Enjoy the Ride

Incredible scenery on the road in Banff National Park

Incredible scenery on the road in Banff National Park | Photo by Alaskan Dude on Flickr


I’m convinced that the creative process for fiction writers is a messy mixture of imagination, insecurity, and wee bit of insanity. Combine ingredients, shake well, then get the synapses to start firing, and wait for sheer genius to flow from every pore in your body.

I can only speak for myself, but I don’t frequently stare at a blank screen, my fingers poised at the keyboard, waiting for ideas or inspiration. No, more likely, I’ll be pounding away on the keys, creating something clever or profound . . . before I realize that it has nothing to do with the manuscript I’m working on, or the blog I’m writing. Some of my best writing, unfortunately, has been zapped into the great digital void by the delete key, because it didn’t fit.  OK, I have to be honest. Some of my worst writing has suffered the same fate.

I’ve read in a number of books and blogs that writers should never edit while they write, because the muse is fickle, and you don’t want to interrupt her when she’s on a roll. But it sure seems that you can waste a lot of time and creative juices in the process.  I’ve tried to go the other route and write the perfect paragraph before moving on and then spent an entire day on twelve sentences. If that kind of discipline is required to be a successful writer, I’ll pass.  I’m just not wired that way.

I started out with a writing process that was a little schizophrenic, a little neurotic and definitely not productive.  It involved writing a blog or a story in a vacuum and then posting it and waiting for the world to react. I’d wait all of two minutes before the internal voices would begin.

Sometimes you need to have the confidence that when you write you can draw on an ancient and mystical force…

“It was pretty good, wasn’t it?“

“Yeah, I think so, but what if they don’t get it?”

“They won’t.”


“Yeah, I blew it.  I should have looked at it one more time.”

“No, they’ll get it once they read it. “

“What if they already read it and hated it?”

“That could explain why I haven’t heard anything.”

“Settle down, maybe they just haven’t seen it yet.”

“You’re kidding yourself. You can’t send out drivel like that any more.”

“Drivel? It wasn’t that bad, was it?”

So then I go back and re-read it. “It was pretty good, wasn’t it?” . . . and I repeat the process all over again.  Within a half hour, I’m a basket case. That was the routine with the weekly blog. But the hundred thousand word manuscript? I was in a near-catatonic state waiting two weeks for feedback from a freelance editor.

Over a period of time I realized two things: I couldn’t wait until I had finished product to get some kind of feedback and a conversation with myself was not productive – or healthy.  So I discovered the answer by involving some other people in the conversation . . . and going for a drive.

Now when I write, I picture myself driving in a car to an outstanding destination. You can come up with your own version of this, but here is what works for me, and why:

Destination: Currently I’m on the road to Banff, to take in the beauty of Lake Louise. Your destination (the book, article, blog, etc.) has to be appealing enough to be worth the journey. When you finally arrive (and complete your book / project, etc.) it will be beautiful – and rewarding.

Pontiac Firebird

Pontiac Firebird | Photo by Stokpic on Flickr

Vehicle: I’m driving a 1969 Pontiac Firebird.  It’s a convertible.  And it will fly. The engine rumbles. Heads turn. As you write, enjoy the ride! It will get monotonous and challenge you along the way, so make sure that you still get a thrill when you sit behind the wheel.

My role: I’m driving.  Ultimately, I’m responsible for getting us there.  So I have to control when we go, how fast we drive, when we stop, and what route we take to get there.  As a writer, I can’t delegate these responsibilities. I want to be in charge.  I need to be in charge.

The passengers – and each one plays a critical role:

Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson | Photo by billypalooza on Flickr

Hunter S. Thompson – he sits in the back seat, as far away from me as possible.  When he’s coherent, he’s the agitator, and always looking for excitement. He occasionally screams, “This is boring! Let’s get this baby up to 140 miles an hour!” Sometimes he smacks me in the back of the head and cracks up if it causes me to swerve off the road.  He breaks out the hallucinogens every once in a while, but he always goes to excess, and then passes out.  Thankfully.  As a writer, you need to push the limits. Stretch us. Stretch yourself.  Make Hunter proud.

Eeyore – he sits right behind me, so that he’s within reach if I need to punch him while I’m driving. He constantly says things like “We’ll never get there;” “I’ll bet you’re lost;” and “Who’s going to read this garbage?”  Eeyore serves a dual purpose. You don’t need everyone telling you how great your writing is.  Occasionally you need a pessimist voice, just to keep you honest, so long as it doesn’t overwhelm the conversation. But even more importantly, there are times when it just feels good to punch the pessimist in the nose and shut him up.

Gandalf – he sits in the middle, in between Hunter and Eeyore.  He helps me navigate and sometimes points out things that I’d never see when it’s raining or dark outside.  He’s also helpful to have around, in case I’ve driven into a ditch or I’m completely lost. He keeps the forces of evil at bay.  Sometimes you need to have the confidence that when you write you can draw on an ancient and mystical force – and know that all your hard work can lead to something magical.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly | Photo by targophoto.com on Flickr

Grace Kelly – she rides shotgun in the passenger seat.  She lets me know that this is a noble pursuit, and there’s a certain amount of grace required in the writing process (sorry for the Grace / grace, but trust me, the reminder works).  Now that she has returned to the US after her royalty gig in Monaco, she constantly asks, “What did I miss?”  I want to be the one to show her this world – my world. Confidentially, I want to impress her.  Your writing should not appeal to the least common denominator.  Help us discover a new way to look at the world through your eyes . . . and your words. Make us glad we took the journey with you.

The writing journey can be therapeutic, and sometimes it is liberating.  But it can also be lonely. You may be visited by demons, which can wreak havoc with your creativity and confidence.  So don’t go alone.  Pick an awesome destination.  Assemble your crew carefully. Then enjoy the ride. We can’t wait to read about it.




Karl Sprague

Karl Sprague

Karl Sprague is a writer and executive coach.  His blog, The Short Distance, can be found at www.karlsprague.com. He has completed a manuscript for a thriller entitled Castro’s Shadow.

You can follow him on Twitter @karlsprague.


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10 thoughts on “Enjoy the Ride

  1. Karl, what a fun solution! I assume you’ve recovered from your catatonia. You have a wonderful talent at capturing and delivering an idea.

    I agree, the spontaneity and gush of the first draft is always a rush—no blank screen/canvas-staring for me, either—but I also do love the refining process of toiling over words and sentences.


    I believe that all successful writing and painting, in the broadest sense, reads like poetry.

    And the potential flurry of self-doubt that can result . . . your description nails it! However, I really don’t care if someone hates what I write (or paint), my inner-chastising is usually related to whether or not I actually conveyed what I meant.

    Thank you so much for writing this for CF, Karl; it’s my pleasure to be hosting you~

    • Terre, thank you for the opportunity to join the group of guest-posters on Creative Flux. I’m honored. We’ll have to find a way to combine talents and passions – there’s a point in the editing process when my eyes glaze over and toiling over words becomes a necessary evil. As far as the self doubt goes – I think back to the book by Andy Grove, entitled Only the Paranoid Survive. It sure rings true for the writing community. You’re doing a great job with Sirius Press and providing a forum for voices and insights on Creative Flux. Keep up the good work!

      • Karl, you’re welcome. Thank you for your kind words and for writing such an ineresting and entertaining post for CF; it’s my pleasure and honor to have you here. Although you seem to do just fine on your own (combined with your virtual entourage:) I’m always up for combining talents and passions. I’ll have to check into the book by Grove, what a great hook right in the title! Thanks again for joining the CF community 🙂

  2. Karl,

    When I saw your name, I knew we were all in for a great ride and you did not disappoint! Terre thanks so much for featuring Karl. He is truly a master storyteller.

    You have captured the essence of writing and the creative process,Karl and taken it one step further by personifying all the forces which seem to come into play when one tackles their passion to get their story out. I love the statement about writing to provide ” a new way to look at the world through your eyes” and “make (the reader) glad they made the journey with you.” As you say writing is “therapeutic,liberating and lonely” and we all have to figure out a way to put those demons in their places. Excellent advice that resonates with me and confirms your status as a “master storyteller” in my eyes 🙂 Thank you for sharing your creativity,Karl!

    • Kathy, there some certainties in the cosmos. Kathy Pooler writes; I smile. Kathy Pooler interprets; I learn. You provide support that sustains me – and countless other writers – on the journey. Thanks for coming along on the ride. You’re the best.

    • Hi Kathy, thanks so much for stopping in to read and comment. I always appreciate it, as I do your fabulous piece on CF on Memoir writing.

      I agree with your assessment of Karl’s storytelling skills, he is a master. I also agree that creativity can be therapeutic, liberating and lonely . . . and I welcome all three. I love brainstorming with others, but in the heat of creation, I can’t think of any more fulfilling moments of being that Lonely.

      Also, don’t get me wrong, Karl, I love your post but I champion self-doubt. The trick is to make self-flagellation fun (did I say that out loud?:) What I mean is that it’s all about perception, and we can view Doubt as destructive or constructive. If we see it as destructive, it may weaken us and convince us to give up, but when we embrace it as a constructive force, it acts as the flame that strengthens and allows us to forge our work into the proper shape.

      Here’s to dancing with our demons!

      • Terre, yes, Kathy is a gem. I agree with you that a certain amount of self-doubt is healthy and necessary for the creative process. It becomes the reason to tackle revision number seven, send the MS to a freelance editor, or get criticism from the writing group. I think it’s where the rambling writer (on the ride to nowhere) decides to envision the end-product (my trip to Lake Louise) and listen to Eeyore and Hunter along the way. As you suggested, it can be very constructive – and necessary. I just don’t want that voice getting more than it’s share of air time, because then it can be destructive, or outright deadly. I love the way your mind thinks – dancing with demons, forging our work in the flame, and making self-flagellation fun. I think I’ve found a kindred spirit. Thanks for your support – and for making me think!

        • Hey, Karl, I knew you were doing a chautese somewhere in the background. I agree that Eeyore’s influence can be catastrophic. I think the differentiation (destructive/constructive) exists between experiencing self-doubt and being dogged by low self-esteem. The latter is the killer.

          As a standard, I always agree to disagree, but how exciting to also connect and identify with a kindred spirit.

          And thanks for all the compliments!

  3. Dear Terre and Karl,

    I’m loving this discussion for all the different “creative ” perspectives that have been shared! This connection with “kindred spirits” is very soul-nourishing. I think lonely can be good, maybe better labeled “aloneness” and I love the idea of differentiating between “destructive and constructive” energy. We all have our demons on our writing journeys and we all have to figure out a way to deal with them.”Forging our work in the flame” sounds very empowering. Dancing with them is an idea but I would make it a short one 🙂
    Thank you both for your kind comments and for your inspiring and enriching presence on my writing journey!

  4. Kathy – the kindred spirit moniker certainly applies to you. I absolutely thrive in the creative process in my “aloneness,” (along with my imaginary passengers!), but as I come up for air, it is helpful to have people like you and Terre to help me do a sanity check. I draw energy and perspective from others on the journey and you guys are consistently there for me with ideas, inspiration, support, and introductions to others that I can learn from. Thank you!

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