Well hello again!
We are a little over a week into our #StayatHome #Coronacation2020 and I could really get used to this. I still set an alarm and sleep through it to feel a little normal, but shit, at this point I’m not sure if I want to go back. Well I do like money, but I’m really enjoying being able to do everything else. You know the little things that make me happy. It’s something that Future Cyd is going to have to deal with in May. For right now I am going a little introspective.
With the down time I’ve been looking over my creative process to help myself build better story telling muscles. I’ve been looking at practices that help me get in the zone and pinpoint the things that dig me into ruts. There are some aspects of my process that I’ve already found problematic and created solutions for so I included those into this post. I wanted to give myself the whole picture of what I had been doing, how I needed to change and what I had changed already to get stronger storytelling muscles.
I started with a few questions. There’s more you can ask yourself and I’m sure there’s a ton of creative writing prompts available that have better questions to ask, but I just started here:
- When do I write?
- Is there anyone that I copy stylistically?
- When do I do my best writing: with an outline or freestyle?
- When do I have my best ideas?
- How much am I thinking about something while I’m not writing about it?
- Would I benefit from deadlines?
- Do I write sober?
When do I write? Most of the time I’m writing in the morning. It’s when I have the time and energy to compile all of the weird thoughts, ramblings from my voice recorder and dreams I’d had from the day prior.
Is there anyone I copy stylistically? I’d have to say Neil Gaiman, Steven King, George RR Martin and some JK Rowling for good measure. I read them the most, but as I’ve been writing I started out thinking that I had a bunch of short stories about different people in my fictional city. Going back over things is when I realized that I was writing a story that jumps around character to character much like Game of Thrones did. I like to focus on one person at a time and not necessarily “finish” their stories. It makes the writing more open and I’m allowed more movement. This realization helped me not feel so guilty about not knowing how to end things. I didn’t need to. At least not right away.
When do I do my best writing with an outline or freestyle? I’ve learned to let my mind wander under supervision. The past few years I had been doing a lot of free-writing where I just write whatever came to my mind and usually it did help me to get some good ideas, but when it came to actually putting anything together it was a complete mess.
George RR Martin
“Writers are either gardeners or architects “
There’s a whole lot more to his quote but it’s a perfect comparison. A gardener will plant things here and there and see what grows while the architect will plan out everything to the smallest nuts and bolts in the story. I was a crazy rabbit lady who horded every plot line and frivolous piece of verbiage until the neighbors had to call the cops. Shit was everywhere. In notebooks, on my phone as reminders and even some ideas scrawled onto old receipts. I had to start thinking more like a landscaper (lets just completely ruin this metaphor) where I would decide what seeds to plant and in what areas then sit back and see how it looks once it’s finished growing in. I don’t like making hard and fast rules of a fictional world just in case I want to change something in the future.
This is when I started to use more of a story boarding method. I would take my random thoughts, my characters and their wants then write them onto note cards and lay them all out in front of me. If it seemed that something doesn’t flow or wouldn’t get enough light I move it around or remove it completely to save it for later. It helps me feel like there is some structure and also not so locked in at the same time.
When do I have my best ideas? It’s usually when I’m driving or about to go to sleep and I don’t have a pen to write it down. This was a problem for me that brought me to buy a voice recorder. The commute I was doing gave my mind a lot of downtime, but I couldn’t be writing as I drove. Yes, I had tried and Google voice to text worked out ok, but I have a bad tendency to want to edit and punctuate right away. So not safe to do on the highway!
How much am I thinking about something while I’m not writing about it? Almost constantly. I don’t like talking about my WIP but it’s also all that’s on my mind. Most people hear that you’re writing a novel and they think your full of shit or they want to start “helping.” I’d been thinking about some of my stories since 2015 and only now five years later have I been able to write them down. A good deal of time was wasted, because I was surrounded by narcissistic assholes who had to take over everything I did and when I started to get things put together suddenly everything I wrote was shit. One person actually told me that if I had to write it down then it’s a dumb idea. Ok well when do you start writing then? If you haven’t read the War of Art by Steven Pressfield I totally suggest you do, it helps you shape your perception on the things that negatively impact a persons creative process. It’s a quick read and it helped me learned to just sit on my ideas and work on them in secret amongst other things. Now that things are becoming more concrete and flushed out I feel confidant enough to talk about what I’m working on.
Would I benefit from deadlines? I am the worst with deadlines if I set them myself. Unless it’s something physical like running for an hour or making sure to clean the bathroom before people come over, I am the worst at keeping my own deadlines. Lately I’ve been ok at keeping up with writing 1000 words a day and I’ve been working on drawing here and there. A lot of the problem for me is having something to keep me accountable. If I don’t prep something at work I’ll end up fucking myself over during dinner service. If I don’t write my 1000 words or draw some scenes what’s really going to happen? It’s not like I’m already published and I don’t exactly have a following so it’s been kind of hard finding the utility. Not to say that I only work because people tell me to but it’s a difficult mental block to get over. It’s the idea that I could be doing something that will actually benefit me here and now. Everyone who’s creative has felt this feeling. The whole “maybe I should try and get a real job and leave this nonsense behind me.” “It’s just a hobby.” Fighting this is something I’m still working on in my own mind. No I probably won’t get published, or get enough work to be able to do it full time, but I 100% won’t have those opportunities if I’m not trying and doing the work.
Do I write sober? For the longest time this used to be a solid no. I remember getting up and going to a bar to sit and drink all day while I tried to get school work done. I was in a shitty place in life. I would have to have some type of alcohol as I worked on anything and in reality I was poorly coping with other things. In the end it really didn’t help at all. I couldn’t hold a solid thought, editing was the worst and grammar & spelling were out the window. I can solidly say I had a drinking problem. Now I’m working towards having healthier relationships with my mind, body, and the people around me.
Any form of intoxicant is a difficult discussion to have if you’re creative person, because for centuries drugs and alcohol have been seen as the great muses. Look at your favorite bands, actors, athletes or writers there is probably going to be some type of substance abuse. Another thing that makes the conversation difficult is with anything that it’s all or nothing. You’re either an alcoholic or you’re straight edge. The idea of moderation is something that your doctor tells you and you quickly forget. If you say that you’re only having one drink suddenly you’re the wet-blanket. It’s all or nothing. Some people can’t drink at all and it takes strength to know that about yourself. It’s all a balance and questioning these habits and patterns in yourself helps make you stronger when you except them for what they are. I think the hardest part of not drinking is thinking that without the alcohol I won’t be as creative. After realizing that I feel amazing without a hangover and I can write so much more fluidly did take some time. There are tons of ways to break that habit and it’s going to be different for everyone.
This exercise helped me to know where I needed to focus. I set aside time to devote to writing, I’ve worked on my style, worked towards making my stories more organized, I’m working on giving myself deadlines and holding myself accountable, and realized that I’m creative without intoxicants. My process is essential to who I am as a person and as a writer, so it’s important to know what works and to toss out what doesn’t. Trying to follow someone else’s method does nothing but cheat you as a person. Find the things that are holding you back and leave them behind. Look for what you do well and don’t be a dick about it. Everyone will be better off for it.
Best of luck.