Author and poet Fran Wilde on dreaming up new worlds and dealing with writer’s block
Fran Wilde dreams up new worlds through her work. The prolific science-fiction and fantasy writer has published three novels — including her award-winning debut, Updraft — as well as two novellas and a plethora of poems and short stories, which have been published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Uncanny Magazine, Fireside Magazine, and elsewhere.
On Drip, she shares snippets of her work with her subscribers, talks frankly about the frustration of writing something that just doesn’t flow, and offers a peek inside her extensive journals and sketchbooks.
We dug deeper with Fran in a recent Twitter AMA. As the founding period for her Drip came to a close, and ahead of hosting a live-streamed poetry reading as part of Kickstarter’s Summer of Poetry, she joined us to answer questions from her fans about how she maps out new writing projects, what she’s reading now, and her strategies for pushing past writer’s block.
Read on for highlights from the conversation, and check out the full AMA here.
How is writing poetry and fiction similar and different? How do you decide what form you’re going to work in?
I often don’t decide so much as the story or poem decides for me. Sometimes what started as a poem ends up as a story, and vice versa. It took me ages to realize that my poem “Ghost Tide Chantey” is related to my next novel. Meanwhile, I know that “The Sea Never Says It Loves You” is part of a longer set of pieces that involve water.
I think things take the shape they’re meant to take and don’t always shrink or grow to fit the container they’re put in. And figuring out that shape is part of the work. It’s something I’m talking about with my Drip supporters right now, actually. In this post, I talk about how to handle a poem that doesn’t flow yet and how to figure out where it fits.
What is your process before starting to write? How do you put together a framework for a new project?
I journal a lot. I keep a “Novels, Short Stories, and Projects” journal that has a grid for future projects in it. I keep those in boxes until I’m ready to work on them. Then I give the project its own page and start making notes on research and themes, characters and plots.
Sometimes I wing it because the idea is running away from me. Other times I outline and carefully plan, and then midway through [the project] end up winging it for a while. Every project is different, but almost always I draw and journal, research and brainstorm.
How do you stay organized with several projects going at once?
Mostly my journals, my calendar, and a series of panicked notes that I email to myself the night before, usually titled “To Do Tomorrow.” And sometimes emails titled, quixotically, “Idea.”
You’ve talked about making new places with words. What does that process look like for you?
That process is kind of a mess! I do whatever works. With the Museum of Errant Critters, it was a world of brain weasels and head dragons that I’d been journaling about. With my poems and stories, it’s very often the put-pen-on-paper-and-hope strategy.
What I’m just starting to add in [to my process] is a required settling-down period where I try to let the story or poem sit in a locked box for a little while so I can come back to it and think about it more, add more layers, or tighten down the bolts again.
I can’t stress enough that every artist’s process looks different, though! Sometimes my process involves sitting in the sun, other times it’s about flopping across furniture bemoaning my fate. It’s all part of the work.
How do you deal with writer’s block? Does it differ for fiction and poetry?
Yes, it’s totally different for fiction and poetry. Usually I deal with fiction writer’s block by using the deadline force against it (deadlines being a fine combination of fear, guilt, and apocalypse). And I always keep lists of projects I want to work on. Sometimes I find a small project to shake loose the words. Sometimes I free-write for a while in character. I also find that shifting planes or refilling the creative reservoir is helpful — I go to museums, or read.
With poetry it’s somehow harder, because while [poems are] usually smaller, they are vast and sometimes need to sit for a long time. Often I’ll read what I’m working on aloud in case that triggers a memory or an idea. You can hear me doing that here.
Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote and loved?
I remember very clearly the first time a line felt “finished” — it made a sound like a bell in my head. It was the original first line to my first novel, Updraft: “On a morning like this, fear is a blue sky emptied of birds.”
Since then, I really listen for that bell sound. It’s fleeting, but when it’s there, it’s amazing.
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