Posts Tagged energy

Riding the Wave of Uncertainty

It dismays me every time I see that I’ve let so much time pass since my last post. No, it doesn’t bother me to admit that because just like everyone else, my forehead is emblazoned with the words “work in progress.” Here’s what has been on my mind (and plate) lately. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of uncertainty and creativity for dual reasons – I’m giving my first seminar on creativity at the end of the month and I’ve been rereading Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields.

I do a lot of encouraging or coaching (as is might be termed by some) and I’ve noticed that handling uncertainty is an ability that a lot of artists do not possess. When faced with doubts or fears, I’ve seen artists push themselves forward to success, or self-sabotage, or choose a path that will ensure them the least amount of pain during the process of creation. In recovery, I’ve learned that this is training we should have had as children – to deal with the uncertainty of outcomes in a healthy manner. Not that I’m suggesting that all artists or writers are recovering from some ‘ism,’ but that’s always a healthy avenue to investigate if you find yourself constantly short-changing your creative process to stop the pain.

What’s this pain; this uncertainty about? Fields asserts (and I agree) that the double nature of uncertainty is the fear of what the outcome will be and how the outcome will be perceived (judged.) Like most artists, I realize the fear signals the foothold of what could be a fantastic idea – an idea worth exploring or an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up because the experience will be invaluable. It’s what we choose to do as the pain creeps into our psyche that will determine the depth of the creative process.

Fields details an experiment where subjects were asked to choose a ball from one of two urns. Urn #1 is filled with 100 balls – 50 black and 50 white. Urn #2 also contains 100 balls but the percentage of which is black or white is unknown. The subjects had to bet $100 on a color of their choice. Then they had to choose which urn to pick from. Can you guess which most people chose? Even though neither configuration had a mathematical or logical advantage, the majority of the subjects choose the first urn.

Because pain is uncomfortable and our fight or flight instinct usually prompts us to flight, most people will choose the path of ‘constraint.’ They stop exploring, close off options and create rules, look for systems and processes to justify their choices because of their aversion to the unknown and to being judged. At that point the adapting, testing, and experimenting and evolving is over. Continuing in the uncertainty, on the other hand, can lead to heightened creativity and a level of creative options that would otherwise not have been seen.

Sounds logical, right? But as I constantly ask my therapist – what do I do with all these feelings? (now that I’m not stuffing them, eating them, and denying them.) He says – just feel them. As crappy as uncertainty, fear, and anxiety feels – feel them and keep on creating. It’s okay not to know or be able to predict exactly how things will turn out. It’s very uncomfortable at first but it’s a worthwhile pursuit because what we live out in our creative processes, we also live out in our personal lives. What benefits one will benefit the other. Push through, work through the pain, and be amazed at what you produce.

How have you dealt with uncertainty in your life and your creative process lately?

©2012 Carolyn Moore

Food for thought: Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields
& Deciding to Push by Carolyn Moore.


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The Energy of Revision

I suspect that my friends in the local writers group cringe every time they hear me say the word ‘revision’ or ‘editing.’ I’m constantly sharing my perspective as well as articles, tips, and quotes on the process of revision.  I’ve become a big fan since I decided that perpetual procrastination (which allows for minimal reflection) was not producing a quality of work that I desired. It’s taken about 30 years to reach this point.

In high school, revising was not promoted. You did the work; maybe did a little editing for grammar and spelling and then submitted the project. It was graded and the process was over.  In college, the process was expanded somewhat, but it really wasn’t until I was working on my senior project to complete my BA about three years ago that I really understood the significance of revision.

Everyone loves the creative process especially when it’s a day that words are just flowing from your fingers to the page. It’s new and exciting. It’s the first time those words – the feelings, the colors, the smells  – are in a tangible form that can be shared with others. It’s a cathartic experience full of ups and downs, new adventures, and discoveries about our characters and ourselves as writers.

Revision, by comparison, sounds like drudgery.  Correcting verb tenses, tightening up sentences, deleting unnecessary modifiers, and perhaps deleting a finely crafted section of our masterpiece. It’s this possibility that makes the revision process seem so heinous – suggesting perhaps in a perfect moment of spontaneous creativity that a sentence or a paragraph or a scene, even, may have been created only to be thrown into a void.  Could something that is written in this perfect state not be necessary to further the story?

For that senior project, I spent a year writing and revising the first 100 pages of a novel. I learned that the revision process has an exciting energy of its own. It’s quite different from the energy of creation, but equally is creative and just as important. It’s not just about grammar and spelling or verb tenses. Revision is a stage of listening, gauging, questioning, and evaluating.  Instead of being in my character’s shoes, I’m now walking by her side making sure she’s following the path that is truest to her nature. I’m listening to her voice to be sure that it’s genuine to her personality and observing her actions for authenticity. It’s like falling in love again with your story from a mentor’s point of view instead of a participant’s.

And I learned through 365 days with these words, that even if there is such a thing as the perfect sentence – there will always be others and that holding onto an awesome sentence when it doesn’t further the story is pretty silly. I highlight and delete at will now. I don’t even copy and paste the words to a separate file anymore. There will be other words; other sentences.

Revision is about breaking free from the fear that you’ve already put down all the good words you have about a story.  Revision allows us to stop and reflect, observe, and commune with our characters and themes. It’s the time to make that fine detail even finer; the voice even stronger; the ideas richer. A time to develop as a writer.

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