I have been away for a while. So, how have you been?
There are stories that I could tell, it has been seven months since my last entry. I promise that I haven’t spent the entire time decimating bottles of whiskey. I am here today with a purpose. #mywritingprocess has been floating around the blogs, a chain letter of sorts that my writer friends have been passing around. Now, I’m a bit obsessed with process. I love digging around the brains of other artists (well, everyone really, I am curious). I follow everyday carry blogs on Tumblr, check out every photo of writers’ desks and artists’ spaces, and even Lifehacker’s workspace posts (coders and bloggers have cool desk setups as well. I’ll peruse design and decorating websites and magazine too. Like I said, obsessed.
Which brings me to this little exercise. This was passed along to me by my good friend, Kate Shuknecht. Kate, is a stunning poet and food blogger. This completely undersells her. Bawdy is a particularly good word. Hilarious. Mighty. Voracious. Witty. Partner in shenanigans. (You might remember an account of some of our escapades in a previous entry on this blog). Check her out, you won’t be disappointed.
So, my part in this is answering the same four questions that my friends have answered before me.
1) What am I working on?
I tend to bounce around when it comes to creative work. I’ve always played a form of three card monty with my artistic endeavors. Card one is theatre: acting, directing, stage management, design. Card two is writing, fiction. Card three is painting and drawing. Card number one has stayed facedown for quite a while. My day job is in the theatre, but it doesn’t focus on the creative side of the process. So, it comes between cards two and three for me. Most recently, I’ve been drawing and painting. We do this fun thing at my day job, once a year we have a cabaret, part talent show and part party. This year I completed several drawings and paintings to be displayed.
Prior to that, I completed a short story that I read as part of this year’s Cracked Walnut Reading Festival. Next up, I will be contemplating Time. There is a journal out of the UK called Popshot that I think I’d like to have work in. But of course, I have to write the story first. And I’ll have to go about revising my horror novel, hush. There are some edits I have to make to the beginning before I continue submitting to agents. And then there is book two …
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I wrote it? It comes down to voice, really. I have my history of influences and my passions that I bring to my work. When I try to write something frightening, I try to frighten myself first. If it’s action, do I find it exciting? I try to look at the angles. We’ve all seen movies that we love (or might love) if not for that one thing. Then I try to do my version. Happy endings are okay, sometimes. But I prefer bittersweet. I enjoy murky endings, where there are no clean getaways.
3) Why do I write what I do?
There’s the old chestnut, write what you know. I’ve also heard, write what you’d like to know about. I’m going to go with, write what you want to read. I like to create stories. I don’t limit myself to one type of story, though I do tend to gravitate toward genre pieces that employ a little more fantasy than not. Horror, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Magic Realism … I like what doors genre fiction open for storytelling. My novel could be considered a sort of coming of age story, as it follows Henry’s transition from student to adult. It has elements of mystery and elements of revenge fiction. And there is horror. I wanted a world where my characters could deal with regular things like school, relationships, friendships and trying to figure out what happens after college, but I wanted to do it in a world where monsters and magic are real. In my most recent story, which hasn’t yet been renamed from “The Choice”, I wanted to tell a story about family and responsibility and choices, but do it in my own way.
There is also this:
When I was in my last years of high school and heading into college, I started only reading stuff that it seemed like those majoring in English Literature should read. Even though I grew up loving comic books, Stephen King, mysteries and thrillers, it didn’t seem like those had any place in the “proper” literary canon. Then, the summer before my senior year in college I was part of the resident company at a summer stock theatre in Alexandria, Minnesota and in need of a book. While at the local Target, I picked up a copy of the newly released paperback edition of Bag of Bones by Stephen King. That was the first step in getting over myself. I soon discovered Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series and fell back into comic books via Daredevil trade paperbacks (beginning with Kevin Smith’s Guardian Devil storyline). From there came Neil Gaiman and his Sandman series and the fresh to paperback American Gods. And there’s no looking back. Genre is part of my makeup. There is room in my life for all sorts of writing, but I really have a hard time with writers who specifically think themselves better than genre.
4) How does your writing process work?
I’m going to change this question slightly, because I think it’s worded poorly. “What does your process look like?” Better? I think it’s better.
First there are the notebooks. I always carry notebooks on me. I have a small one, about 3×5″ in my pocket at any given time. I have a slightly larger one in my bag. I also have sketchbooks and various pens and pencils. Inside the notebooks I also keep blank white notecards. I jot notes in my notebooks constantly. Lines, phrases, sometimes paragraphs of text. Sometimes there are character descriptions. Or motivations. Sometimes there are moods or feelings. I’ll also write down titles–of books, movies, songs, albums. Authors/ Musicians/ Artists. Sometimes this has to do with the pieces I’m creating, sometimes it’s just stuff that I see that I don’t want to forget. Everything is an influence.
My book started with a single line written down about a decade ago now. That line influenced the title and the spirit of the piece and existed in a few of the drafts. It’s possible that by the time my book finds an audience, it will be gone completely, except for the role it played in creating everything that came after. After the line came four pages of an unfinished short story. And then it was blocks of notes scribbled on surfaces for years, images in my brain that had yet to coalesce into a single narrative. When I went to grad school, one of my intentions was to determine my writing life, to decide how I best created. Before I went, I wrote a zero draft of a book in two composition notebooks. It is terrible, I’m sure. I haven’t revisited it and I doubt I ever will. It was written to see if I could write it. In grad school it was about demand and development as well as technique and craft. I wanted structure to continue. I didn’t think that my book would be my thesis. I thought that it would be the book I wrote after. But after a few courses where I had to write the first fifty pages of a book, it was one story that I kept returning to. When it came time for thesis, it was the one that kept asking me “what happens next?”
Before I go into this next part, I should state that I’m a huge fan of the idea of “zero drafts” (a term that I got from Neil Gaiman) which I’ve interpreted to mean a handwritten draft that is freely written without the editorial mind. My understanding is that when Mr. Gaiman is writing this way, he passes off his zero draft to his assistant to type up so that he can edit from there. I’m not sure if this is specifically the case, but since I don’t have an assistant, what gets handwritten by me gets typed by me. In my first typewritten draft I do the first edit. When writing my novel, I had to abandon the zero draft as a handwritten draft and just do a straight first draft into my computer (my book was written on a small Toshiba netbook, purchased so that I could have a small machine that was easy to toss into a bag that used Word–my main computer is a MacBook Pro).
I’ve never been a huge fan of outlines, they’ve always felt too detailed. I like the idea of dramatic signposts that you write toward. Of course, I took a plot course that had an assignment requiring an outline. So I wrote one. It was mainly bullshit, stuff that I made up on the spot that connected those dramatic signposts that I knew about. Then, when it came time to do my thesis, I had a deadline and two months to write a draft. I took out that outline and looked at what I had and revised my opinion on outlines. While what I had written for the class was largely bullshit, what I had done was set up a structure of a certain number of chapters and I had my signposts down in writing, but now with the literary equivalent of mileage markers. I redesigned my outline as I went, restructuring a few of the chapters synopses ahead of where I was and then writing those chapters. I kept leapfrogging like that until I completed the whole first draft. I also used accountability to keep myself going strong–Warren Ellis was writing his novel Gun Machine at the same time and he put up this little html widget on his blog that he called his death bar, it marked how many words he expected his project to be and showed how close he was to reaching that goal with his “daily” word counts. (I used the parentheses there, because he was sporadic in using his death bar. Now, I don’t have the blog readership that Mr. Ellis does, so it wouldn’t keep me accountable to post it here. What I did instead was take a photo each day, usually of my writing station or of my beverage (or, as time went on, various other environmental things) and in the caption for each I included my daily word count progress. And I managed to do some fantastic daily word counts with that method.
I haven’t glimpsed that type of output since. I still have my full time job, but I don’t have the deadlines (and it turns out that I’m deadline oriented). So, going forward I’ll have to work on that.
As to where I write, well, that changes. I have a lovely desk set up (then located in the breakfast nook of the apartment I was living in at the time, now located at my studio, tilted and being used for my drawing and painting projects) but I have trouble writing consistently from the same place, especially if that place is in my home. It works for short bursts, but I’m surrounded by too many distractions. Weirdly, I can focus in better if I’m set up at a table in a coffee shop or a library. There is enough that is going on around me that I can allow it to claim my unfocused energy (energy that might be directed at doodling or Facebook) and use the rest of my energy on the project at hand. I also listen to music, all kinds really, but it needs to be catered somewhat to the stuff I’m writing. Nine Inch Nails’s album Ghost I-IV was prominent, but I drifted all over the place. Warren Zevon to Marilyn Manson to Tori Amos to Rachmaninov. I create playlists to be the soundtrack for the worlds I’m creating. Whenever the book gets published, I’ll publish the playlists from the process.
The last part of the #mywritingprocess blog hop is tagging other writers. My circle of blogging writer friends is small, so I’m going to tag folks that I know have already done this (or who have been tagged and will be doing it soon). If you’re not reading their blogs already, you should be, they’re all incredibly talented storytellers.
That’s what I got for now. If you’re reading, feel free to share other suggestions in the comments.
More later …