone — in case of a major emergency.
#3 Examine Your Schedule
Only once you have your priorities in order, can you look at your schedule. Examine it, just like you did your priorities. Where do you already have spaces in your day ? Tayler suggested making appointments with yourself to write during those periods of time. Another schedule recommendation was to pay attention to your energy levels: Try to schedule writing when you are most alert. However, since life is imperfect, Tayler said sometimes writers will need to power through drowsiness.
Even if you don’t have large gaps, Tayler said the brain can be trained to write in small spurts, such as 15-minute ones. To further your creative process and make the most of such small spurts, brainstorm while performing other tasks with your hands, such as folding laundry. This encourages the brain to think creatively, and it can help you transition instantly into your deepest creative state when you are working with only small increments of time to write during.
“Take a notebook everywhere,” Tayler had added, noting that the act of writing creative thoughts down tells the brain that these thoughts are important and that it should have more of them.
#4 Location, Location, Location
Pick a location to write and train your brain: This place is where we write. This location doesn’t have to be large. Tayler said hers is her laptop. As soon as she flips it open, her brain knows it is time to write. With the laptop, it can also be taken to other locations to further creativity if necessary.
Off of that note, use other external signals to tell your brain it is time to write, thus building good habits. When Tayler’s children leave for school, that is an external cue to her brain that says now is the time to write.
#5 Don’t Give, Also Be Prepared to Reevaluate
Don’t change too much at once, cautioned Tayler. “Pick one or two and turn those into practice.” She noted that it can be a challenge for creative types, whom she likened to Aesop’s hare, to become more tortoise like, but it is an important approach to balancing creativity with life. “A little a day gets you a long way.” Starting small and building good habits is the way to go.
Also likely farther down the road, you will need to recalculate priorities. Sometimes, as Tayler put it, life sucks. By building good practices, you will better be able to weather bad times, or pick up your writing after a long break — just like riding a bicycle.
She noted that brainstorming or rereading notes can also help spark creativity after gaps, though sometimes you have changed so much that the story no longer appeals to you — other times you are just coming back cold. Other tips she offered for returning to writing after long gaps included post-it notes to spark a visualization of the story and talking it over with a friend.
“Creativity is important even if it only changes you,” Tayler said.
For reading, Tayler had recommended that attendees read “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is now on my reading list!
I hope this information is helpful. Keep checking back as I post more Gen Con 2016 recaps.