There’s no doubt that the life of anyone pursuing creative endeavors is filled with ups and downs. While writing my next book, the flow remained pretty damn consistent. My goal was to bang out between 1,000 and 2,000 words a day and this was a mission I managed to pull off day after day, which allowed me a sense of productivity. Some days the creative flow surged like waters released from a dam. Other days the fear of getting stuck set in. But with dedication and an unwillingness to venture far from my four-hour a day writing sessions, I never got stuck for long; and six months after starting a project that had swirled in my mind for five years, I turned in a 90,000 word manuscript that I’m completely stoked about.
But what happens when you get stuck before you even start? That is the question I’m pondering right now. I recently pitched seven book ideas to my publisher on a conference call. It was bold moment. I’ve had these ideas churning since I signed book deal number one but my agent, discouraged me from overwhelming my publisher with all my ideas, afraid it would make me look distracted. But after banging out my manuscript in six months and turning around the edits in four months, completing the book in less than one calendar year, I felt I had some street cred worth cashing in.
Well, it was more than a bit unnerving when my ideas were met with silence on the other end of the line as—not wanting to leave room for a “yes” or “no” on each proposal—I moved swiftly from one project to the next. I figured it would be easier to take the rejections if they were all lumped together, hopefully with at least one or two “Yes, we want that one,”s thrown in. By the time we got off the phone I could tell there was major interest in two of the projects and what I’d call intrigue surrounding three more. It’s safe to say I have reason for optimism right now. Since that call I’ve been plugging away on two of the children’s books to keep my creative mojo intact, but when it comes to dialing in an outline for the next big book in the BA series, I’ve been hitting a wall.
I’ve always been the lone ranger type and saw the “collaboration” buzz in the nonprofit world that I worked in for seven years to be the next hot thing to push at conferences and in journals. While my nonprofit shared a few strong collaborations that served us well, as a whole, I thought the collaboration buzz was bullshit. Truth is, I still do. Different strokes for different folks, yeah? Some people thrive in that collaborative environment, while others squirm at the thought. When it comes to creative endeavors, I’m convinced there needs to be autonomy. But the lone ranger panache only gets us so far.
Even with a book that had been eddying around in my brain for half a decade, it took coaching from the editor of my memoir Grizzlies On My Mind to get me started on the outline. Once I started rolling my writing, felt unstoppable, like a freight train. But it took collaborating with my editor, who kept telling me we were creating an awesome “formulaic” process, for me to begin believing I could pull it off.
While most of us aren’t going to write the next great novel or create a masterful piece of art by committee, it’s important to know when it’s time to seek guidance and support instead of beating our heads against the wall. This is how we keep the creative flow flowing.
I just spent an afternoon last week sitting with my boy and edgy enviro activist Scotty B Black, mapping out my book about our wild planet in peril. A week later, the outline is looking pretty good and nearing the point where I can send it to my publisher in hopes of a contract and much needed advance. But that book is second in the pipeline, my fourth book overall. With the third book, next in the shoot, I’m struggling. So, here is where the growth and experience of a former black and whiter, who now believes there is a lot of gray in the world, comes to the forefront.
As much as I like to go at it alone, I’m firing texts, emails and leaving voicemails today. I’m calling in the Calvary in hopes of teaming up with people who can help me knock down the wall and get the waters flowing on a project that has potential to inspire a society worthy of our daughters. It’s a cause that is near to my heart, and by reaching out, I’m not only increasing the odds that I’ll find a writing groove, but at the same I’m opening the doors to others who are contributing to a cause worthy of their time. And the process of reaching out has helped me transition from a mindset of going at it alone to a more inclusive and productive model. Let’s work together and get this done.
In our quest to live a life that matters we are going to hit roadblocks and walls of concrete damming our creative waters, the key is to uncover the wisdom to ask for help, to develop our team and then unleash the flow of collaborative creativity.
~Michael W. Leach