Creativity 2.0(.21)

I’m in a fallow period, pottering around, looking for the next thing. I started a jigsaw, read a novel, watched the first half of Homecoming (Season 1, with Julia Roberts), listened to podcasts on my walks, and wrote in my notebook. Work was busy, and working from home I find it hard to switch off. I’m easily distracted. The US election sucked a lot of energy out of me. The news is everywhere now. Since finishing #31DaysOfHorror I’ve lost momentum in personal projects. That groove was a powerful source of creative energy.

Finally, though, I’m beginning to feel more centred. Within a couple of weeks, 2021 has gone from being the beginning of the end of things, to the beginning of something new — Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, a COVID-19 vaccine, the end of Dominic Cummings — these are all excellent for my mental health. The world is starting to feel safer.

I now know I can watch a film, make some notes about it, let it simmer in the back of my mind for a few days, then edit it into a decent piece of writing, and I can do that several times a week if necessary. That’s new. I’m not sure what those #31DaysOfHorror blog posts were. They felt like reviews, but I didn’t want to give an opinion on whether films were good, bad, or worth someone’s time. Instead, I tried to find what I liked about each film, then connected it with previous films or my own experiences. I felt obligated to provide a brief synopsis, perhaps because I always had the reader in mind, and they might not have seen the film. I wanted each post to make sense and stand alone.

A handful of people read them. That felt good. The one-film-a-day structure was a potent catalyst for making it a habit, as was posting a link to the post on Twitter. I was pretty wrung out from watching so many films in such a short period. I did love it, but after I’d finished, once I’d let myself decompress, it felt like a massive relief. However, I engaged more deeply with films knowing I had to write about them — that was the power of the challenge, and the public commitment that came with it.

I stopped watching films and writing blog posts completely in November. Drifting creatively is useful, but I’ve learned that without a project, eventually I lose sight of the coastline of my true interests and drift out to sea. I’d like to keep the bits that worked from #31DaysOfHorror, but make it less intense, more sustainable, and more aligned with my current goals.

Posting to my blog every day kept me accountable. That was my measure of progress. Looking back at those thirty-one posts I see what I achieved, and I feel proud of a good creative project. Having a page on my website pulling those posts together makes it feel coherent, just like seeing The Complex and Signal existing in the world does.

My next novel is plodding away in the background. I sit with it for up to an hour every morning. Some days I write a hundred words, occasionally I write none, but on other days I might write as much as five hundred. It’s intermittent and slow-going. Publishing short blog posts and posting them on Twitter — hell, just posting on Twitter and getting a few likes — gives me a feeling of accomplishment, and a dopamine rush writing a novel can’t compete with day to day.

A short story is a month’s work for me, and a novel is years of effort. This novel might never get published and only be read in three years time by one diehard fan willing to read an 80,000-word .docx file. I love you, man, but if the Time Wizard showed me his crystal ball, and that was how it was going to be, I’m not sure if I would go on. The hope of being published and having my work exist on its own terms in the world is a sustaining force. Without that hope, I’d like to think I would still write stories, because it serves some internal purpose, but honestly, I don’t know.

That’s what I’m competing with in my head. I don’t want my writing practice to feel leaden and dull. I’m writing good sentences, even though it is difficult work. Writing The Complex, I had the structure of a creative writing Masters to get a draft finished. Now I’m in the world, a published author, but with no agent, no contract, no support structures, working full-time at home in a completely different field, living through a pandemic, with one child in secondary school and another at a COVID-ridden university, trying to keep some momentum going.

There is transition energy afoot. It’s been a fuck of(f of) a year. I’m starting my annual process of looking back, so I can look forward. I’m lucky in all the ways that matter. Writing is hard — it has always been hard — but it still feels like the most important thing I can do with my spare time. I don’t write for the pleasure of writing, but it means a lot to me, and I manage to create space in my life to do it. For that I am thankful.

Over the next few weeks, as we come to the end of 2020, everything I’ve written about here will shake out. I can’t stay still for long, although I do try. The ideal I hold in my head of a slow, loving, meaningful life always seems just out of reach, but I do my best with what I have.

I wonder what next year will bring? I wonder how I can make my craft feel more fun? With those questions in mind, we enter a season of change.