Monday, September 26, 2011

Killing the Muse Killer by Jennifer Slattery

Hi readers, Annette here. Do deadlines paralyze you or energize you? My creativity goes into hiding when I'm on deadline. Today Jennifer Slattery concludes her series by discussing inspiration. Enjoy!

Killing the Muse Killer
by Jennifer Slattery

The other day I spoke with an aspiring writer dealing with fizzled creativity. She felt God nudging her to write for an international ministry. The doors were wide open for her to do so, but her brain slammed shut. Staring at a blank computer screen, she became convinced she couldn’t write.

Seriously, if you’re a gifted writer—if writing is your calling--shouldn’t it come easily?

Sometimes. Until you hit your first deadline. If it were up to me, I’d never write on assignment. I much prefer writing what I want when I want, then sending it off in the hopes I’ll get a bite. Minus the rather frustrating fact it may never get published. Having talked with numerous authors making the transition from seat-of-the-pants writing to deadlines and assignments, I’ve found others experienced similar struggles.

“Deadlines impose a 'must do' on my creative mind, leaving no wiggle room,” said Diana Lesire, author of We’re Not Blended—We’re pureed. “I think that's why they create writer's block. … I like to be free in my choice of what to do with the creativity that lives in me --write when the muse hits, write one story instead of another. Contract deadlines paralyze me.”

There are numerous reasons for this. The first is pretty obvious—you’re no longer writing to please yourself. Now, you’ve got an audience. A very important audience—your editor. Suddenly you question your ability to perform and fear of failure creeps in, deadening your creativity. When this happens, it’s important to step back and regain perspective. You’re editor doesn’t expect you to be the next Jerry B. Jenkins or Beth Moore. He expects you to do your best to deliver what you’ve promised.

Releasing false expectations helps release your creativity. Here’s why: deadlines and assignments stimulate the left side of your brain—the linear, logical, rational side, often stifling the creative, big-picture thinking right side. The trick, then, is to recognize the reason for your frustration before declaring defeat. Then, engage in right-brain stimulating activities like brainstorming, free-writing, viewing or creating art, or listing to music. Once your muse begins to arise, return to your assignment and press through. Over time, your right and left hemispheres will begin to work together more effectively.

It’s also helpful to start your project early, scheduling in plenty of wiggle room. Although some writers thrive under pressure, most feel like an overinflated tire shoved into a two-inch cube, largely because of the left-brain, right brain problems I discussed earlier. Allowing yourself time to free-think and writing during your most creative moments instead of on-demand will help eliminate creativity-sapping pressure.

Then, once you submit your piece, be prepared to release it, and recognize everything’s a work in progress. Basically, expect a lot of red and determine to put the piece above your personal feelings or preferences. Unless you disagree with suggested changes on an ethical or theological level, let them slide, recognizing your editor’s wisdom gained by experience.

“I had an editor (not my current) who had me remove every metaphor in my book,” said Vannetta Chapman, author of Falling to Pieces (Zondervan, 2011). “Yes, you read that correctly! After three days of walking around, wearing a rubber band on my wrist, and snapping it muttering, "Metaphors, bad!" I went through my manuscript and took them ALL out. Why? Because I decided that editor knew their readership better than I did.” Vannetta’s decision to cooperate paid off. Turned out, her editor really did know what she was talking about, and because Vannetta responded with a teachable spirit, her debut novel became a CBA best seller and Vannetta became known as a team player.

“Editors prefer writers who are partners in the process—writers who have a long-term vision not just for their own careers, but for where their work fits into the larger picture,” said Michael Ehret, Christian Writers Guild Editor-in-Chief. “Be that writer and you’ll come to know and be known by the right people.”

Our actions say a lot about who we are, and often, our actions precede us. An author with long-term vision is more concerned with their reputation for quality writing, perseverance, and dedication to the project (not themselves) than with making that single sale. They view editors not as gatekeepers but as co-laborers.

Jennifer Slattery is a novelist and freelance writer living in the midwest with her husband of sixteen years and their thirteen year old daughter. She works for Tiffany Colter, the Writing Career Coach, and is the marketing manager for the literary website, Clash of the Titles. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, the Christian Pulse, and Samie Sisters and has written for numerous other publications, E-zines, and websites including the Breakthrough Intercessor, Bloom! Afictionado, the Christian Fiction Online Magazine, Romantic Times Review, Pentalk, the Barn Door Book Loft, the Write Conversation, and Granola Bar Devotions. Catch one of her faith-stirring devotionals at Jennifer Slattery Lives Out Loud and find out more about her critiquing and marketing services at Words That Keep.

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