It’s been years since Elisabeth Kubler-Ross broke onto the scene with On Death and Dying, her seminal work on grief. Though her paradigm about the stages of loss does not serve every human being on this planet in all circumstance, she gave us vocabulary and means to intellectualize an emotional journey. For me, that’s what this book does for the call to write.
The book begins by detailing the serendipitous meeting of two accomplished authors, Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott. The latter works as a family therapist and possesses two master’s degrees in counseling and psychology; it’s probably because of my familiarity with the clinical approach that I detect her fingerprints all over this book.
The authors have broken the creative process down into seven discrete steps, which, like Kubler-Ross’, might be cycled through time and again by any given writer.
Each step is then dissected into symptoms (the feelings), signs (the behaviors of the afflicted one), and a treatment plan. I’m making it sound very dry, but the reality is far from it. The authors share an abundance of personal anecdotes – often humorous and always real. They supplement their arguments with quotations designed to assure us that even the most accomplished of writers walk this same journey. In other words, while this book is a mere 241 pages, it has significant depth and a structure to sink your teeth into.
Let’s look at one stage, so you have an idea of how it’s handled: Unhappiness.
Here’s a brief passage which elucidates some of the signs and symptoms of this step:
If all else fails, and you can’t tell if you’re unhappy, then try taking a good long look at what you are actually doing. If you sabotage yourself, trudge, procrastinate, give up, talk a lot but don’t do anything, read but don’t write, even though you think you want to, go to conferences but don’t write, even though you intend to, hid your pain from other people, isolate yourself, or get physically ill, then you qualify for the label “unhappy,” and for this step.
Pickard and Lott then reframe this situation into an almost universal, necessary step of pre-creativity, and suggest ways to move through it faster into the next stage. This particular quote really spoke to me:
The people who will eventually be writing are those who choose the path of actually feeling whatever level of discomfort they have, enduring it all the way through, until at last it emerges as an urge to be creative.
When writers get really good at this step, they can even use it to feed their process.
Got that? If you have web-surfed when you should write; learned about query letters years before you’ll need one *whistles*; or asked yourself if you should take up more productive jobs, like being an environmentalist in Ottawa, you are normal. Well, as normal as writers get. 😉
In fact, take that suffering and transmute it into your work. There are no more excuses.
The other steps – Wanting, Commitment, Wavering, Letting Go, Immersion and Fulfillment – receive the same thorough treatment.
There’s a lovely touch at the back of SSotWP, too: a Coles’ Notes version of the stages and their solutions. On the days where I find myself needing a two-minute pep talk, I find it a handy reference.
In conclusion, if you struggle at all with existential questions about your journey as a writer, I can’t say enough good things about this book. Go out and buy one. While you’re at it, get a copy for the struggling writer in your life. (Because don’t we all know someone who’s got killer talent, yet who’s so busy hiding it under a bushel they’ve set the barn afire?)
Have any of you read SSotWP? If so, did it resonate for you? If not, what are your favorite books that discuss the psychology of writing in a way that works for you?