Recently, I came across a pseudo-interview from 2014, where I answered questions about my fiction writing and my creative process. You can read it on my writing blog, here. Finding it again made me think about the ways my creative process has changed since then – and how it’s still the same.
My creative process in 2014
In 2014, I was writing short stories exclusively. I had written a novel once before, but decided it was a one-time thing. Here’s how I answered one of the questions then:
How does my writing process work?
It usually starts with a setting, or a theme. For example, in 2010 my husband and I were stranded in England when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted. Not only did that event seem huge on its own, but it also magnified other, more ordinary things. Watching the news, buying food, spending a day out – these things became more complicated. For me it was a perfect foundation for a story, even if the ash cloud itself was always in the background.
I also often begin with general ideas I want to explore, and a sense of who the people are who will help me to explore it. I rarely have a strong idea of plot. I’m more interested in letting the characters observe themselves, the people around them, what changes are happening and why. These days, I tend to write a lot about memory/memories, personal histories, navigating a space as an “other,” and the way relationships change without people noticing. When I’ve been thinking of something it comes out in my writing over and over, whether I plan it to or not.
My short stories were on the longer side, and they all contained one or more of the above ideas as themes or plot points. I’ve always been drawn to these themes, and found lots of ways to tell stories around them.
My creative process today
These days, I don’t consider myself a short story writer anymore. Since 2014, I’ve written another novel, and right now I’m working on yet another one. Yet, the same themes still show up in my work – even if I’m writing a sci-fi/fantasy novel set in space!
Because I write novels these days, my writing process is different. Compared to a short story, there’s a lot more planning involved! I always start with an outline – I’m definitely a plotter at heart. My number one writing tool is a program called Scrivener. For plotting, I use the corkboard-style feature to write out acts and scenes and move them around if needed.
Depending on the story I’m telling, I may sketch out some quick maps or look to the internet for visual inspiration. Surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly), Pinterest has helped me to visualize the worlds of my novels. You can check out my novel inspiration boards here. I also love to research, and use Scrivener to organize my notes about historical events, language, and other worldbuilding things.
Once I’ve started writing, I try to stick to a schedule of sorts. I’ve written before about working on something every day, even for a little while. And that’s the best kind of schedule for me. Whether it’s actual narrative, a character sketch, or watching a movie with similar themes as my novel – it all counts!
“Wool-gathering” and the creative process
The author Doris Lessing is one of my writing heroes. I’m actually lukewarm on her novels, but her attitude towards writing has always inspired me. In her autobiography she talked about “wool-gathering,” the unsung hero of the creative process. It’s what happens in the background when you’ve stepped away from your desk.
So that’s the outline of a day. But nowhere in it is there the truth of the process of writing. I fall back on that useful word ‘wool-gathering.’ And this goes on when you are shopping, cooking, anything. You are reading but find the book has lowered itself: you are wool-gathering. The creative dark. Incommunicable.
– Doris Lessing, in Volume Two of her autobiography, Walking in the Shade
I love this idea of the creative process working away in the background, preparing your conscious mind for action. Obviously, it’s not really something I can control, but I try to give it as much space to work as I can. For example, I go for a walk every day. I don’t necessarily think about my writing project during my walks, but there’s something about movement that inspires more creative ideas.
So, that’s me. I’d love to hear about your own creative process – let me know what works for you!