Monday, March 11, 2013

The Creative Stress - I Mean Process

"There should be a Writer's Pie.  It would consist mostly of red wine and pencil sharpenings, seasoned by tears." - @MaireTRobinson

My friend Janet recently gave an interview where she talked about why she wrote her first book, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World.  Apparently, her book's two main characters first appeared in a short story she wrote years ago but her brain's casting agent forgot to send them their pink slips and they kept popping up year after year in other projects.  Eventually, she recognized the pattern, bowed to the inevitable and wrote a book just for them.  I like to imagine Janet shoving her very awesome book at Stephen while shouting, "Here, here you go. Now fuck off!"  I know that's not how she feels but it makes me laugh.
In the abstract that creative process sounds kind of romantic.  People who've never tried writing a book might think of a writer like Janet as a creative medium - peacefully communing with the spirits of her characters while sitting in front of a computer effortlessly transcribing their stories.  Urg.  I can just imagine Janet's epic spit-take, fueled - no doubt - by a fine Irish beer or Strongbow Cider.  Janet, like every other writer worth their salt, didn't create a book like hers without sweating blood and shedding tears over it.  Yes, Stephen and Mark were strong and persistent characters but it was her talent with words that shaped the lines of their lives, that painted their settings and shaded their personalities. Without her, they would still be literary ghosts so discounting the work Janet put into her creative process by making it sound easy does her, her book and her characters a great disservice. 

That being said, I would still choose her creative process over mine.  In fact, I'd go ever farther and wish my protagonist had (metaphorically, of course) walked up to me on the train one morning, plunked herself down beside me and told me to get off my ass and write her a book already. Oh, if only...

Nope.  My process, at least thus far, is more like F. Scott Fitzgerald's.  To prepare for a story Fitzgerald organized tonnes of notes into categories like “Feelings and emotions,” “Conversations and things overheard” and “Descriptions.”  My phone, my office and my house are all hopelessly littered with random notes, lists and pictures I've taken of and about things and moments that have inspired me: descriptions, feelings, experiences, sights, sounds, smells, and songs.  I can't tell you how many times I've disrupted foot traffic by suddenly stopping to type something into my phone's notepad or to dig in my bag for pen and paper.  Like Fitzgerald, I have to do it in the moment because my words are never quite right when I'm forced to wait to scribble it down.  I know that admitting I stop dead to type into my phone makes it sound like I'm one of those people who can't chew gum and walk at the same time but I learned early the stopping part is necessary or Head will inevitably meet Pole. 
Yes, I'm THAT person.
My book's character started her life more like a ninja-esque shadow.  I knew something was rattling around in my head but I could only see a hint of it out of the corner of my imagination's eye.  It was only after all those notes, pictures, dreams, people, songs, sounds, and experiences fermented in me for quite a while that I was finally able to see my character and her story.  It was a hard slog but I felt like a million dollars when I was finally ready to start writing. 

Of course, when I finally sat down in front of my computer and stared at the blinking cursor I realized it was time to face the Hemingway challenge: "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know."

My Creative Process photo 42_zps7dc9f7b3.gif

Crap crap crapcrapcraaaaaaaap!

1 comment:

  1. I'm blushing!!! You crazy girl! Thank you!!! Effortlessly transcribing...bwaaaaahhh haaa haaa!! Spit takes don't begin to cover it. And I'd never tell Stephen to fuck off, but it's funny to think about. Your process sounds like you're building something amazing there. Keep going, woman!