Your gnarliest life questions — answered.
Decades ago, I realized that, for better or worse, my critique partners knew me better than I do. They first pointed out the death/rebirth theme that recurs in my work. It was like being hit by lightning to see it myself and realize how it sprang from a traumatic event when I was a toddler.
Once I became conscious of it, however, it was easier to use it with intention — or choose not to — as best suited the story. Such insight also can be invaluable in refining an author or illustrator mission statement or branding.
On the other hand, maybe you don’t want to know what your work’s trying to tell you. We all know it’s trouble when you try to force a character to do things rather than letting them guide you, right? Similarly, have you ever found yourself working on a project and realized (maybe in revision), that you didn’t want to write that story because it seemed to say something you didn’t think you believed — or didn’t want to believe— about life? I have. I once abandoned a project I’d worked on for more than a year, once I finally realized where it was going, because I didn’t want to put that premise into the world, and I knew I couldn’t fight it. Plus I suspected on some level it was mirroring something in my life, and I couldn’t face the painful ramifications. Abandoning the book didn’t stop them, of course… but it allowed me to delay them until (in retrospect) I was more ready.
Similarly, I once had a critique partner whose work took a huge leap in quality on a particular project… until she realized it was headed into difficult emotional territory from her childhood. Despite our group’s urging, she refused to go there. I have little doubt that if she could’ve stared down those demons, that book could’ve been her first sale. (But I do understand her decision.)
If you don’t want to improve your work, and don’t want to tackle life issues that you probably need to, you may not want to attend one of the sessions we’ll hold at this fall’s Weekend on the Water retreat: Life Themes. The retreat this year will focus on Inspiration and Motivation for Creatives, and in one of our workshops, the brave among us will burrow into the questions and answers that drive our work. Such delving can clarify and enrich your work — and your life — as you become more conscious of the themes you keep gnawing like a dog with an oversized bone. This session might be an “aha” that helps you finish a stubborn WIP or amp up the branding that helps you sell you work.
If topics like this sound intriguing, mark your calendar for Oct. 13-15 and look for retreat registration in mid-August.
In the meantime, ask yourself a question that might unlock a few mysteries: Which favorite book (of someone else’s) do you most wish you’d created? More importantly, why? What does it share with your current WIP? (It may share an element of your life theme, too.)