Thursday, March 21, 2013

What's your creative process?

The teacher of a poetry writing course I'm currently taking asked the class to discuss our individual creative processes, and thinking about it made me realize I don't have a process: I have several. I write commercial fiction in several genres, memoir, and literary fiction, and my process is different for each.

For commercial fiction, I begin with a situation and a character within a particular setting and the story takes form in my imagination before I put fingers to keypad. This taking-form period can last from several days to several months. When I decide to write the story I begin with an outline which is modified as the characters and storyline develop.

My process for short literary fiction is different. Stories come to me in their entirety, sometimes while I’m in the middle of writing something totally unrelated, and I have to stop and write the new, compelling story before I lose it. This happened with the second story for the prose fiction writing course I took last semester. To paraphrase Joan Baez, the story just crawled down my arm and onto the keyboard. The point here is that when I write short literary fiction I never sit down and think: What shall I write about today? The story comes straight out of the workings of my subconscious for which I hold the most profound respect.

For longer literary work (my novel in progress and the memoir) the processes are less clear-cut and involve varying degrees and combinations of the following: spontaneous inspiration, deliberation, plotting via an outline, storyboarding, exploration of themes, character studies, and background research. That's not to say I don't do these things for other kinds of fiction, but that the process is far more painstaking and I have to dig much deeper than I do for, say, romance. Chronology and narrative perspective are also less linear/more complex when I write in this mode.

I do not consider myself a poet although I have written poems intermittently for most of my life. These tend to take form when I’m deeply moved by something such as beauty in one form or another, or deeply disturbed by something such as a betrayal or, in one instance, the suicide of a colleague.

I initially had no intention of doing the poetry writing course because, as mentioned, I’m not primarily a poet, and I have no desire to attempt to measure up to the brilliance of the ones I love. After doing the prose fiction writing course, however, I decided to take the poetry challenge. The first course was immensely rewarding as we were privileged to have Merle Hodge, a legend in Caribbean fiction writing, teach it. That course was not particularly challenging for me, however, as I was so much more experienced in the form than the majority of the class.

The lure of a challenge is not the only reason I signed up for the poetry writing course. The prose fiction course kept my mind in the creative space to the extent that I was more productive for its duration than I had been in years. I’m hoping to build on this momentum with the poetry course.

What is your creative process like? Is it straightforward and unchanging or does it shift with different genres, different stages of your development as a writer, or other factors?


Charles Gramlich said...

I think the main part of my creative process involves 2 steps: 1: I listen to lots of things, read lots of things, try to experience lots of things, and then let those things simmer inside. 2: once an idea for a story comes boiling to the top from all that simmering stuff, I spend a lot of time consciously analyzing the idea and thinking of twists and turns and such

Jewel Amethyst said...

Like you Liane, I have no set process. It comes to me as I'm doing other things totally unrelated. The whole story is done in my head before one key is pressed on my computer. That is when I'm writing one of my novels.

But I found recently that in a few of my projects that's based on popular fiction, I could not use that disorganized method. I could not wait for the idea to come to me. I had to do total immersion in the stories before I could even begin writing. I had to write an outline and carefully craft each chapter.

My short stories are done based on an oral tradition and are not very changed from my mother's narration.

As for my poetry, they come to me mostly while I'm sleeping or idle and I have to write them down quickly before I forget them. That means I haven't done much poetry lately because I haven't had much idle time.

Liane Spicer said...

Charles, that's what the writing teacher Healther Sellers (Page After Page) calls composting. These stories come out of our midden of past experiences and reading.

Liane Spicer said...

LOL re the idle time, Jewel. I can just imagine. I foolishly started a poetry course in January and I'm finding that writing poetry to order is just... not... my... process...