Today I’m writing about the parts of the writing process that bring on a major case of the Despise-Its.
These are the parts of the writing process that erupt like angry volcanos.
The parts of the writing process when you just. can’t. love. the. words.
When you DESPISE every ounce of your project. When you feel like if you look at the file one more time you will THROW YOUR LAPTOP/COMPUTER ACROSS THE ROOM.
These feelings can come on during any part of the writing and revision process. For me, it happens at least twice.
It typically happens in the middle of the first draft. After I’ve had plenty of sit-downs where the words flow and the characters speak to me or the ideas burst out like petals on a bright spring day. When there is a large amount of ‘work done’ that I am proud of. The flow is seemingly strong. The poems pile up like snow. But then…I sit down and do a look-through. Do a poem or page count. Even go so far as printing it out to touch it as a collected work in my hands. Then – it’s like a hot potato and I can’t get it out of my hands quick enough.
I can’t even think about writing another line. The Compare Monsters barrel to the forefront of my thoughts. The joy of process and the bliss of flow disappear like a melted snowflake in the palm of my hand. I despise it all – the writing, the words, the process.
Because this part of my process happens so consistently with each project I’m working on, I am quick to recognize it as just that – part of the process.
I let the Despise-Its come in full force.
And I LEAVE. THE. WORK. ALONE.
I get up from the chair and step away from the words.
Sometimes it takes only a few days for me to begin to feel the joy of the process again. Other times, it takes weeks or even months. I have to trust my writer’s instinct – that is how my body feels when I sit to start writing again and what voices come to my head – and follow it.
When the Despise-Its come during the creation process, I know they won’t last long. I’ve learned that something always triggers them like I’ll read a review of someone’s poetry and think ‘I’ll never write like her!’ or I’ll get scared to dig deeper and write out what I’m truly feeling. Something always triggers a creative-process Despise-It session.
And Time is the only healer. So I wait. Work on other projects. Or read. Or watch films. I can’t tell you how much watching films re-generates my creative flow. It does something to my brain-body connection – it’s a way to love story visually and to appreciate art that is different than my own, but still makes me feel inspired.
The other time a case of the Despise-Its comes along is during the editing and revision process. And, I can tell you, it’s always much worse.
So, the project is complete in a first or even second draft. I’m editing lines and revising order and titles. Or, I’m revising for plot structure and character development. Sometimes other people are involved.
This is when the joy of the creative becomes the challenge of completion.
It’s a whole emotional step to get close to and then finally finish a project.
Especially when you have plans or commitments for publication.
The Despise-Its have one final chance to get up in your grill and do their best to let out what’s left of your self-doubt, worries, comparisons, and whatever negative junk you’ve still got within.
I’d say, in fact, that this part of the process, this final stab from the Despise-Its is extremely natural, intuitive and necessary to make our work the best it can be.
When the Despise-Its come during the end-game of your project’s process – let them bear down. And back up.
Again, a conscious walk-away from the work is needed.
But this time – pay attention to what the Despise-Its are saying and doing.
It’s possible that that nagging voice in your mind will allow you to connect clearly to that part of your project you know isn’t the best it can be or isn’t fully communicating what you want to say or isn’t fully realized because it can’t be until it goes through this phase.
Full disclosure: I always know when a line isn’t quite right. When a word doesn’t fit. When a plot point is weak. But when I’m in the write-it-out phase, the creative-juices-flowing phase, I don’t want to stop and deal with it. So I power through and ignore it.
But I’m not really ignoring it. There’s a little white-haired lady rocking on a rocking chair gathering all these ‘not-quite-theres’ and weaving them into a blanket (or scarf, hopefully – a blanket is soooo big!) that she will wrap around the Despise-Its when they come charging at me during revisions.
And I can choose to face these issues or not when I’ve stepped away from the project to let it and myself breathe through the process of completion.
Finishing a project – like, really being ‘done’ in your heart and mind – is a wild and emotional experience. On the one hand, you’re relieved and proud you’ve made it this far. You know the end will give you space in your mind for other work. You know that the end means you’ve done your best and you feel confident that this project can do good in the world. You know that you’ve birthed, taught, shared and learned from this ‘baby’ you call a book.
But like real babies – they grow up. And there will always come a time when you’ve got to let your baby go. The metaphor is common, and thus stereotypical, but it is true.
On a deep level, in the place where our need to create and share and love lives (the heart, the soul, the light – we call it many things), we must prepare to find the umbilical cord of this project and cut it. Let it be free. Let it live and breathe as the best that it can be in the world as an entity beyond our bodies.
All of this happens in that final Despise-It phase.
Having gone through the Despise-Its many, many, many times. In fact, being in the Despise-Its for a certain project currently, I can tell you that it’s a difficult place to be in.
But it is necessary.
We must be gentle on our creative selves during this phase because the emotions and feelings the Despise-Its are holding up to us need to have time to be recognized.
a) Step-away. Leave the project alone for as long as you can taking into account any pending deadlines and paying strict attention to your mind-chatter.
b) Deal with the negative self-talk. Write it out. Use it as fodder for another project. Write it in a journal. Talk to a writer friend who knows what you’re going through.
c) Focus on those parts you know need to be fixed. Thank the lady with the silver hair for her woven creation, and tackle these fix-its one at a time. Gently. Respectfully.
d) Consciously choose to be finished. This is a big part of the process. Look, we’re humans. We will always find something to change. But, at some point, you have to choose to accept your project in its finished form. Of course we despise this part of the process – it means we are giving ourselves permission to be done. It means we are choosing to trust our process, the words, the ‘book baby’ so she can gallop into the world. Without us.
The Despise-Its are very real. And though we may all experience them at different parts during our creative processes, it is part of the process. We give it different names…writers block, maybe…although I don’t believe it that, but we could argue semantics on this one. In any case, these valleys of the creative landscape are real and necessary.
If you’re in a Despite-It right now – here’s a virtual hug!
Take it. And hold on as long as you need.
Trust your creative self. Breathe.
Trust your creative instinct. It’s that gentle voice and electric jolt you feel beneath all the junk.
And when you do finish. When you choose to ‘save as’ one final time (PLEASE BACK-UP YOUR WORK AND EMAIL IT TO YOURSELF. SWEET JEEBUS. BACK.IT.UP. [AND I DON’T MEAN THAT BOOTY.]), friend – you must celebrate.
CELEBRATE! Call your bestie and tell her the great news. Tell your writing group or mentor. Scream. Jump. Shake that booty now! And give yourself permission to feel what it feels like to be a Writer. Who. Completed. A. Book.
The thing is: this book is not the only thing in your world. It will sooooooo feel like it is. Hot dog, will it ever. The Despise-Its will see to that – but it is NOT the only place where loves blooms in your world. So remember that your creative project is just one of the beams of light that you are expressing. Be sure to embrace the other beams too. And keep your light – in all its glory – shining.