It’s easy to get stuck as a writer. A passion project may seem shiny and attractive at first, but when the white-knuckle work segues into hair-pulling distress at finding the right ending to a section those feelings of euphoria can fall dramatically.
You may have run the course of a certain niche, propelling you to consider another avenue of creative output.
In my 20-plus years as a writer, I’ve found a helpful strategy to renew the energy I need to fuel my writing endurance: trying a new form of creativity to spark, once again, that inspiration required to keep going in my field.
My area of creativity has revolved around spoken word and written poetry, but those genres weren’t always soaking up my creative time. In my early days as a writer, I dove into short story and novel writing, so much so I ended up with four novels and two short story collections by the time I was 22. But all that keyboard-pounding took a lot out of me; I felt my creative stamina lagging.
At that time, I was reminded of the words of poet Naomi Shihab Nye: “Two helpful words to keep in mind at the beginning of any writing adventure are pleasure and spaciousness. If we connect a sense of joy with our writing, we may be inclined to explore further.”
I felt I had to write novels and short stories, because isn’t that what I always wanted, even if I didn’t get as much joy out of it as I used to? Thing is, as much as I felt comfortable in the novelist lane, I wanted to see where else I could drive my creative forces, what else flowed from my daydreaming.
So along came spoken word poetry, a form of performance that was becoming increasingly popular and accessible in my hometown of Toronto, and in fact across Canada. Performing at poetry slams and open mics were exciting for a young writer who now found a new way to lay out ideas and beliefs in a format where I received instant feedback from audiences on what worked and what didn’t.
What I also found gratifying is how I could write short snippets of literary insight, instead of dedicating myself to one set of characters over a year or two.
It can be difficult to shift from a writing mode aligned with your identity for so many years. I thought, “Does this mean I’m going to never return to novel writing? Will I lose the zeal I had for writing these long chapters and in-depth characters?” It’s an anxiety I still carry with me, but I’m learning to recognize a key lesson from my foray into poetry: Just because you stray from your first creative path, it doesn’t mean you won’t return to it.
In fact, within my spoken word poetry, I’ve infused some work with prose and short-story-like characters. I realize my departure from novel-writing wouldn’t fully leave me.
Now that I’m facing another creative shift—moving into solo show theatre work after more than 18 years of writing spoken word poetry—I discovered a few takeaways I’d like to share with anyone moving from one creative form to another:
· Discipline still matters. When I delved into a new form of creative writing, I had to maintain the routine and schedule that kept me so anchored to my seat every day with my previous passion projects. Just because the format I chose resulted in shorter drafts didn’t mean I couldn’t relax my schedule. In fact, looking at my transition from novels to poems, writing a shorter piece required a different kind of determination to find le mot juste, as the French say, to express what I needed to say in a stanza, say.
· Finding new ways to express yourself can be invigorating. Thanks to developing a new solo show about my father, I’m progressing past the short-form mode I’ve grown accustomed to as a poet who writes pieces at around the three-page mark. Now with a show requiring 60 minutes of script, I’m inspired to see how I can share my recollections and opinions about my family in a format that lets the story breathe more. Being constrained by page limits got same-old after awhile. It’s fine to write delectable appetizers but now I want to enjoy fulfilling entrees.
· Reaching mini-milestones made the longer journey more achievable. When you write shorter pieces, finishing one can leave you flushed with the thrill of winning a race. I did it, this poem is done, let’s celebrate! But with longer projects such as solo shows, I had to add more checkpoints along the way to keep myself motivated. For example, I told myself I could celebrate when I reached one-quarter of the intended final draft, or when I finished a section about my brother. Accomplishing those relevant goals can make the deep work much more palatable.
· Every project deserves its own marketing roadmap. Once something is done, whether it’s a novel or short story or solo show, it has to be marketed by the author effectively, especially if you’re working by yourself and don’t have the backing of a publisher or PR personnel. That means understanding the tech tools available, such as Facebook Ads and YouTube trailers, and recognizing what may fit for a poetry collection may not work well for a theatre show. Tailoring marketing strategies to each project will also give you quick self-education on an oft-overlooked nuance of being an artist. After all, no one else is going to promote your work for you.
Experimenting with a new way to be creative can be challenging and overwhelming, but its benefits can strengthen your writing skill and marketing acumen. You may not cultivate this new form of writing into a full-time career or hobby, but even a dip into new waters can be a refreshing way to gain a different outlook on your practice.
David Silverberg is a published poet, spoken word artist and theatre artists whose next solo show will debut in Toronto in 2022. His non-fiction work has been published in BBC News, The Washington Post, New Scientist, The Toronto Star and many more. Find out more about David via DavidSilverberg.ca