Educational Resource: “Writing process” (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)
First, some thoughts about process from other writers:
The thing about process, is that it is, a process. It changes over time and is as individual as the artist. For what it’s worth though, this is what I’ve learned about mine …
When I was a kid, I dreamed, and those dreams became the bases of stories. I didn’t keep a dream journal until much later in my life, but that’s how it started. In my waking life, I was influenced by the things and people I liked: Siobhan Riddell’s wonderful artwork, Star Wars, G-Force, C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander.
first thoughts/morning pages/whatever you want to call it
When I was in university, I started to keep a journal, and I have ever since. I recorded not just my dreams, but also the wonderful insights I gained in my classes. An interesting thing my roommate taught me about my dream life: I talked in my sleep. Sometimes I even got up, opened my eyes, and seemed to interact as though I was awake. I’ve since learned that I am also subject to night terrors and sleep walking. I once opened all the windows in my apartment in the middle of January and didn’t remember a thing about it … That’s settled down now that I’m older, but so has my dream life. I still dream in story, but now the stories my mind tells are all adult ones, about work or other stresses.
When I worked in libraries, I became a clip-rat. It’s kind of like being a pack rat, but with article clippings. I’d see something interesting in the New Yorker, or the Saturday Night Post and photocopy it. I have some articles on economics that I have a story idea about, and a series that the Toronto Star did back in the 90’s about welfare and homelessness that’s fed into another. When I travel, the daily newspapers left at my room door still yield clippings for the idea file.
my very own science guy
Discussions feed my creativity too. My husband, Phil, is Mr. Science. Professionally, he is a network administrator, but in a past career, he was a medical lab technologist. His hobbies include cosmology, astronomy, and geology. We have amazing conversations and I have several ideas that have had their genesis from his interesting insights.
Poetry comes alive in the moment: what I see, how I feel.
Short stories come from life events, or arise out of the need to explain them.
So that’s how the process starts, where the ideas come from.
Then they incubate. It could be minutes, days, months, or years. It depends on the idea, its purpose, and the genre it decides to be embodied in.
Poetry has the shortest incubation and usually writes itself. If I revise, that may not happen for a considerably longer period of time.
Short stories are usually written in one sitting, and are usually revised two or three times before submission. Every returns story is revised again before the next submission.
I’m still discovering what my process is with regard to writing a novel and I suspect it will change significantly before I have it pinned down. I’ll cover this in a bit more detail in my work in progress category.
ming-ti is everything
(say ming-ti over and over again, very fast … thanks to the Battle Chant grrls for that one!)
I work a day job, and so must write in the evenings and on the weekends. One of my biggest challenges right now is how to balance my job with my personal and creative lives.
Tools are important. I have a particular preoccupation with …
ways and means
Though I journal, I don’t have a practice with respect to this aspect of writing. I’ve tried writing daily, but didn’t find it productive for me. Now I write in my journal when I have something I want to record. Sometimes it’s just blather, but I do make a point of writing. I may not write for a few days, a week, or longer, but then I’ll write several days in a row, or even several times in one day.
I prefer spiral or perfect bound journals that can lay flat, with hard covers in case I’m writing in a place where I there’s no table or other surface to write on. I have a purple pen to write with.
Poems are sometimes drafted in pen, but most of my fiction writing is conducted on my computer. I have a desktop and a lap top so I can write in different places in the house, outside, or while traveling. I have heard that it can be useful to change surroundings occasionally and have done this frequently myself for the following reasons:
- My day job requires me to travel and I have to write (I can’t do without), so I take my lap top and write wherever I happen to be.
- When we were renovating my office, and then the bedroom, it wasn’t really possible for me write in my accustomed surroundings. The lap top became very useful, allowing me to write in the living room, the back yard, or at my Mom’s.
- Sometimes I just need a change.
be the target
I set goals: a number of pages, or words, a short story revised, or poetry submission prepared. I try to stick to them, but don’t beat myself up if I can’t meet them.
I write every day. The rare time that I am too ill, or exhausted, to write, I miss it terribly, so I try at least to do something writing-related: journaling, administrative tasks, research, going over timelines or character sketches, even email counts. Social media and blogging count too.
I try to do something else creative that’s not writing.
There was a time that I thought I’d be a visual artist. I still sketch occasionally: characters, maps, and the like.
I used to sing in the church choir and school choirs when I was a kid. Later, I joined the Bel Canto Chorus for a season and surprised myself with a successful audition for Theatre Cambrian’s production of Hair in 2000. Though I haven’t sung publically in years, I still sing, even if it’s just in the car.
I take photos, and some of them have merit beyond the simple recording of events.
I try to get out to the odd concert, or other event, just for fun.
I stay minimally active. If all I do is walk the dog, or walk home from work, I try to do something every day. I tried jogging for a few years, but I never liked it.
Sudoku, solitaire, and jigsaw puzzles help me relax and help keep my mind engaged. I used to play Massively Multi-player On-line Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) like Champions, World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, and EverQuest, but I don’t have time for those anymore, even as a reward. They are very time-consuming, though immensely fun. A lot of my creativity ended up going into the game as opposed to my writing, so I had to make a choice. In the end, it wasn’t difficult.
I like to listen to music while I write, but don’t always do so. I find music relaxing. It inspires me, though I know some writers can’t have any distraction while they write at all. I’m fairly eclectic in my musical tastes. Random selection from my I-Pod: Tori Amos, David Bowie, Sarah Brightman, Kate Bush, Great Big Sea (still a groupie), Sarah Slean, The Fixx, Imogen Heap, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Dala, and Loreena McKennitt. Though I don’t listen to them often, I also have CDs of Berlioz, the Eddas, Beethoven, Japanese flute, and gamelan music.
Did I mention my tastes were eclectic?
a room of one’s own
I don’t close the door to my office, though I can. Phil knows to leave me alone while I’m working, but steals in now and then for a kiss. Even the dog stays away when I’m at my computer.
Plants are a must, as are shelves filled with reference works and fiction yet to be read. My office is also full of items of personal interest, gifts from friends, masks, and my altar. With respect to this last, all I’ll state here is that writing has become my spiritual practice as well as my vocation.
don’t feed the muse
I read all the time. I’m not as fast as I used to be because I don’t have so much time to devote to it, but I still read, and fairly widely. I try to read something contemporary, perhaps in my chosen genre, then a classic, or another work of fiction outside sf. Then I read a work of non-fiction, alternating between something for research related, overtly or not, to what I’m writing, and something on the writer’s craft. My current favourites: Sheri S. Tepper, Guy Gavriel Kay, Diana Gabaldon, Charles de Lint, Ursula K. LeGuin, Heather Sellers, and Donald Maass.
I’m a CBC junkie, particularly “Writers and Company,” “DNTO,” and “Spark.” I get ideas, inspiration, and insight from them too.
I like shows that have a plot line that carries over seasons: Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5. I also indulge in Castle and Grey’s Anatomy. I try to think critically about the plot lines and story. I watch repeats of the shows I like so I can get deeper into their structure.
the bottom line
Ultimately, everything I do has a purpose, or I can relate it somehow to my creativity. Everything feeds into process in the end.
Donald Maass writes in The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers, that most writers, even those who teach creative writing, have no idea what their process is, and I would agree with that. What I’ve shared here is what I’ve learned in my lifetime of writing to date. My process is a part of my life and lifestyle. It changes as I change and it’s difficult to articulate what is process and process alone, distinct from the rest of my life.
Perhaps the point is that there is no distinction. A writer’s life is her process. What do you think?