On Ole, Ole, Ole and the Creative Process

By JT Ellison

“‘Ole!’ to you, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

One of the most rewarding things about being a writer – and that’s saying something, as there are too many cool things to count (Working in pajamas! Reading! Cats!) is sitting down with other writers and discussing the creative process. It is the one topic that transcends all others. Numbers matter not a whit when one is faced with the cosmic opening that comes when another writer explains HOW THEY DO IT.

We seek out tomes on the subject, gobble up blogs, tweet our heroes, take friends to lunch, searching for nuggets of wisdom. I call it Seeking OPP — Other People’s Process.

OPPs are always shiny, exciting, logical. Everyone else’s process looks so gloriously awesome, so intrinsic and organic. We listen at conferences, smacking ourselves – Why didn’t I think of that? How come I don’t have that level of understanding of my work? This must be why it takes so long to write a book, I need to be doing X, or Y, or Z.

I am a huge fan of the “How I Work” series on Lifehacker. Even though the vast majority of the people don’t work in my industry, seeing them drill down into what works and what doesn’t give me hope that one day, I too will figure it out.

I have a long and varied list of things I do and own because of OPP. To name a few I can’t seem to live without:

  • Clairefontaine Notebooks
  • Levenger Circa Planner for research
  • Blackwing Pencils
  • Lamy Fountain Pens
  • MacAir
  • Scrivener
  • Evernote

These are just the OPPs I use for myself now. I did a piece a while ago on my writing tools. You’ll see all the fun things I do and use and can’t live without.

But what does any of this really mean?

I’ll tell you what. Nothing. It means nothing. Tools are camouflage for the real work. All you truly NEED is your brain, and a way to write down the story. No one elsee’s schedule or notebook or writing program will give you that secret, magical moment that turns ideas into a book. Only you can do that.


Because, the truth of the matter is, when we look each other in the eyes, and bare our souls, one thing becomes self-evident. We don’t know HOW it all happens.

Yes, yes, we know empirically. We can quantify our work in a million ways: numbers of words and pages written in a day, the pride we take in our habits — the daily habit of sharpening the pencil or opening the laptop lid at the same time — the tea we consume by the barrel-full, the incense and candles we burn, the multiple lares and penates needed in our writing environment to properly compose. We sit across tables and text messages and emails and blogs and share our methods, ever fascinated by the other. We laugh at each other’s random needs, sit in awe of levels of productivity, commiserate on the darlings that must be murdered.

But the HOW of it? HOW does an idea take form, spill onto the page, and become a story? HOW does a proper name, created by stroking keys or laying down lead, become a living, breathing person, to whom millions can connect though out the ages? HOW do we do this?

Leads us to WHY? Why were we chosen? Why are we given this particular gift. From whom does it come? God? Monkeys?

Well, Elizabeth Gilbert (along with many others, surely, but this is the best example I’ve seen in a while) thinks it’s God. I can’t recommend watching her TED talk highly enough…

I am always interested to see the word God these days. We seem to think religion has become a line in the sand, something we aren’t ever allowed to discuss. And yet, and yet, and yet…. God is everywhere around us. I am not big into organized religion of any sort, either from my Episcopal upbringing or my buddhist study, but I am a very spiritual person. I don’t feel the need to sit inside a building and listen to someone else talk to me of God, because I can step onto my back deck and see the majesty we live within, and know.

And maybe that’s part of my gift as well.

But I’m with Ms. Gilbert. I truly think what we writers, all artists, have is a gift, something we were blessed with. Something not everyone has, and not everyone wants.

OPP, God, whatever… if you want to be a successful writer, there’s only one thing you really need.

To just do it already.

Ole, Ole, Ole, to all of you today!


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