See the piggy,
See the puddle,
See the muddy little puddle.
See the piggy in the middle
Of the muddy little puddle.
~ The Piggy in the Puddle, by Charlotte Pomerantz, illustrated by James Marshall
any of us have been lucky enough to have experienced that high that comes when you’re first getting a dream project off the ground. That feeling of invincibility. Creativity, motivation, vision…everything’s flowing. And nothing’s going to stand in our way.
Except ourselves. Because sooner or later, we’re going to hit that wall. And when we do, all those great ideas, our enthusiasm and confidence, will suddenly start to dry up. What previously was flowing so effortlessly now just feels tired and forced. If it’s a novel we’re working on, our characters might even start to rebel. We question whether we should even continue.
Ahhh, but that’s when it begins to get really juicy, says Christi Krug, author of Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough.
“We tend to think middles have to be a continuation of start to finish, but they can surprise us,” says the Seattle-born writer who now lives and works in the Portland-Vancouver metro area. Besides being a published author of poetry, short stories, fantasy and young adult fiction, Krug also leads writing workshops, some of which have been carrying on for years with many of the participants recurring. Her specialty is learning how to silence the inner critic and break through those dreaded dry spells.
The key, says Krug, is to re-vision how we think about these stuck periods. Instead of a sign that something isn’t working, that murky in-between time can actually be an opportunity to improvise a new riff off of the original concept. Or to immerse oneself into a deeper diving in.
Christi Krug: “I think I like best when middles break you open a little bit.”
This makes sense. Getting into the sticky middle part can force us to reassess what’s most important. Where do we really want to travel next? Has our destination changed?
And when it comes to learning how to tune down the inner critic, the effects can be similarly far-reaching: Not only can you free yourself up to be more spontaneous and adventurous with the project you’re working on, but, as Krug points out, the benefits can often extend to other areas of your life as well.
“I’ve had people tell me that after applying some of the techniques in my book, they’re now exploring other creative pursuits as well. One person told me that that they’ve even gotten into woodworking.”
So what led to Krug’s initial breakthrough? How was she able to reframe her relationship with her own writing and creative process?
[quote]”I always was someone who was a writer at heart and a storyteller, but twenty-five years ago every time I tried to write, I would experience such frustration. I would try to keep a journal, but every time I’d write a sentence, I’d end up tearing up the page. I couldn’t keep anything in that journal. It was just full of ripped-out pages and no words.”[/quote]
It wasn’t until Krug encountered books like Writing on the Right Side of the Brain that she began to develop a different relationship with that voice inside her head.
“That book was little known at the time, but it just completely changed my attitude. Henriette Anne Klauser took me through these exercises and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! I actually can approach this a completely fresh way!’ And when I was done, I submitted my work, and I became a freelance writer. I wrote articles that were published internationally. It didn’t happen overnight, but I had finally found the key. After that, it was just a matter of putting the new understanding into practice.”
Krug stresses, however, that the old adage is true: for any creative practice to be satisfying, one must be in it for the journey, not the destination.
“Every person I’ve met who is in it for the money has eventually quit. I just ran into someone the other day, in fact. I asked them if they were still writing and they said, ‘No, I had to quit because I wasn’t making any money. I took a USDA loan for my home to buy it and I can’t afford to pay if off.’ But I tell people, ‘Don’t worry about the money. Are you engaged in the practice? Find your dream! Find your joy! It is all about the process.'”
But to keep the adventure alive, the author stresses that writers cannot afford to rest on their laurels, even when they meet publishing success. Critical and popular acclaim are wonderful, she says, but to continue to produce good writing, authors must be continually hurling themselves into the great unknown.
“With every new project, I have to recreate myself and my process anew, whether it’s a short story, a poem, a novel, or even a painting. It’s about allowing for surprise.”
Krug, who recently finished an autobiographical novel, says that even when putting down the story of one’s own life, still there needs to be that searching for what is not yet fully known. “Each time, I go into it with the expectation that I’m going to encounter something unexpected. And that’s where the beauty lies. The wonder.”
But now back to those moments when we experience ourselves stuck. When it feels we’ve gone as far as we can and now we’ve come to a dead end. Or when we may be flowing with what we feel is a fabulous idea one day, only to pick it up the next to discover we’re just not in that same place anymore. The Moment is lost. Does that ever happen to Krug?
The author nods. “Absolutely. All the time.”
So where does she go from there? Is it then just a matter of turning the prism to reveal a different side to the story?
“Yes. I like that image! And I think for me I never finish turning that prism. It’s not like you arrive at this perfect place and then here is where you’re going to stay throughout the remainder of your journey. You might have a very specific question you’re asking on Monday and you might even find a satisfying answer, but when you return to the piece on Friday you might have an entirely new set of questions, and these will likely lead you to a completely new place. Or, upon rereading what you’ve written, you might arrive at a fresh interpretation.”
“This happens to me especially when I’m working on a longer piece. But the beauty of a longer piece is that you can treat it like a quilt. This one story can be made up of many individual squares, and each one unique. So part of the fun, part of the adventure is exploring all the many possible ways you can arrange those different pieces. And each new arrangement or entry point can tell a slightly different version of the story. So that’s where again the surprise comes in.”
I ask Krug what her experience has been like helping others work through this process. To an outsider, the craft of writing is just that, craft: a series of techniques that once mastered, can bring about the desired result. But it is impossible to invest oneself deeply in any creative practice and not have it touch all aspects of ourselves.
Christi Krug: “I completely agree. Writing reaches the soul, the psyche. So while our focus in my workshops is on the stories we’re creating, at the same time there’s this healing that happens with my writers. Just today I was listening to one of my writers who is working on her memoir, and I observed something wonderful happening. She is now getting to the point where she can be humorous with this character who in her life hurt her so badly. She has been working on this memoir for three years now, and I see her moving to a different place of understanding. Whether it’s because of anything I am doing or because we’re sharing our writing in a group, who knows, but the work itself is healing. And it’s the same benefits one would get if I was a healer or a psychotherapist.”
“I have this other writer I’ve been working with, and when I met her, she had seasonal affective disorder, which as you know is very common for those of us Portlanders. But then she began writing about New Mexico, and in the process of this writing, her symptoms went away. So leading these writing workshops, I see my work as something that is actually impacting the whole person. Which is really quite wonderful.”
Finally, is there a way to preserve that sense of play that is so crucial to the writing or any creative process while still venturing into those nooks and crannies that harbor more difficult themes that call to be explored?
Christi Krug: “I think a lot of people are afraid of the darkness, or the tears that come when we go to the tender places. If I refer to the writing process as going to the playground, they misinterpret that to mean that they have to stay in a happy place. But it’s much deeper than that. You can feel overwhelming sadness and yet still feel completely alive.”
|Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough can be found in Portland at Powell’s on Burnside, or at Powell’s.com (print and ebook), Amazon.com and through an independent local bookseller near you.
To learn more about Christi Krug, and the workshops she offers, please visit her blog, Wildfire Writing.