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The sport of creativity

Ahhh, baby August. She wanted nothing more than to be a sports journalist, to capture the wild world of the athlete, professional and amateur (but mostly professional, let’s be real). In 2006, she set her passwords as “Vancouver2012” because she believed that was her ultimate goal: to cover the Vancouver Winter Olympics (because they were a reasonable drive from her hometown of Seattle).

Oh, baby August. Little did you know… you were the athlete.

Your creative muscles ripple provocatively. Your production speed impresses even the jaded. You flex your ideas.

(Enough of this weird second-person BS.) Baby August might not be impressed by my physical prowess, but she’d sure be wowed by my willingness to step in any creative ring and take a shot.

One of the most common phrases I hear when I recount my various endeavors is, “Where do you find the TIME?!

When I look at it from the perspective that creativity is a sport, the answer is right there: I train. I train for speed, I train for volume, I train for the long game.

You have to train yourself creatively, as intentionally and consistently as you’d train for a physical sport.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: long ago, my husband looked me square in the eye and said, “Honey, writers write.” It might be the most obvious use of the 🤦‍♀️ emoji ever, but it’s stuck with me, and I’ve religiously subscribed to that adage ever since. There’s only one way to get better at what I do, and that’s to practice the right way.

Not just practice — practice the wrong way builds bad habits that become hard to undo. So it’s not just a matter of sitting down and banging at the keyboard every day. There’s a lot of studying: of the greats, of all storytelling mediums, of tactics and techniques that have been proven to work for the entirety of recorded history. You read, you watch, you ask and then shut up and listen, and you absorb.

Then the next step is the simplest and also the hardest.

You gotta do it.

You can’t just think about it, dream about it, talk about it with your friends and creative partners. You gotta do it. I wouldn’t be a loving writerfriend if I didn’t lay it out there for you.

But maybe you already do, and you’re still floundering. Wondering how to get yourself from where you’re at to the next step as a creative individual. Here are my personal training methods, which you can take or leave as they work for you (or don’t).

Speed — Yes, I really do type about 120 words per minute even when I’m inventing what I’m writing on the fly (my 160 WPM results are when there’s pre-existing text to re-type). Yes, I really can get through the first draft of a manuscript in three or four weeks, if I go into it with a clear roadmap. Yes, this is only a recent development in the last couple of years. I, too, began at the starting line, where the idea of typing one thousand whole words in a single day was daunting AF. Now, I can crank out 2000 (decent!) words in an hour, if I know what I’m doing. There are two practices I credit with getting to this incredible speed: practicing at least a few days a week since I was about 8, and outlining. That second one is responsible for a recent astronomical leap, and I highly recommend taking it up.

Endurance — This is all about plowing through the unpleasant parts of the process and getting to the other side where you want to be: with something finished. For my endurance training, I participate every year in NaNoWriMo, which compresses the unpleasant task of plowing all the way through a manuscript into 30 days. Some of my creative partners are more skeptical on NaNo, and for good reason — if you don’t go into it with a plan, you’re screwed, and your book’s going to be a massive mess it’ll take years to chip away at.

Tolerance — It can be way too easy to hang all of your hopes on a single idea, which — I’m sorry, it’s true! — often results in low spirits when you’re inevitably rejected. Rejection is part of the creative game, so you have to build up a tolerance for it. The best way I’ve found to grow my tolerance for disappointment is I always have a lot of projects going. That way, if one doesn’t pan out, there’s plenty more I’m excited for.

Volume — As I was just discussing with a couple of different friends, at least 40% of the reason I collaborate as often as I can is to ensure there’s someone else who wants me to hurry up and finish what we’re working on. That way, it’s not so easy to minimize the open files, leave the notebook on the desk — not when I know my creative pals are awaiting the results. If left to my own devices, with only myself to disappoint, I wouldn’t put out half the stuff I do.

Long Game — I hope you know this by now, if you’ve made any forays at all into the process, but… publishing is a very long game. Even if everything goes as fast and smoothly as it possibly could, getting from idea to finished book takes a self-published writer 3-6 months and a traditional publishing house two years. Some of my writing friends are currently unable to speak about the publishing deals they’ve got because they won’t even be announced for another year. In order to build my immunity to the frustrations of waiting, as I mentioned, I always have multiple projects, in multiple mediums and genres. Some project always needs something; I don’t have to feel the effects of waiting as much if I’m working on something else.

All of these traits, when combined, make for what might seem like an unstoppable bullet train of a creative human being. I’ll tell you, I don’t feel invincible, but I do feel like I can keep doing this for a long time. Because I’m a marathon runner of book series. I’m a pole-vaulter of short stories. I’m a swimmer of comic scripts. (OK, I’ll stop.) I’m a creative athlete.

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

Published inWriting about writingWriting process