As I sat outside at a café in my neighborhood working on some short stories this Sunday afternoon, I felt overwhelmed by the feedback from friends and writing peers that I was trying to process, and use to improve my stories.
Recently I read a book that greatly influenced my perspective on writing, and more broadly, my attitude in general. I’m often skeptical about books that are written on the craft of writing; they themselves have to be well written in order to be credible advice on how to write. Booklife by Jeff Vandermeer was.
In his work of nonfiction on the craft of writing, Vandermeer focuses on developing both one’s private and public identity with regard to being a creative writer. I will focus on the part about one’s private identity as a writer. Firstly, what does our identity as a writer, or just our identity, mean? Are we defined by our habits and behaviors: our schedule and structure to our writing practice, or does identity beg a deeper question, such as why it is that we wanted to be a writer, or whatever we are, to begin with.
Vandermeer explores both elements in Booklife. He offers practical tips on how to carve out the time to write, and tips on the writing process from brainstorming to polishing final drafts, to judging what advice from others we should take. This is useful in building positive habits and behaviors that will allow us to hone writing skills and advance our creative writing practice.
In addition to behaviors, customs and routines with regard to writing, Booklife helps us explore why it is that we want to be a writer. I thought this was an interesting question that most of the time we don’t even stop to consider. A chapter in a book will unlikely be able to provide you this answer, but Vandermeer poses some interesting questions which may help you discover the why for yourself. For example, do you write because you couldn’t not write? Do most people work in a particular area because it’s their passion and they couldn’t not do that job, or is their motivation more extrinsic, for practical financial reasons?
Something else, which struck a chord with me, was Vandermeer’s mention of perspective and how keeping a clear head and a rational mindset are vital tools for maximizing the energy and creativity necessary for writing:
“If you can somehow find the ability to zoom back and put every situation in your life in its maximum perspective, you will find your life immeasurably enriched and you will be positioning yourself for greater success. […] The focus on what’s coming often allows me to pull back and look at the world with the perspective I need to make better creative decisions.” (Vandermeer, Booklife)
It’s great advice for life in general. No? Basically, use your energy for what’s most important to you at the time, whether it be writing, school, career, family or something else. “All of the base emotions are tied to the short view. These emotions not only keep wounds green, but they burn your time and energy,” says Vandermeer in Booklife. Let all the unimportant details work themselves out, and maintain the ability to focus, zoom out and recognize when things are beyond our control; doing so will provide you with a sense of freedom, and the energy to focus on what we can control.
When has adopting a new perspective helped you in your creative life?