I really love talking about writing process with other writers. I feel like I almost always walk away learning something new about the way creative minds work, about my friends’ books, about my own books and my own mind, and about the ways in which I might Create Better. I spend a significant amount of time thinking about creative processes and ways in which I might create better if I change the way in which I work, and sometimes this is procrastination and sometimes it’s genuine work. I want to tap into my own imagination and figure out how to work more efficiently so that I have time, or the ability, to write everything my mind invents.
On average, I have a new idea every day. At least once a week, one of these ideas will stick enough for me to write up a short summary of what’s happening in my head and save it somewhere for a future world in which I can write a book as fast as I can think of new ones. I’m not someone who suffers from a lack of ideas. I am someone who suffers from a lack of time (Like most writers these days, I work a dayjob, though I’m lucky in which it rarely if ever follows me home) and from the lure of a shiny new idea pulling me away from works-in-progress. I am a graveyard of half-finished stories. I am working on that part of my own process.
But I’ve been thinking about my writing process since I’m speaking on a panel to K-12 educators this coming weekend about it. And I usually begin my process by daydreaming. I daydream quite a bit and some of it is mindless and aimless, but some of it is what I call active daydreaming. This means that I have an idea of a character in my head, or a question, or an image, and I say, “Okay, let’s go down that rabbit hole” and I let myself follow my own mind wherever it goes.
For example, Magicballoonbook came because 99 Red Balloons was on the radio, I was driving to work next to a median, and in a flash, in my mind’s eye, I saw a girl going over a wall with a red balloon. So then I said, “Okay. That’s interesting. Where? Why?” And I chased my own imagination down until I came out the other side and wrote the first 1700 words of what would become a YA historical fantasy. It became a girl who accidentally time-traveled back to 1988 East Berlin and the wall was the Berlin Wall (though she does not go over it in the story.) And once I had that, I could REALLY dig in. Sometimes I’ll just get a sense of my character and I’ll say, “You’re interesting. Just talk to me.” And then I’ll go for a walk or a drive and just listen to my own imagination. I actively do not say, “That won’t sell” or “That’s implausible” at this stage in my process. I might say it later (I often say it later) but at the daydream stage, I don’t.
And because daydreaming and spending so much time in my head is such a critical part of my process, I’ve begun to realize that my writing process isn’t just what happens when I sit down with a notebook or at my laptop, but what happens in my entire life. Writing actually becomes what happens in the margins. My non-writing time is the meat of my process, the bones of my stories, all of them.
Though I’m naturally an introvert, time spent by myself where I can let everything go quiet so I can think is actually working time for my process. Driving to Barnes & Noble to write isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. Sure, I can and do write at home but I prefer to first draft out of my house and edit in my house. Why?
The twenty minute drive to B&N is how I prep for sitting down at my computer or at my notebook. It’s time for me to imagine where I want to go with the story that day, listen to my character, contemplate how it feels and the weight and heft of the prose. I pick up scraps of everything around me: the way the sun sets on the mansion on the hill, the ‘oreo cows’, the meetinghouse at the triangular intersection that still has a stable for anyone who might ride their horse there on the first Sunday of every month. That’s my daydreaming time and where I collect myself together and prepare to tell a story, not just write down a plot arc, three acts, and a character who changes from beginning to end. Daydreaming, and moving, and time to spend thinking and where I write allow me to be a storyteller and not just a writer. When my writing feels forced and bad, it’s almost always because I’m not telling the story I’ve daydreamed throughout my day.
So I’m working on living creatively in all parts of my life. This means finding hobbies outside of writing, watching TV that is ‘mindless’ to free up emotional energy and brain space for Story, keeping my apartment organized and tidy, and sticking to a schedule but not rigidly. I read things about creativity and process not to procrastinate as I once did, but to learn how others live a full and creative life. I spend time thinking about how I want to live better. And I see my dayjob as an extension of my creative life. Working hard and staying on task at my dayjob relieves me of anxiety that otherwise affects my creative time. Therefore, my dayjob too is part of my creative process.
Creativity isn’t a way of life. It is life. Reminding myself that I am a creative person, I am a creative creature, and that I can actively choose creativity and chose to uplift and make space for my process every day. There isn’t ‘dayjob time’ and ‘writing time’, there’s just life. Everything ties together.
I’m sure I’ll end up posting follow-ups to this post and thinking more upon this but if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below (comments are moderated!). Thank you!