Alter the Process. Break the Rules.

By Carley Fockler

I’ve always been the kind of writer who stares at a word document until everything blurs and my mind wanders. There’s something about it that blank space I find intimidating. I adjust the margins, the font size, and the spacing just to give myself the illusion of productivity. It distracts from my fingers hesitating on the keys.

This has changed a great deal since I experienced my first residency with Stetson’s MFA of the Americas at the Atlantic Center of the Arts. Whether it was the realization that I’m a true writer, or the opportunity to get away from the normal rush of life, my creative process has significantly altered.

Step One: Clean the Laptop

I delete the files that I’ve kept and haven’t opened since high school, make sure the screen is clear, and that each key on the keyboard works. Less distractions make for a more fluid writing experience.

Step Two: Don’t Seek Out Inspiration

I let it find me. Whether going on a hike, working my job, or driving the car on a trip, I just exist in the moment. If a specific phrase spoken catches my attention, or a specific sight leaves me energized, I’ll either write it down or take a picture using my phone.

Step Three: Write Every Day

It doesn’t matter if it’s a stream of consciousness or if I delete it all tomorrow, I try to spend one hour every day writing, editing, or reading my own work. To be fair, this isn’t always a schedule I can commit to. However, I keep it in mind any time I’m at work, any time my anxiety gets too overwhelming, and whenever I can’t quite find the motivation to write. Each event, each thought, even the things we say to allow ourselves to be lazy– they can all find a place in one story that we write.

There is one shift in my mindset that has reanimated my love for writing: absolutely nothing is off-limits. I started the residency asking permission to write about suicide, depression, and drug use. The best advice I got was: That is what we should be writing about – the things that people don’t speak about. I have so much more joy in writing what is unacceptable with my parents, what I have to keep quiet in daily life, and what makes people gasp than I ever did in sticking to the rules. Break the self-imposed rules and watch how many worlds open up to you.

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