Many writers write, but do not talk much about their process. Or how they come up with their ideas. I thought I’d share a little bit about my own. Truthfully, it’s a mystery to me, yet an endless source of fascination where these authors get their ideas from. I wondered why authors turned to drink, like Poe, Chandler and Hemingway, many who were notorious for their use of drugs and intoxicants as a source of enhanced creativity, or a deterrent to depression. I don’t know, it was never my thing, drugs and alcohol. Then I started to understand the process better, as I became more serious about my writing. The ideas don’t come when a person is in a ‘normal’ state of consciousness. They come in an altered state, one much closer to where the magic manifests. I have to say that it can happen without intoxicants, but only very carefully, and with a lot of discipline. They happen by grace, and in unexpected moments, and through cultivating a channel.
By ‘cultivating’ I mean, letting the state grow, in the same way a seed grows from the ground up. A plant, for example, with proper water, light, and in a conducive environment will thrive. Without it, in contrary conditions, will become unhealthy or die.
I cannot help but think that many of those writers who suffered from addictions did not have the fortune to tap into this awareness, and many ultimately died.
My process for priming the writing process is to get out in nature. I get out on the bike in the park, soaking in the fresh air and energy from the trees. It’s an oxygen rich environment. Especially in the fall when there are no bugs and the air is fresh and the smells of falling leaves and humus are in the air. Suddenly the barriers dissolve. Things that I was previously stuck on, come in a flash, and new plot twists I couldn’t imagine are suddenly there, where before I could be staring at a blank screen. It might sound trite, but it works. Likewise, meditation works as a means. All the problems, tough issues of plotting and character, loosen up when I clear my head and put my focus on the goal. The goal, being coming up with a winning story. Try it out, if you haven’t already.
To answer the question ‘Where do authors get their ideas from’, the closest I can come to an answer is, ‘by grace’. We tap into a channel and by magic, they are there. Sure, we are influenced by what we have learned and seen and our overall experience, but the way by which the organic process takes place is something of a mystery. Getting that channel open is the key.
Meditation: some times I spend up to a month engaged in a process where there is no writing, just accumulating data, and visualizing the world and the premise.
By meditating, I mean closing the eyes, and visualizing the scene and characters. Many ways the protagonists can act, sink or swim. There’s an almost overwhelming number of possibilities. But not so many, if one takes into account character and theme. I try to study each character or possibility, and notice how it makes me feel. If I get a strong sense for a particular action, or piece of dialogue or setting then I put it high on the watch list. If I don’t, I put it on the backburner. The process continues. One thread of action or drama or plot finally emerges, and that’s the one I run with. It gathers weight as I visualize it more and more and imagine how it relates to the overall story.
Then comes the difficult task of merging all those ideas into a cohesive whole. World-building, character development, theme, setting. I used to treat all these as separate entities, now they work together. The world is a means by which the character(s) overcome their struggles. Likewise the character is an extension of the world and helps to enhance it. It’s complex. Yet the beauty is, all these details come together by the very simple technique of ‘feeling’. As I described above, how does it feel if the heroine or hero abandons her/his duty to search out the magic item, or save the orphan? Is it right? yes! Or no, is it going in the wrong direction?
Also there’s this feeling I get when I wake up in the morning. It’s an instant thing. Either the character I just wrote about did something that works and furthers the plot, or they didn’t. At which point I get this sinking feeling and know that somewhere I went astray and I should rework the plot into something better. This process continues. I’ve thought about this a lot and come to the understanding that this changeover state from sleep to waking, from dream to waking, is a time when we are closer to the subconscious. The subconscious knows and is accessible to more intuitive understanding of the whole than our waking state brains are. In those moments of lucidity we are connected to something higher than our individual selves, something closer to our pool of archetypes, upon which we can draw and upon which all great stories are based.
I keep bits or pad of paper wherever I go, getting the ideas down as soon as they come. They are easily lost if I don’t. Usually I have about 4 or 5 stories on the go at any one time. The worst is to have no ideas to fall back on and have the urge to write, but a block.
Nor is there is anything worse than coming to a dead end with a story. I’ve learned to let go, know that somewhere down the road the story will all come together. Usually sooner rather than later, if I don’t push it too hard. The harder I force it, the slower it goes.
So, in recap, here are my techniques: I keep a file of rough ideas which keeps growing week to week. I get out on the bike into the fresh air and trees. I meditate a lot. I visualize the scenes, the action, the drama, the character relations and reactions as they unfold in real time in my mind’s eye. I also join critique groups to help me flesh out plots.
As for the editing process, it’s always at best a drawn out affair. Most writers can attest to that. I have less problems now than I used to, being more diligent about fleshing out a plot outline...with beginning, middle, end, before committing to any writing. Painful reworkings in the past have taught me to avoid the temptation of ‘diving right in’ before having a working plan from the beginning. Fun yes, but a nightmare in not taking into account the overall picture.
Lastly but not leastly, ideas never happen through staring at a blank screen.
And second to lastly, I’d like to mention the power of ‘mixing it up’, not always writing the same scene or story, or in the same genre. For example, the last project I did was a sword and sorcery fantasy, now it’s on to a SF horror. It forces me to switch gears. Different settings, different characters, different premises, it keeps it fresh. Also it’s more challenging.
These are all tools help keep the channel nourished—that and working hard at it. It’s also a matter of affirmation. For example, If I think I can do it, then I can. If I think I can’t, it’s something’s too hard, or out of my reach or too ambitious or pretentious then I probably won’t be able to pull it off. But If I say, ‘yes I can do it’, and even write one sentence of a plot outline to an ‘unreachable’ story, then I’m one sentence closer to manifesting that opus. Again trite, but it something that’s so basic as to work. This blog article, for example, was written in all one go in a few hours, but only after I thought about it for a week, collected my ideas, and then spit it out in one go, knowing it would manifest seamlessly and not only be something important I had to say but of benefit to others.
What’s your creative process?