Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Behind the Scenes - My Process

Source: http://www.aacc.edu/creativewriting/

I'm taking a week off from Nuts and Bolts this week. I will probably do this more in the future, using Tuesdays for things like reviews, or commentary and eventually longer and multi-part fiction. Hopefully people will still find something to enjoy.

Behind The Scenes - A little history

The majority of this blog is made up of my Story Seeds.  This is intentional as it was the success of this activity and its warm reception within the Numenera and Strange communities on Google+ that made me consider doing a blog in the first place.

I estimate I've created close to 100 of these since I started earlier this year.  The form has changed since I started, initially they were truly just seeds, ideas for adventures for Numenera and then The Strange.  The change from pure idea to short fiction was almost accidental.

I'm a visual person, as many people are, and my process at that time had been something like this:

  • Scour DeviantArt for something interesting
  • Come up with an idea or two that would work for Numenera (and later The Strange)
  • Write a short paragraph or two showing off that idea and the artwork behind it such that other people could use it in a game complete with a ready made visual aid.
  • Post to Google+
When the first few of these went up I had no idea it could become a "thing". 


After a few weeks things settled into a pattern. Three times a week I'd do the above, and it is still at the core of the process but after the Seeds changed format the process also changed.  I'm far more likely to see something that I like but that I don't have an idea for right then and there, than I am to have an idea jump into mind ready to write.  My favorites on DA went from a tiny folder of a few things I really liked to a quickly growing collection of art that I like and I think I can use, but perhaps "not today".  That's my first change: I bank stuff and come back to it time and again. Some eventually become Seeds, some never do and get removed, and others serve to spur me to look at more art from the artist and consider those pieces.

Even when I have an idea sometimes those ideas aren't ready to be written, or prove more difficult than others. My blog has half a dozen drafts in process at any given time.  Some sit for days some for weeks, but regardless I try not to throw out an idea just because it is not proving easy to write at the time.

I'd argue that this is key. Having a fertile bank of ideas in process, and inspiration for more ideas is very important. There is a direct relationship between how quickly I can turn out new Seeds and how much I have in my bank. I suspect that this is probably true of many (maybe even most) writers, but I am one person so I can only speak for myself.

Once I sit down to write things don't always work out as expected either.  I once said that I it felt like what I did was "write, read, erase, repeat".  I don't think that is accurate for the majority, but there are false starts. I try not to get discouraged by these.  If nothing workable is found from this process after an iteration or two, I throw the idea back to the bank.

Even when an idea is working that process still tends to be "write, read, change, repeat".  I self edit as I go, but I wouldn't call this true editing. This process sometimes sees things change more than I expect. The truth is that at times what I start out to write and what makes it to the page are not the same thing.  Sometimes this change is minor, the tone or voice of a piece will shift from first to third person, or to a diary, or go in the opposite direction.  Other times the idea itself changes entirely.

The Slick started out with the intent to be a tale of hunters of some great creature. It ended up significantly different, in part due to in process changes early on, and in part because I continued to see detail in the picture as I wrote.  The way the creature's forward limbs looks like flippers, the way that there was a hint of waves crashing on the shore in the background.  The result of course is something very different from hunters camping in the bones of a kill.

Maybe someday I will find some other picture and the idea of big game hunters of the Ninth World will resurface.  Maybe not. I could have tried to force the story to where I wanted it to go, but I have found that I gain better results when I am willing to change the story to suit the flow of the idea. If something feels like it needs to be changed I change it.

In the end my process now looks more like:

  • Queue up as much art to inspire ideas as I can find
  • Start writing, reading, editing, and repeating
    • Bank ideas that aren't fully formed or are proving difficult
  • Go with the flow of the idea, if it changes I move it with I don't try to resist it.
Of course no matter how much art I have bookmarked, or how many ideas I have saved up, writing isn't always an easy process. I have found that the regular act of writing has made it easier with time.  Practice applies here as well as it would in any sport or other skill.  Writing almost daily (I often take weekends off), has helped to make the ideas flow easier and the writing to come with less effort.  

I suspect that these things will change more as time goes by, but that is where I am at currently.