Art of the Song

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Art of the Song

Writing: Just 'Cause It's Messy Doesn't Mean It's Wrong

By Eileen Kalinowski | Posted June 1, 2005 | Updated November 15, 2019

Reading all the books I could get my hands on about creativity, I overlooked the one point that is most important to me today: creativity is messy.

I never had a problem sitting down and doing my work, whether it was songwriting or creative writing. I love to do that. The problem occurred after accumulating a bunch of work, and not being prepared for the feelings and thoughts that come with that.

They sound like this: "What the heck are you doing? Can you even REMEMBER what this is all about?" That was the voice of me attacking myself. And it would get worse when friends would ask me, "How is your book coming? What's it all about, anyway?"

Because at this point in the process, I would fail to come up with a succinct answer. I would start to say, "Well, you know, I started writing some memoir pieces, and then some short stories would emerge, and I'm not exactly sure whose point of view and even whose story it is that I'm telling…" and end lamely with a need to get a drink of water somewhere fast. I'd feel like a complete nincompoop — why don't I know what I'm writing about if I've been working on it for weeks or months? What's wrong with me!!??

This is what I've learned recently, thanks to Fritz McDonald at the Iowa Summer Writers Festival that I attended this past summer. Writing is messy. After doing a lot of work on a project, what happens is you can feel lost in the middle of it, can lose your sense of what it's about or where you're going. It's not a sign that you should turn back, throw it all away, or start a new project altogether, abandoning the work you've done. It's just what happens, so hang in there, keep going, and you'll make your way out of the deep dark forest.

What a relief. I have at least four projects that I've written 80-120 pages on each, then just got lost and lost heart and momentum. I needed to hear what Fritz had to tell me: this often happens; this usually happens, and it doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong; it just means you've gotten to the lost feeling part of the project.

So persevere! And what to tell curious interrogators? The project is going fine, thanks. And if they persist, I don't like to talk about it when I'm in the middle of it. But thanks for asking.

©2005 Eileen Kalinowski. All rights reserved.

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Eileen KalinowskiEileen Kalinowski sings, produces music, freelance writes, and is a member of the Taos Coalition to End Homelessness. ...