Writing to deadlines is such a strange thing, I think because a deadline is one of those intersections between art and business. Art (often) requires time to step back, to reflect, to discover, to make one thing only to realize you were making an entirely different thing the whole time and only now do you see how to really make the thing you wanted to make from the beginning. Business (often) requires things to happen a lot faster. When it comes to revision, for example, I prefer to read something over, to revise it, to let it sit, to think about it, to forget the old versions of it from previous drafts, to see it again as what it is, with all the new flaws that have appeared in its most recent edits, with brand new things to change and polish. But, for better or for worse (and I think there’s a bit of both here), my creative process is not the boss of me. There are publishing deadlines to be met, editorial and sales and printing schedules to adhere to, other people who are depending on me to get this book done so we can put it out there into the world.
Which makes the meeting of a deadline a particularly strange thing. I recently turned in a revision of my Secret Project, so I’m still feeling the momentum of deadline work (that compulsion to amass word counts or knock down chapters or hammer out character arcs), but the project is no longer in front of me, and that compulsion to keep working has nowhere to go. There’s technically more I could do to improve this manuscript: a couple details to include here and there, a bit of nuance to add to a character, continuity and consistency to iron out. I could absolutely spend more time cutting and editing and adjusting…
Or I could not.
There are more revisions to come on this project, and they, too, are going to take place in a limited timeframe, which means that there are only a limited number of times I can read and reread the manuscript in a set amount of days or weeks before I am so deep in the bramble of my own words (old and new, revised and re-revised) that I lose sight of the story entirely, the original drafts muddled with the latest, the things I cut or added all mixed up in one incoherent jumble. Given an unlimited amount of time, I could take a month between revisions to get out of the tangle of the project, to see the shape of it from a distance, to understand what I’m really looking at. But when deadlines are involved, I need to find ways to shortcut this process.
Hence this week’s topic, not-doing.
Or I guess, more accurately, not-thinking. Or not-looking, maybe?
To give myself the kind of time/space/distance I need to come back to my project again with fresh eyes and a rejuvenated mind, I do my best not to work on it, not to till it or weed it or even look directly at it. I don’t let myself dwell on the story. I don’t allow myself to think about how to fix its imperfections. I try not to actively think about the book at all, like there’s this distance I want to create, or maybe a space I want to protect. Maybe it’s that I want my creativity to lie fallow for a while, so that when I come back to it, it’ll flourish again.
Is it odd to think of the not-doing as a sort of work? I’m not actively thinking about my project, but it feels like I’m thinking around it, if that makes sense. I’m reading for research. I’m reading things that inspire me to be a better writer. I’m going on research trips and gardening and taking the dogs for hikes and considering the sensation of walking over different kinds of earth. I’m jotting down revision notes as they come to me (if they come to me), but not trying to figure out how to execute them or what ripples they’ll cause later. And all of these things, while not exactly the frenetic, driving, forward momentum of being on deadline, are things, I hope, that will not only make this project better when I return to it again but will expedite my naturally leisurely creative process so when art and business come together at my next deadline, maybe the intersection will be a little less fraught.
Next week: CREATIVE HOBBIES. Until a few years ago, I would accidentally kill every plant I brought into my home. Then I discovered orchids, whose regular watering needs really suited me, and I started to collect a few different varieties, then expanded into a spearmint plant, some bonsai (well, they’re hopefully going to be bonsai eventually), air plants, and twenty-four basil seedlings that I’m starting this year. Somehow, I’ve gone from a plant-killer to (dare I say it?) a gardener. And I actually think that has to do with publishing, in a weird, roundabout sort of way. Hobby it up with me next Sunday at tracichee.com and/or post your own responses with the hashtag #workandprocess. Love and kindness. <3
Work and Process is a year-long journey of exploring and reflecting on the artistic process, craft, and working in a creative field. Each Sunday, I’ll post some thoughts, wonderings, explanations, and explorations on writing and creativity, and by the end of it, I hope to have 52 musings, examinations, meanderings, discoveries, bits of joy or inquisitiveness or knowledge to share. In each post, I’ll also include a topic for the following week, so if you happen to be inspired to question/wonder at/consider your own work and process, you’re welcome to join me. We’ll be using the #workandprocess hashtag across all social media platforms, and I hope we find each other to learn and connect and transform on our creative wanderings.