This summer, I started writing a new novel, a process that is always equal parts exciting and terrifying. The idea of writing a new book fills me with anticipation. My imagination starts asking, ‘what if?’ and I begin scribbling notes on the backs of envelopes and scratch paper and on my shiny new yellow legal pad. My brain leaps and swirls from idea to even bigger idea and I run along behind trying to capture them before they flit away again.
But after a while, the carefree possibility stage winds down as I gradually run out of story ideas. Then I get antsy to start putting words on the page.
That’s when the anxiety kicks in. I look around at the piles of notes and bits of dialogue and character sketches and I get overwhelmed. It’s complete chaos. How on earth will a cohesive story emerge from this mess?
To quiet the anxiety, I start entering things into the computer, but that brings more good news/bad news.
Because to conquer the chaos, I have to make decisions. Lots of decisions.
Which scenes goes where? If I follow this plot trail, I can’t go down this other one. Which one should I choose?
And so I find myself paralyzed by indecision, overwhelmed by the utter chaos of the creative process.
There is a knot in my belly and my hands sometimes shake, but I’ve finally learned that if I sit still long enough, I will find what I’m looking for.
Not neatly typed up in A-Z format, unfortunately, but a piece at a time. A paragraph, a scene at a time.
Stephen King has said, “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”
I believe the Great Creator gives us those stories to uncover, but it’s our job to do the work of bringing them into the light.
It takes time.
And it requires sitting with the chaos. Letting all that scary uncertainty swirl around in our brain until slowly, slowly clarity emerges.
If you’re struggling with that creative chaos today, I encourage you to sit with it. To simply be still and let it churn for a while. As you sit and listen, the next step will slowly emerge.
Don’t just listen with your brain; pay attention to your belly, too. Your gut will send a warning if you’re headed in the wrong direction. But unless we sit still, we can’t hear.
I don’t know that I’ll ever completely embrace this process, but I’m learning to sit with creative chaos. And I’m learning to listen.
How do you overcome creative chaos?