I’m currently writing a novel. Now, don’t get too excited. I have said these words approximately three times throughout my life. The first time I said this is a particularly fond memory of mine. I was twelve years old, and decided I wanted to set my novel in junior high, but realized I didn’t know what junior high was like, so I honestly told myself that my novel was going to be “a cross between the Sammy Keyes mystery series, the Alice book series, and the TeenNick show As Told By Ginger.” Needless to say, it didn’t really get off the ground and won’t be surfacing anywhere near you anytime soon…or ever, for that matter.
I don’t pretend to have any clout when discussing the writing/creative process. I don’t currently have any publications to my name, and I do not intend this post to be a ‘how-to’ by any means. I take a lot of inspiration from listening and reading about what other writers have to say about what works or doesn’t work for them. And from what I’ve gathered from that, the process is sometimes the same or never the same from project to project. But I feel that since I’ve benefitted from hearing others converse—because above all, that’s all this subject is, a discussion—that I can insert my voice if I so desire.
I’ve taken a great deal of inspiration from Deborah Maggach’s Rules for Writing, the Daily Routines of Famous Writers, and Writing Tips from Famous Writers. Here is what I have found works for me as I slowly begin to build my own creative process:
1) I recognized I have a creative process. For most of my life, I told myself that I didn’t have time for a creative process. “I can’t be a writer yet,” I told myself, “I’m a full-time student.” I struggle with this statement, because I am really happy with how my college years went, and I wonder if I had committed some time each day to write something non-academic, if I would have had the same great experiences. But the flip side to this is because I didn’t, I’ll never know what would’ve happened if I did. Every writer has their ‘lost years,’ and over the past few weeks, I’ve acknowledged that I had mine, and that it’s time to get back on track.
2) I planned and got organized. I don’t think before I write. When I was a kid, I would get an idea for a story, run to the family computer and write. My whole story would amount to a paragraph because I was too anxious to get everything out and didn’t realize that writers actually plan their work. I still have this problem. I wrote a thirty page story, and didn’t plan the majority of it. I only planned about the first forty pages of my current novel. But last week, I decided to switch it up. I took the advice out of a Google search ‘How to plan a novel’ (I told you I’m an amateur) and planned out each of my characters’ role in the story, motivation, goal, conflict towards that goal, and epiphany. Then I wrote a list of every action that needed to happen to advance the plot. And then I mapped it. And it was one of the best self-care tactics I’ve done in ages. I’m going through a really big period of confusion and unknowns as to where my life is heading right now, so I got to do what I can’t in my own life, and decide exactly where my characters’ lives were headed. And it helped my story immensely.
3) I got vocal. I tell people that I’m writing a novel not because I want to brag, but because I’m much more likely to keep writing or feel guilty about not writing if people ask me how the writing is going. Yesterday, I watched this super interesting interview between Daniel Radcliffe and JK Rowling, and I was shocked to learn how little Ms. Rowling let even her closest family know about the plot of the Potter books. Now, I understand it’s a bit different to keep secrets when you’re writing the most anticipated books of all time, but I’ve found it useful to strike up a balance between revealing little bits of plot to those who ask while broadcasting that I am in the general act of writing. But I also keep major plot points secret to allow myself the ability to change and alter the story as I please.
4) I acknowledge when I write and when I don’t. I’m not perfect. I don’t write when I know I should. One of my favorite TED Talks is Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s ‘Your Elusive Creative Genius.’ She talks about how some days, you can show up to write, and nothing creative comes. And sometimes, I just push through that and write anyway. If I decide it’s not good, I rewrite the next day. But when I don’t write, I try to be honest with myself: ‘I didn’t write today because I was doing some of my employed work,’ or most days, ‘I didn’t write today because I was just lazy.’ It helps me to acknowledge when I’m on and when I’m off.
5) I put up or shut up. I found this quote the other day and I think it’s really indicative of my developing creative process:
‘Nobody but you will want to read this,’ ‘nobody but you thinks this is funny,’ ‘this scene sucks,’ ‘you haven’t developed anything enough’…I have these thoughts on a daily basis. I’ve realized that if I have these thoughts, I take a breath, and try to remember that I write first and foremost for myself, and find solace and inspiration in these two beautiful moments from Neil Gaiman. I either write through the negative thoughts or walk away and try again tomorrow.
6) “If that’s what’s yours and you want it, do that.” This was a quote told to me recently when I got the opportunity to meet one-on-one with an author. I told her I felt like I should write short fiction to get my name out there, but I wanted to write a novel instead. Then do that, she said. And I did. I’m doing it.
Or trying to. We’ll see. I’ll just keep writing and building my creative process and seeing what happens.
Claire Forrest is a writer who writes because she can’t help not to. You can follow her at claireforrest.com