Nothing Goes to Waste:
How a Noncreative Career Provided a Creative Framework
by John Herrick
Have you ever found solutions where least expected?
Upon graduating college, I took a job—any job—to earn a paycheck. I landed in the world of information technology (IT), which included computer programming and project management. I spent a total of eight years in IT, and disliked almost every moment of it.
Computers don’t negotiate. If you don’t follow their programming rules, they don’t understand your instructions and your program fails.
I lacked self-discipline: If I got bored writing a story, I shelved it and moved on to the next tantalizing concept. Needless to say, that prevents completion of a novel! The IT world required me to eliminate old habits. As I developed new habits, I discovered the keys I needed to complete my first novel—and each one that followed.
I’m not an expert. But if you find yourself stuck, perhaps one of these keys will help:
Develop a project plan. When initial invigoration dissipates, the daily grind can feel mundane at times. It can leave you feeling uninspired or, worse, like a failure. When emotional waters get choppy, a project plan can provide an anchor. It brings stability.
Your project plan is a skeleton, minus organs or epidermis. It answers basic questions: How does the story begin and end? Which pivotal events will mark the story’s path? IT folks call such events milestones. Milestones help you develop time estimates , or how long it will take you to travel from Point A to Point B, from Point B to Point C…and from the first chapter to the last. In writers’ terms, your word count or page count serve as the basis for your time estimate.
View the project from different levels. I approach each novel from three heights. It has provided me with a creative safety net against writer’s block:
- 10,000 feet: Picture the view from an airplane, where you see every house for miles. Describe the goal for each chapter in a sentence or two.
- 500 feet: Standing atop a building, you’re close enough to describe each chapter in more detail and capture snippets of conversations.
- Ground level: Walk beside your characters and experience life from their perspectives. This constitutes the first draft of your manuscript.
Uncover logic holes. With each program, I anticipated client questions and factored answers into the program’s design. While demonstrating the software, I could say, “You might wonder if I considered X. To accommodate that, I built Y into the program.” Clients developed confidence in my ability to meet their needs. It enhanced our future relationship of trust. A similar approach can reduce weaknesses in your novel and establish trust: What questions might readers ask? Do logic issues exist, details that might strike a reader as unrealistic or cause them to scratch their heads in doubt?
Revision is not an enemy to creativity. As a teenager, I hated revision. Why retread old ground when you could pioneer something new? IT work nixed that perspective. Computer programs are never flawless at first blush. They involve trial and error, critical thinking, creative ways to resolve issues within the confines of the rules. By my estimate, 10 percent of my code—small blocks—dominated 90 percent of my time. It forced me to revise and test the code, over and over, until I’d worked out its kinks. But in the end, the program worked. Such is the case with a novel: Revision is not our enemy. Revision provides the opportunity to sharpen our creativity and strengthen the reader’s experience. It’s about the reader, not about us.
Remove quitting as an option. Without a particular aptitude for computer work, endurance proved challenging. If I’d abandoned my IT projects halfway, the clients wouldn’t have received their products and I would have lost my job. That would have put me in a worse position! Road bumps, hassles, distractions and doubt might emerge as you write. You might feel like giving up. Press forward anyway.
Never give up!
A graduate of the University of Missouri—Columbia, John Herrick explores themes of spiritual journey and the human heart in his works. Herrick’s debut novel, From the Dead, which was hailed as “a solid debut novel” by the Akron Beacon Journal, achieved Amazon best-seller status. Herrick’s second novel, The Landing, was named a semifinalist in the inaugural Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Herrick’s nonfiction eBook, 8 Reasons Your Life Matters, received over 100,000 downloads and landed at #1 on Amazon’s Motivational Self-Help and Christian Inspiration best-seller lists. John Herrick is a native of St. Louis. Visit him online at: www.johnherrick.net