I’ve been at a writer’s retreat all this week. One of the prompts we were given pushed my emotional buttons. To write to the prompt would have taken me into the Realm of Big Fucking Feelings**, and in that moment, that simply wasn’t cricket.
I’ve blogged before about my writing process and how it fits into the Classical vs. Romantic traditions (TL;DR: it doesn’t).
So what do I do? A little bit of everything, including:
- Daydream and noodle around with a notebook and pen in a public place, telling myself stories about the people I observe. (I wear ear buds that are not plugged in to anything to prevent creepers from creeping on me; it deters a few)
- Read good books for inspiration
- Read terrible books for even more inspiration (if you choose only one thing on this list to try on for size, choose this. I particularly recommend 9 Lovers for Emily Spankhammer by Kaleesha Williams. This novel is sometimes called the This is Spinal Tap of bad writing. The comparison is apt. The only thing that could improve a reading sesh of 9 Lovers for Emily Spankhammer is a large glass of Marques de Rojas and ravioli eaten straight out of the can with a plastic spork while listening to Sia or Lana Del Ray at a volume designed to disturb the neighbours. (No offense to the neighbours, they are probably very nice. On the other hand, fuck ’em. We must all suffer for art.)
- Write down dreams I’ve had. That’s how writing Blood Rain started. Chapter two was based on a dream I had that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
- Summarize the ten essential scenes on index cards so that whatever I am writing has beginning, middle, and end. (How does anyone write a book without using index cards?! Impossible!)
- Get the mojo running and then fly by the seat of my pants, just to see what happens.
- Attend writing groups and take critical feedback on the chin.
- Develop character portfolios— I know what they wear, what foods they like, their preferred footwear, what they would find if they underwent past-life regression hypnosis, what TV shows they watch, the genealogy of their horses, and much much more.
- Be stubborn- I revise the first draft as many times as I have to. No piece of writing is every truly finished, IMO. There is always more to do.
- Usually I write things in chapter-order, but I give myself permission to break that ‘rule’ as much as I want. I estimate that about eighty-five per cent of Blood Rain was drafted chronologically.
If you write, how do you write? Are you a disciplined Classical outliner or a free-spirited, Romantic ‘pantser’? Or are you a mixture of the two, like me?
Another thing that can mess up your writing process– if you let it– is squidgy boundaries. Many writers I know (myself included) are people-pleasing folk who have a hard time saying “No,” as in . . .
- “No, I don’t want to go dog-walking with you, this is my writing time.”
- “No, I don’t want to go out shopping with you on Sunday, because Sunday is one of of my writings days, I need that time to be organized for the upcoming week.”
- “No, I don’t want to watch Netflix at the moment, I am writing.”
- “No, I can’t sit on this or that committee for this or that arts organization, or volunteer to stuff envelopes or update your database, or, or, or, or or . . .”
If remarks like this came easy to me, I think I would have finished Blood Rain faster.
I have developed a script that I use to turn down the invitations I find most tempting– feel free to use or adapt it if it is useful to you:
“I’m sorry, I am in recovery from being a Woman-Who-Does-Too-Much. Asking me for ____________ is like a kind of crack for me, so I must decline your invitation. Thank you for understanding”.
My high school creative writing teacher gave the class a lecture one time about the two types of writing processes, “classical” and “romantic”.
He advised that writers with a classical process are highly structured, create detailed outlines, and develop their plots and characters fully before they start drafting.
He opined further that writers with a romantic process, write (only) when the spirit moves them. They often draft scenes outside of chronological order. Their characters and plots develop organically, sometimes in directions the writer did not anticipate.
This bit of advice was then (and is now) horseshit.
Every writer I know uses some combination of classical and romantic elements.**
What’s more, having that dichotomy in mind messed up my process. I felt like I was doing it “wrong”, which contributed to long periods of not writing.
From my perspective, any writer’s process can be like a frozen soap bubble- something lovely to look at, but also something that can be easily destroyed by a probing finger or overheated breathing.
**More on this in a future post