Category Archives: Psychology

It Was Always Your Story

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

My fellow writer Serdar is busy working on Unmortal, his next novel, but has just announced the work to follow. He’ll be writing “Charisma,” a story that started as a practice book cover with a Geisha and a dog. Our crowd latched onto the intriguing cover, and in time he evolved an actual story – of a woman and her pet in a world where coolness is power. 

Serdar went through several iterations to make the story his – as he notes, “This, whatever it is I have here, I’m the only one who can write it as far as I know.” Those are good words for any creative to live by – create the thing that only you can create.

Living by those words is the problem, as we face many challenges to do otherwise.

We want to make money and figure there’s no way “what I truly can do” will make money. We want to share but fear that what’s truly in our heart as an artist won’t reach others. We have many other fears – ridicule, misunderstanding, and more.

It can get to the point that we don’t even know what we want to create or make. It’s hard to know oneself at the best of times. It’s harder when you’re carrying the burden of fears and expectations.

I’ve come to think of the “what is the thing only I can make” is best answered by getting out there and doing it. I’m not saying you can snap your fingers and make your fears and questions vanish; I’m saying you might as well move forward anyway.

Write, draw, create, plot. Rewrite, redraw, replot.

You’re going to doubt yourself and your ideas. You’re going to question yourself and who you are. This doesn’t alienate you – it makes you like almost all of your fellow creatives.

But if you keep moving down the road, there’s a chance you’re going to meet yourself and figure out what’s the thing only you can do.

Your own super-cool Geisha with a dog is out there.

Steven Savage

Writing: Rehab, Prehab, Strength

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

When I wrote about writing exercises having a “therapeutic” value for creativity, I shared it with several friends. My core idea was simple enough – that writing exercises helped me recover creatively, and that metaphor was useful. However, my friends provided insights I want to revisit.

My friend Kate Tremaine, a roller derby enthusiast, pointed out that there was not just “rehab” in sports. There’s also what she called “prehab” – pre-emptively strengthening one’s body to prevent damage. Thanks to her, I want to “roll out” a new concept of writing exercises.

I’m old enough to be allowed dad jokes, thank you.

I realized from Kate’s input that we can think of writing exercises as serving purposes similar to physical exercises. Consider this model:

Development: Development exercises are those writing exercises that improve your work beyond your baseline. Examples would be improving one’s vocabulary, learning to write faster, or create better plot outlines.

Protective: “Pre-hab” exercises designed to protect your writing from the damages of things like stress, bad habits, or disruption. Examples include methods for developing focus, learning to break down work into smaller pieces, and self-esteem building.

Therapeutic: These are exercises to help you get “back on track” after a disruption. Examples may include setting aside writing time each day, word count goals when your count is now zero, or “freeform” writing for fun.

I realize my examples for each category may be argued. That’s good because these categories are helpful for the classification of writing exercises. Using these categories requires you to ask additional questions:

You have to ask what your “baseline” writing is in areas like quality or word count. That helps you understand when you need Therapeutic exercises versus Development exercises.

You have to ask what your areas of vulnerability are in writing. That may mean a chance to find Protective exercises – or you may already need Therapeutic ones.

Finally, you have to ask what exercises fit these categories for me. Though I’m sure you and your fellow writer may agree on how to categorize practices 70% of the time, that 30% is significant. You’ll need to ask the right questions for you – and maybe ask when you should stop evangelizing a method to another writer.

I will be analyzing these ideas further in my own work and would like to hear if you have any thoughts. This model has promise.

In closing, I also think this model is helpful to challenge the idea that “A writer must do X or you’re not a writer.” We’ve all heard the “you must write X words a day” kind of pronouncements, and we know they’re wrong. This model suggests that such goals don’t always fit an individual writer’s needs or their baseline.

Therapy is individualized. So is health – in body, mind, and writing.

Steven Savage

Physical Therapy For The Soul

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

My creative side has felt, for lack of a better word, arthritic throughout the Pandemic. It was there, I created, but neither as fast nor as joyfully as I had before. Sometimes I was scared, as it felt part of me was ossifying – creativity is part of me.

My remedy was to do what I do – organize. I kept to a regular plan for things like writing my blog posts. I planned – and re-planned my various works. I made time to read and to write. Even when I didn’t feel it, I did my best to move forward.

It wasn’t always joyful – sometimes I had that bone-on-bone sensation of grinding grimly forward. There were days my only pleasure was checking off a task or noting I’d written for an hour. If I kept knowing, I knew I’d get back to being myself.

While I persevered, I would feel that creative spark, that joy of making. It might be for a day or a week, but it was there. As long as I kept moving forward, the drudgery gave way to bright shining moments of creation.

In time, especially as of late, I began to feel like my old self. That spark, that flexibility, that urge would come more and more. I’m sure some of it was hope as the Pandemic promised an end, but some of it felt like another experience.

A few times, I’ve had to have physical therapy for an injury. I realized what I experienced here with my creativity was similar. I’ve had pulled, damaged, or stiff muscles addressed with regular and specific exercises. My creative returns felt the same as those days I realized that the pain or stiffness of a damaged muscle was going or gone.

What I did with my planning and scheduling and at-times repetitive drudgery was doing “physical therapy for the soul.” With enough exercise, my old mental flexibility and ability returned. I had given myself creative therapy without knowing it.

A lesson to take from this is that perhaps we can treat creative damage like a physical injury. We may need a rest or a break, but we may also need regular stretching and work to restore ourselves. The key is to see it as treatment – we should not treat the creative loss as a reason to punish ourselves. Some injuries you can’t “walk off.”

Instead, we should treat ourselves. We should find what will help us return and heal. I could have been more gentle with myself, and if I face this situation again, I can be more prescriptive.

Steven Savage