Trusting the Process

Lately, I’ve been waking up with the half-life of a story in my head. The story or scene degrades rapidly in the daylight. It occurred to me to ‘capture’ these story fragments – keep a notepad by the bed, activate the recorder app on my phone – as soon as I open my eyes.

And then I relaxed. Maybe I’ll change my mind later, but for now, I have decided to let the stories go as they came – away from my control.

Some of my trusted mentors and teachers would differ with this attitude. And another approach may well work for them. Each of us needs to figure out how we live our creative lives in the world, and for me, the idea of hustling to seize the bits of character and dialogue and narrative before they disappear makes me anxious. I can feel it in my body. Who wants to wake up to that? It’s as though I’d be sneaking up on an animal in the wild. Even if only to photograph it, not to take its life, it feels unnecessarily aggressive.  In a while, I’ll reassess, and my approach may well change. That’s part of the process, too. We can’t set it and forget it.

It’s Not Lost

I’ve told the story before about the painter I knew who discarded almost an entire season’s worth of work right after she’d made it. She kept the stretchers and pitched the canvases. When I expressed dismay, she reached for my arm and reassured me, “Anne, it’s not lost.”

She was experienced enough to trust her process – all of it. The work she had done on those paintings still mattered. It came from her and she expressed it on those canvases. When she looked at her paintings at the end of the summer, she decided she didn’t need to keep them. The work was done, and no reminders were necessary.

The painter’s words have stayed with me and influenced me for many years. I wrote a song about it. The lyric begins: When you do what you do, it’s not lost. When you make what you make, it’s not lost. When you start but do not finish, it’s not lost.

Tenniel's white rabbit illustration from Alice in Wonderland, with a superimposed red circle with diagonal slash through it in the international symbol of prohibition

The International No-White-Rabbit sign
Tenniel’s illustration adapted by the author.

Yep, even when it comes to partially completed creative work, I’m sticking to my story. I write these words knowing that two manuscripts of my unfinished nonfiction books are sitting, parked on hard drives and in the cloud, not doing anyone any good, for now. And I wrote a chapter for a recently published book on the very topic of completing creative work. Why am I so laissez-faire?

Laissez-faire’s all right by me

Too much of my life has been spent feeling like I’m behind and need to catch up. Gotta-gotta is real. The inner White Rabbit is always late.

So as one of many antidotes to the White Rabbit’s influence, I’m adopting the it’s-not-lost approach to my early morning half-awake writing sessions. I’m trusting the process. Even if it’s slow. Even if it’s mysterious. Even if it can lean hazardously close to perfectionism. All in good time.

What’s your relationship with those half-awake creative times? Do you let them come and go, or do you enjoy collecting them as part of your process? Drop a line below in the comments – I’d love to know.

Have you subscribed to the ACC Today newsletter? Do you know someone who might enjoy getting it? When you subscribe, you’ll get each new blog post as it’s published, including occasional guest posts from wonderful writers and coaches. In two weeks I’ve got a really good one coming your way. Here’s where to sign up

For more creativity tools, pick up your copy of FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers or visit the Library on the Anne Carley Creative website.

Thanks for reading!