In 1995, Julia Cameron released her art-shaking book The Artist’s Way, hands-down the only practical textbook on creativity of its day, one that was not matched until Stephen King put out On Writing five years later.
Five years may not seem like much of a gap, but it is when you add up all the other instructional books on creativity published in that space and in the years prior (and burned them in a pile, which someone should have done). I read as many of those books (and articles on the topic in newspaper, magazine and community class leaflets) as I could, trying to figure out why I could not bring myself to go past the first few paragraphs on the page, although I had an abundance of time, energy and material, and hey, I was fluent in English. How hard could this writing thing be?
Really hard, as it turned out. But to get back to it …
In the quarter-century since reading The Artist’s Way, one tip stuck: If you want to increase your creative output, you have to trim your creative input (O > I).
Turn off the television. Avoid art galleries. Leave the library alone. Shut down the stereo. Take a Walkman-less walk.
It’s the opposite of what I believed at the time – that creative output was spawned by creative input. It seemed counter-intuitive, after all, who hasn’t heard that writers read – a lot (not Garrison Keillor, by the way, he unabashedly says he hardly reads at all). Disbelievingly, I adopted a spirit of scientific experimentation with my lab rat being ‘today-me,’ and my control group being ‘yesterday-me.’ I drained the pond and waited to see what would happen.
It was only a few days before “what” happened. My mind quieted and I began to write up a storm – and while some might apply method or mythology to this, I put it down to one thing. Boredom.
I had lived all my life as a compulsive reader – and suddenly there was nothing to read (or watch, or listen to or look at) – and in my boredom all those stories percolating in my head suddenly boiled over onto the page. And why not – if they were on the page, they were something I could read – it was as though my brain demanded reading material, even if that material was my own.
When people ask me how do I write, I have a lot of answers about the craft, many drawn from my high-demand, editor-glaring-over-my-shoulder newsroom years, but none of that could have come into being were it not for Cameron lighting that fuse.
Boredom. Try it.
And if it doesn’t work. Try something else. Where’s the harm?
Tomorrow, more on getting started.