Tag Archives: creativity

First Draft Depression

I’m doing NaNoWriMo this month–National November Writing Months–that thing where you try to write a 50 000-word novel in a month. It’s good to write a full novel again. But it also reminds me how excruciating the process of creation actually is.


The minute you try put that thing in your head down on paper, it just sits there dry and lifeless and so, so far from what it was meant to be. The idea you had was good. That’s why you started writing it. But the reality of your ability to communicate this idea with others destroys all your joy in the idea.


The excellent thing about NaNoWriMo, and things like it, is that it forces you to keep writing despite your despair over your writing. If you’re going to churn out fifty thousand words, you can’t stop and mope. I think more than once in my past I’ve given up because my new project’s writing was objectively horrible, without continuing to work through to the reality that this horribleness only lessens if you keep creating. You can’t always think rationally about what will make your idea come to life. You’ve got to live with your idea and work it out, and somehow that breathes life into it.


As creators and artists, we’ve got to live with the reality there will always be a gap between the ideal in our heads and what we produce. This is usually good–it’s this awareness of that gap that drives us to keep improving our skill. To keep getting better. Until maybe one day we do produce something good.


In the meantime we do have to face the dragons of depression that come with creation. And it often is real, dark depression-y feelings, not a mild approximation of depression. A few thousand words in to this novel this month and I was absolutely miserable. I was only destroying what I had in my head, poisoning even the original idea I’d loved so much.


Then I wrote a few words that were maybe a little bit good.


And so I know it’s worth it to keep fighting to get that idea out. Failing at getting what’s in your head out in the world feels worse than never trying, but it’s only though grappling with your own thoughts, painfully facing your own limitations, that your idea develops. After all, not working with your ideas leads to depression too.


I’m getting close to the end of NaNoWriMo now, and close to the end of the fifty thousand word goal I’d set for myself. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near the actual end of my story. So it looks like I’ll have to force myself to stay in my writing habit after all!


Have a great November, guys! If you’re doing NaNoWriMo too–may you have the strength to finish! Comment below on whether you’ve enjoyed creation–or just comment on what you think about the process of creation in general.



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Filed under On Writing, Randoms & My Life

Stories and Stuff’s Top Posts in 2013

Three years in and this blog is still going strong! And that’s all thanks to all of you, my dear readers, who keep coming back and reading, commenting and sharing. Virtual confetti, balloons and champagne to all of you! Here’s a summary of the top five most popular posts Stories and Stuff had this year:

 1.) Creativity is the Residue of Time Wasted

Creativity – we all want it, we’d all like to know how to have more of it. This was clearly a pithy little quote that explained creativity in a way a lot of people liked.

 2.) Ranking Jane Austen – Is It Possible?

Jane Austen – an ever-fresh topic, no matter what the year. My Jane Austen vignettes were popular this year as well, even though I didn’t get around to publishing a new one in 2013.

 3.) Abusing Punctuation: The Ellipses…

I guess everyone loves rule-breakers, and here’s my post about my addiction to this piece of punctuation.

 4.) Tolkien’s “Take That!” to Shakespeare

We all remember being forced to read Shakespeare in school, and hating it. So clearly this post about one of our favourite authors, J. R. R. Tolkien, taking a stab at bettering Shakespeare struck a chord with readers.

 5.) “You Too?” What Friendship Is, and Why It’s So Hard to Find

That “moment of connection” that’s so necessary to friendship, as C. S. Lewis explains it, and my own take on how I fail sometimes when it comes to this area of friendship. And anyway, we all wish we understood this whole friendship thing better.

So this list features Jane Austen, J. R. R. Tolkien, AND C. S. Lewis… regular readers of my blog will not be surprised! (And, oh look, I abused another ellipsis in that last sentence!) The rest of the list covers aspects of good writing: how to be creative, how to write on friendship, and what a good long sentence without an ellipsis might look like.

In conclusion – thank you so much for supporting this blog in 2013 (and buying my ebooks too – I know some of you did!), and I wish you all the very best in 2014! Happy New Year!

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Filed under Randoms & My Life

Creativity is the Residue of Time Wasted

quotables buttonCreativity is the residue of time wasted.

– Albert Einstein*

Sometimes time wasted is just time wasted. And sometimes time wasted ends up being creativity.

Why is this? Well, creativity is a funny thing. You don’t always know where you’re going to end up when you start. You might find yourself in a lot of dead ends before you get somewhere interesting. And so your endless scribbling at your desk, or your doodling, or your songwriting might look a lot like time wasted to everyone else.

This is the difficult thing about creativity, and it’s part of the reason the arts are called both a ‘waste of time and money’ AND essential to humanity. The process for creating art is not standard in the way the scientific method is standard. A lot of what’s produced might looked like garbage, or time wasted. And throwing money at the arts does not necessarily equal creativity (in a neat, positively correlated way, I mean), which frustrates a lot of goal-driven people.

But then, every once in a while, you do get mind-blowing stuff. Which reminds everyone, once again, to give creative people the space they need to create.

For creators, this means learning the balance between wasting time and being productive… gaining an instinct for knowing when to stop doodling and start painting, or stop researching and start writing, or whatever. Sometimes a dead-end is fun and endless entertaining (like writing the missing scenes to Jane Austen’s novels). Which sometimes means you should stick that in your ‘leisure’ time slot instead of your ‘working’ slot.

I, by no means, have figured this out yet. Have you?


*The internet attributes this quote to Albert Einstein. We all know how accurate the internet is 🙂


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Filed under Creativity and Art, Quotables

A Call to Creativity

What, no power tools? Those humans were crazy {PD}

What do the pyramids, the MineCraft Earth, and my short stories all have in common? Hopefully they’re not all insane projects, though piling virtual block on top of virtual block inside a video game is only slightly weirder than piling actually physical blocks into a tall, pointy shape. They’re all made by people, of course. They’re all attempts by people to shape the world around them – some of them with more of a point than others, of course (whether my short stories have a point, I’ll leave to the reader to judge). But it illustrates a natural human drive that people have displayed throughout history, one mark of what it means to be humans. We feel like we have to create. We have to produce something, even if it’s just stacking enough Oreos on top of each other until the tower is high enough to get into the Guinness World Book of Records.

This is what draws me, and probably many other writers, to writing. Because you can create to the extent your creative mind will let you. You can design worlds totally different than this one, and you can produce door-stopper novels that strongly indicate you’ve done something in your life. But you don’t realize how strong this drive is until you really think about it. How many hours of free labour have been poured in Wikipedia, do you think? Or the sprawling world of TVtropes? Or even the internet itself – a whole new frontier for virtual creation?

I had a history prof who once built his own Messerschmitt airplane out of scrap metal in his backyard, which is a highly cool project, but also somewhat useless when you think about it. In the first place, Messerschmitts have already been invented, and are way out of date, and in the second place, one built out of scrap metal won’t even fly (even though he did actually mix up jet fuel for it at one point). So why on earth would anyone put in the hours and hours of manpower to piece one together by hand? One reason is, probably, just to prove he could do it. Another, to have a Messerschmitt in his backyard. And another, to show the limits of human ability are not as narrow as we sometimes think – we can piece together amazing stuff if we try. (And if you don’t believe I’ve had a prof who actually did this, check out the article here).

In our industrialized world, we have lost some of the creativity that comes with handcrafting. The majority of us don’t have to produce our own fashions, and regularly churn out artisanal bread. But the benefit of our modern world is that our technology frees us up to pursue creative ideas that actually jive with our interests. Throughout history, people such as Marx have lamented the effect of industry on human ambition, but people have also started movements that react against it. I love hearing about the Arts and Crafts movement in England, because some of their handcrafted designs are so neat (like this table, and this ‘Dragon’s blood’ red lacquered dresser). And today, this handcrafted movement has been strengthened by the internet – check out Etsy, and the hundreds and hundreds of sewing blogs. The act of creation is not dead yet. And more than that, people now have new ways of showing off their creations to one another.

Unfortunately, the modern world comes with its own distractions, which is why I waste far too much time on the internet and TV, when I could be writing. So this post is not only a celebrating of the amazing reach of human creativity, it is a call to action. Our society has probably the greatest amount of leisure time of any society ever. What are you doing with that time? How many of us are ignoring our drive to create something?

Go out and do something cool. Don’t worry about exactly how it will benefit the modern world – after all, we all agree the pyramids are great, even though we don’t use them for anything. I mean, don’t worry about it too much, though try to pursue something that’s a little less of a waste of time than watching TV 24 hours a day. The thing with creating (especially creating art) is that you can’t always foresee how it will impact the world, but it could be in ways you never imagined. So take a movement and listen to that drive to create.

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Filed under Creativity and Art, On Writing

Writing Vs. Editing – and Oscar Wilde’s Commas


“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”

Oscar Wilde**

Editing can take forever. I can slave over one passage for hours, knowing it doesn’t say what I really want it to say yet, but without knowing how to change it so it’s better. And so I might change a word or two, but really have little to show for my hours of editing. (Yes, it appears Oscar Wilde had this problem too!) Now, the problem comes in if you try to mix editing and writing together. Because if you’re still in an editorial mindset while you’re trying to be creative, you end up over-thinking every single word you put down on the page, and never get anywhere. Creativity is a lot more like a quick-flowing stream – if you get out of over-thinking everything, you’re more likely to produce a lot.

I had a sudden flash of inspiration, and one of my side projects is sprouting into a novella, so my challenge now is not to edit too much before I’ve actually finished the work. When I switch to editing, my creativity switch goes off, and the work just doesn’t get finished, even if the first chapter is flawless. So here’s hoping I will get to the end of this project sometime soon!

** The internet asserts everywhere that this quote is by Oscar Wilde, but I cannot find the original context anywhere. So be aware it may be one of those made-up quotes, though it does sound like the type of thing he’d say. And if you know where he said it, let me know!

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No Such Thing as Creativity

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

According to this article in Slate, a wave of critics are asserting there never was any such thing as creativity, genius or innovation, and that everything new is merely a recreation of what came before. As a person who’s always stood behind the ‘nothing new under the sun’ concept, this sounds appealing to me. I know for myself, when creating a new piece of fiction, that I would never be able to do it without having read other people’s fiction first (if only to learn what not to do, but more often to discover what worked in other contexts). Does this make me hopelessly derivative? Should I only be declared a ‘genius’ if all my ideas about writing appeared out of nowhere, unannounced, in my head?

But in reality, I think creativity lies somewhere in between the extremes of ‘thought up the idea completely on my own’ and ‘my idea isn’t new because it owes so much to everyone who came before me.’ Because when you look at the world today, it obviously isn’t the same world as when the writer of Ecclesiastes lived, or when Homer lived, or whoever. I think the essence of creativity is to take what isn’t new, and combine them in fresh ways.

So is there hope I will someday be declared a genius? Personally, I don’t feel like a fountain of genius, but I still have this urge to recombine, re-imagine, and recreate what I see in the world around me. It’s something I can’t stop doing, whether that would qualify as ‘genius’ or ‘hopelessly derivative.’ My only hope is that my perspective will someday bring some kind of fresh look to the same tired old world under the sun. And maybe that is creativity.

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Filed under Creativity and Art, Quotables