Tag Archives: creative process

Into December and Beyond

November is over, which means no more frantic writing for me (hopefully just normal writing as I try to develop the habit).

I finished my 50,000 words one day early, so I only wrote about 100 words on November 30th, just enough to finish wrapping up the story.

Now the question is, do I jump right in to editing, or do I return to the poor project I abandoned months ago? I might have some new motivation for that, since it was a kind of processing project for me for my own life, and some situations really aren’t the same as when I started (and abandoned) that project. Maybe it’ll take me in new directions.

Maybe I’ll do a combination of both. Write some, edit some, and do whatever feels more fun every day.

Plus, I do often have to challenge myself: what’s the point in editing a book if I’m not going to do anything with it? Because, to be honest, I’m not in a mental position to go out there and start pitching my books. And sure, I can always self-publish, and maybe that would be somewhat successful, but I’m just not quite feeling at that place yet. But maybe soon. I’ve got to cultivate my creative confidence a little more.

Starting fresh

I don’t know if it’s that I know tons of other people are doing the same thing during the month of November, or if it’s just sort of become a habit that’s hard to break, but National Novel Writing Month in November seems to be the constant kick in the pants I need to get writing.

I wish it would last through the rest of the year, but maybe being refreshed every November will someday lead to a more consistent writing schedule throughout the year. After all, I’ve been able to keep it up for a few months throughout the last few years…

This year I decided to finally write the satire fiction about an employee working in a bookstore. Except the bookstore has a unique service policy–be sassy, snarky, sarcastic, and irritate as many customers as possible.

This gives me a wealth of ideas to draw from when I’m feeling stuck, all I have to do is think of my own day at work, and I’m bound to come up with something. It’s a great outlet for all the responses I have to swallow to customer questions and comments like, “where’s the nonfiction section?” And “I’m looking for a book.”‘

My bookstore employees also get to do all the things people assume we do in my store–like make up prices, hide political books we don’t agree with, decide how to categorize books, and create company policy.

Right now, the story is basically a collection of made-up anecdotes, snapshots from a day in the life. I’ll be honest, it doesn’t have a huge overarching plot. And while it kind of bugs me, because who’s gonna want to read a whole novel like that? I’m also just letting it go. I’m writing. I’m having fun with it. It’s engaging me and helping me feel grounded and connected. And it’s pushing me to get involved a little in the local writing community.

So we’ll see what we end up with in three weeks. It may never see the light of day. It may just be a little something I share with other retail workers for a laugh. Maybe someday it’ll be published and popular.

Either way, the process doesn’t have to be perfect, just creative.

Pantser or planner: Outlines

Ever have those weeks where you just don’t know where all your time goes? I’ve had two in a row. I’ve probably only written 10 pages between the two weeks. It’s a little discouraging, being tired and fatigued and feeling like I have no time. But I’m choosing to be glad about what I did get to write, and let go of the rest.

For this project, I’ve gone back to my former habit of just flying by the seat of my pants. I have synopsis of the book, a general idea of what happens, and I just go.

I’ve completed a couple drafts this way, but only ever while participating in NaNoWriMo. Though, let the record reflect that I don’t think I’ve ever finished a draft when it wasn’t in some way related to NaNo, so…

I go back and forth between planning  and pantsing, as it’s called in the NaNo world. While it’s fun to blaze uncharted creative territory, I think the more I get into it, the more I realize I like to have the outline. I like to know I’ve thought it through. I can still explore the story as I write, but an outline forces me to sit down and really think about the story.

When I fly by the seat of my pants, I think I use it as an excuse to be a little lazy with my thinking. I have an idea, and I just flounder along with it until I run out of motivation, inspiration, and creativity.

I hosted an event at work earlier this month, and during a panel on creative process (the little snippet I got to hear) one of the panelists said if you’re feeding your artistic side, the muse will visit you. I found it very encouraging. As long as I’m investing in my creativity, it’s progress. Sometimes I think I just need to accept that thinking about my work is equally as important as actually writing it.

So, I’m curious about your writing habits. Do you plan a lot? Make it up as you go? Somewhere in between?

Setting new goals

I have a confession: I have a hard time making myself set aside time to write.

I love writing. I love uncovering the story, planning and outlining. But I have a hard time making myself sit down and put it on paper.

I think maybe in part because lately I’ve been using stories to process my life, which makes it less of an escape than I might be looking for.

It may also just be that I’m lazy, and writing is work. But I don’t want to think about that.

This week, I didn’t set aside a lot of time, just some stolen moments. This week my goal is to actually set aside time. At least two days this week, I’m going to sit for at least an hour and just write, see where the story goes.

I’m not doing a lot of planning or outlining. I’m trying the fly by the seat of my pants approach, to see if it taps into my creativity in a different way.

But, despite not getting as far as I wanted, I did make a start last week, and that’s what counts. Beginnings are hard. I always feel pressure to start with something incredible, but that never seems to happen. But I chose to dive right in, and the story is already compelling (to me).

So, here’s to this week and accomplishing goals.

Fanfic as a creative tool

I haven’t been writing a ton lately, I admit it. One of the biggest lies I’ll ever tell myself is that I’ll return to a project with renewed passion and excitement after a short break.

That said, I have found a little creative inspiration in writing fanfic.

First off, that’s a little embarrassing to admit. Not that I have anything against people who write fan fiction, it’s just not something I usually do. I don’t have a reason to be embarrassed, in fact. It’s just some weird thing in my brain.

Anyway, the first little bit I wrote was through and through fan fiction. But what I’ve continued writing, though borrowing characters to a degree, has become almost more free writing. I don’t know where it’s going, I don’t have a plan, I’m just letting the scene unfold as it will, allowing these characters to do their thing.

I used to write like that all the time, even completed NaNoWriMo novels with that method. But I’ve found it only gives meaningful results for me if I have some sort of deadline (and self-imposed doesn’t work). That is, even though it’s allowing me to be creative right now, I’m still only writing a paragraph or two every now and then. It’s better than nothing, certainly. And if it’s the break I need to get my creativity flowing again so I can get excited about writing, that’s great.

I keep thinking I need to start over, start from scratch on a new project (or resurrecting an old one from scratch). But, that’s a lot of brain work. It’s difficult, living in a slump where it’s hard to find excitement and motivation even to do the things you love to do. It’s hard to love anything that doesn’t help you escape the real world. And while writing can do that, it’s not always as easy to lose yourself in creating as it is to lose yourself in something someone else has already created.

Waiting and Rediscovering

Well, I managed to get my three pieces finished and submitted just in time for the deadline. Now all that’s left is waiting to see which, if any, get chosen.

When I read back through them, I came to realize that the third piece was the one I liked best (or is it just because it was the most recent?). The first two, despite my initial excitement, I wasn’s as keen on. I think because I didn’t buckle down as much on those, so I see potential, but didn’t give myself time to maximize it. I suppose it’s part of my journalism background, I work better under pressure, with a deadline looming.

One thing I noticed the last few weeks, it was easier for me to write when I’m using pen and paper, versus on typing on my computer. Maybe it was just that I was using my short breaks at work and having a harder time using my free time at home, but either way I found I got into the zone more when using pen and paper (even if I was doing it with the tv on). This poses some interesting decisions for me, moving forward with other projects.

I’ve managed to write every day so far this month, and I plan to keep that up, which means returning to one of my other projects. Do I use pen and paper, or push myself to get back to using the computer? Pen and paper obviously takes up physical space, as well as time transcribing everything I’ve written. But if it keeps me from getting distracted by the internet or other digital temptations, maybe it’s worth it.

I guess I’ll work it out this week, as I try to sink back into the world I left a month or so ago. Hint to any new-er-ish writers, it’s very hard to leave a project and then come back to it. It’s hard to get back into that world and rediscover the excitement and passion. So that’s my task in writing this week, find the excitement for my project once more, and find a way to make it work.

Choosing a voice

If you’d asked me five years ago, I would have adamantly said I didn’t like first person stories.

If you asked me now, I’d tell you first person stories require special care. While still not my favorite, I recognize that sometimes that is the best way to tell a story. And sometimes it’s the worst way.

My latest short story is in first person. In the last paragraph, I started to write that first person stories needed a strong reason for being first person. But, I erased that sentence because my reason is that that’s simply how the first lines of the story went, and I ran with it.

It’s a story about a woman who signs up for a one-way trip to a new planet, wanting to escape her life and anxiety, only to find that running away doesn’t solve the problem. In this case, I think it’s easier to express the feelings and emotions, easier to paint a picture of anxiety, by using first person. She can tell the reader exactly what she’s feeling.

One thing I’ve noticed, writing in first person, I’m not quite as obsessive about dialogue. In my first two short stories, I was extremely conscious of how long I was going without dialogue. Dialogue is what keeps most stories moving. But when you’re writing first person, in a way everything is dialogue. The character is speaking to the reader. It makes it easier to move the story along without dialogue. Which is good, because when you use first person dialogue must either be with your character, or take place where they can overhear it. If they aren’t there, you can’t use it.

While I’m still not entirely sold on first person (I’ve read too many books that should have used a different voice), I see that it does make a more intimate story for the writing, too. This story has flowed much faster than the others, even though I haven’t quite finished it yet. Maybe it’s because the whole story is an expression of the things I’ve been dealing with, and an easier description of it. Either way, it’s a little more personal, or maybe differently personal. My characters always contain at least a little piece of myself. But this one is me in a lot more ways. So maybe it flows easier because it is my own story.

One down, two to go

I didn’t get quite as far as I intended this week in my new projects, but I definitely made a dent.

My first piece is done, just needs a read through before submission. And I’ve started the second piece, building up the story to get to where I’m going.

I’ve found that it’s been tricky with these first two ideas, because the main character is fairly isolated in the beginning. This leads to a lot of description, scene setting, and explanation, but little to no dialogue. Which makes me nervous that people will lose interest. But, this also pushes me to write through it and think about new ways to include dialogue, whether through memories, or uncovering new characters to interact with.

I’ve got until the middle of April to get all my submissions ready, so this next week is going to be about focusing on writing this second piece. Then I’ll work on fleshing out the idea for the third.

Writing all the wrong things

I’ve actually been writing a lot this week, just not at all for my story.

I’ve whipped up two book review blogs and scheduled them (not crucial, but I like to write them as close to finishing the book as possible, so it’s all still fresh in my mind), and I’ve been writing quite a few personal little biography-type pieces as part of a bigger project of discovering what I want to do with my life.

I’m using Richard Bolles’ “What Color is Your Parachute” to map my skills, traits, passions, and more to uncover what my ideal job would look like, and from there where to look for it. It’s funny that, while mapping this, writing has cropped up several times, both as a passion and a skill. And yet, when it comes down to it, when it’s not part of my job, I’m terrible at giving it priority as a passion.

I talked a little bit before, I think, about how it can be difficult to feel up to creating your own world when you’re run down in reality. It’s so much easier to slip into a world of someone else’s making through reading, and I’ve been facing a good deal of that lately. I’m tired and worn down, and it’s easier to let someone else take me on an adventure instead of trying to construct one of my own. But, I am working on it. So long as I don’t let a whole week slide past without at least a few minutes writing, I’m not ready to write it off as a complete failure. I started. And if every week I make a point to start, I’ll get somewhere, eventually.

One of the hardest parts of writing, and one I haven’t quite ironed out yet, is figuring out where to put on the breaks. I’ve heard and tried various techniques, and I usually run into one of two problems.

First, I write until I’ve reached a stopping point. Things are wrapped up for the moment, I’ve finished a chapter, or I’ve run out of immediate ideas. The trouble here is that then, next time I go to write, I’ve got to find somewhere to start, something to motivate me to dive back in. I fall into this a lot. And you’d think that I’d eventually stop myself where I’ve got room to keep going, but I don’t.

Which leads us to the second, almost worse issue, in my opinion. I stop in the middle of a good scene, I know where it’s going from here, and it’s going to be so easy to dive back into the story tomorrow. Except that, by tomorrow, my good idea has fled, and I can’t quite remember where it was going. I know, it seems obvious. Just write myself a little note outlining where I’m going. But, it just never turns out as good as I thought it was going to. That’s not to say it’s good when I zoom through and write it all in one go, but at least the passion was there and I don’t have to second guess it until I get to editing (so, potentially never).

I’ve taken to making middle-ground detailed outlines for my stories, at least for several chapters ahead of where I am. This helps, to a degree, because if I get to a dead end, I can just start the next chapter. But, then I catch myself worrying about how long or short the chapter is. “Only two single spaced pages? That’s barely even a chapter! There should be more!”

So, it all circles back to grace, like I talked about before. Grace for the crappy writing, grace for the not writing, and now grace for the different writing. Grace for just thinking about writing, and then blogging about it, as though I actually did any significant writing. Which I suppose is fine. Only like five people read my blogs anyway, so, who’s really going to call me out on it? Certainly not my mom or grandma.

Sometimes, you just don’t feel up to creating. And sometimes, you need to focus on creating something a little more tangible for the moment. And that’s what I’ve been doing this week. Instead of mapping a story, I’ve been mapping myself, with the hope that soon I will reach a place where my writing can be a passion again, one I have both time and energy for. Until then, a couple short sessions a week (or even just one) will have to be a success for me. At least I showed up this week.

Entering a new world

Lately I’ve been working on doing only one thing at a time. For example, if I’m watching TV, I’m trying not to be on my phone, or checking my phone while reading. And while I’ve only just started writing again, I’m definitely going to carve out specific time for it, without other distractions.

Most of last week was spent working on the beginnings of an outline for my newest project. It’s only partial, and not overly detailed, but it’s enough to start from.

Set in a dystopian world (which, I always thought I didn’t like, but, turns out it’s just specific kinds of dystopian stories I don’t like. Usually the predictable and boring ones.), society is broken into two groups: those who live in the cities, connected to technology through, essentially, virtual reality, and the fringe society who lives outside the cities, living off the land and as much without technology as possible. This fringe society generally believes themselves to be better than the city folk, who spend all their time creating fake worlds and fake identities to live in.

Aliyah (I think I’ve chosen this as her name. It’s what I’ve begun using, anyway) is part of the fringe society, and while she recognizes some truth in what her leaders say, she also finds herself discontent with the way they live, turning their backs on most advancements and help, because it isn’t done with a person’s own two hands.

She’s on the verge of being ostracized because of her love for books, and it’s this same love for books that causes her to cross paths with a city girl during a scavenging mission. This city girl (name unknown, at the moment) is also discontent (surprise!), finding it hard to have meaningful and genuine relationships in a virtual world where a person can recreate themselves at will. It’s impossible to know who anyone truly is. The two determine to find a middle ground, and try to make both halves of society recognize the benefits of the other, while also seeing the flaws in themselves.

 

When I started writing the first chapter, I was surprised at how much I wanted to lose myself in the world and in my writing (though it was hard because other stuff was going on in the background). I only wrote a couple paragraphs, but it was enough to help me remember what it feels like to get lost in creativity.

I know that as the days and weeks go on, it’ll be a challenge to make myself set aside specific time for just writing. It’ll be tempting to turn on the TV and pretend that I can watch something and write at the same time (I can’t, and I’ve always known I can’t. That’s why I used to pretend to study with the TV on during finals, because I felt obligated to study, but I knew I didn’t really need it.). But, as long as I keep making it a priority, even just 15 minutes in a day, I’ll hang on to that feeling of getting lost in this new world of my own creation. And that’s exactly what I’ve been missing lately. I’m glad to have that joy back.