Moving Forward When You’re Stuck Looking Behind You

How do you move forward creatively when you feel like you’re stuck looking back?

In the last couple of weeks I have been re-reading the collaborative epistolary novel, Post Marked: Piper’s Reach, I wrote with Jodi Cleghorn between January 2012 and April 2013. 

The novel has been thoroughly edited and we are now at the place of writing the synopsis. Late last year we began the process but due to a range of metaphysical circumstances it had been put on hold. 

For me, because I cannot speak on behalf of Jodi, the latter half of last year burned me out creatively. The pressure of my job (high school English teacher) and other external pressures saw me roll into January hoping for a recovery. But it never happened.

Putting this out there and waving it around with abandon: Writing a synopsis sucks.

It’s the Pit Of Despair from The Princess Bride coupled with the Pit of the Almighty Sarlac from Star Wars topped off by The Buzz Cut from Wayne’s World (Boy, it really does suck). As we wrote it, we felt the summary sucking the life away from the narrative we had created.

On top of the synopsis situation, other projects lay scattered like discarded underpants and it was killing me that they were unfinished. My sense of self in regard to my creativity and writing had disintegrated. I doubted my writing skills and wondered if it was worth continuing. Doubt is insidious, and lethal, to a creative life. 

But I am not one to go quietly into the night for a bag of doughnuts and never return. I used February and Post It Note Poetry to begin the rebuilding process. I gave myself permission to put projects on hold, think them through again.

Now that it is March, I returned to the first project on the list: the Post Marked: Piper’s Reach synopsis. I opened up the final document and began reading, familiarising myself with the story again. It was nice to come at it again with new and fresh eyes, delving into other aspects of the characters again and their development, marking up plot points and knowing I’ll probably cry at the end. Again. (And, yes, I did cry).

While doing this I went back to other pieces written in the Piper’s Reach world. The stories precede the events of the novel in that they are about the lives of Jude and Ella-Louise in their youth and in their adult life. They were done as an indulgent exploration of our characters from different perspectives (letters have a very limited frame of reference when writing).

The first is the Christmas Special Jodi and I wrote at the end of 2012. It recounts the events of the Surf Club Christmas party (mentioned in the novel) when Jude and Ella-Louise were in Year 11 (their second last year of high school). It introduces the main characters from a different perspective as each character had the opportunity to speak in their own voice, not limited to the first person recounting of Jude or Ella-Louise. You can read the Christmas Special here.

The second story is from Jodi. “What I Left To Forget” tells the story of Charlotte MacKay and Jake de Britto and is told from the 3rd person, a departure from the narrow focus of a personal letter.

I wrote a companion piece to it, which precedes it chronologically, but was written after a comment I left on Jodi’s blog where I riffed an idea. Jodi dared me to write a romance from the perspective of Jake. The resultant piece was The Photographer’s Concerto.

Any of the pieces can be read without knowledge of Piper’s Reach, and you can read the first letter from Ella-Louise here.

How did this help me move forward? 

Up until the reread, I doubted I could write well again. I hated what scrawl occupied my notebooks. Even when writing Post It Note poetry I felt hesitant and uncertain.

By going back into the past, I could see the progression of my writing skills. What I wrote 3 years ago is still good. Sometimes I wonder if it was really me who wrote the passage. It has been an encouragement to see that I can write. I am proud of those stories, the world that was created. Yes, it’s hard work, but rewarding when you see readers gain a connection. That was one of the most rewarding aspects of writing “Piper’s Reach” and releasing a letter a week to our small, but faithful, following who shared their love of the series and the characters.

Taking pause to reflect has allowed me to refocus my creativity and move forward.

If you’re stuck, unsure of the direction, pause, reflect, give yourself permission to stop for a time and look back as a way of seeing progression. It may help you move forward. 

Are you stuck? Feeling like momentum has stopped? Would looking back work for you to help you move forward?

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4 responses to “Moving Forward When You’re Stuck Looking Behind You

  1. Stepping back is an important part of producing any kind of final product. Personally, I like to give everything I think I like to share a few weeks to marinate. Less time and I am not far enough away from the piece to answer the questions “Do I like how this came out? Do I really want to share this?” Thanks for sharing!

    • Distance provides an objective point to reference your own work. And it’s good to see how you’ve developed.

  2. I feel like I got stuck recently, and I’m not sure how to get out of it. I’ve tried taking a break, and it just made me feel guilty, so I’m trying to expose myself to different genres in a hope that I’ll find something new to say in the process.

    • Like you, I feel guilty if I take a break, leaving half finished projects languishing but it’s what I’ve had to do. I wonder if there is the need to refuel creatively through reading or watching movies, art and drawing etc that can also help move forward. I’m still a novice at all this too and finding my way through the lanes and by-ways, even though the path has been forged by others.

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