Ramble on the Processes of Writing

I can think of two ways to approach writing a blog post, or anything for that matter. The first is to approach it rationally. Make a list of potential topics, choose one or two, make an outline, do some research, then sit down and write according to the plan. This is probably the safest way to ensure that you write something that is at least of some minimal quality.

The other way is to approach it entirely from a place of intuition. You sit until a topic occurs to you or until you get impatient and just start without one. You write whatever comes to mind. You look something up if it matters to you. You stand ready to pull the plug on a piece that is going nowhere and start again. I usually save the stillborn attempt in case it catches my fancy some other time.

This second approach is often labelled “seat-of-the-pants” in the circles where writers discuss their processes. I get the analogy to piloting but I think the term is unnecessarily dismissive. In the case of piloting you are navigating your way through a landscape that has an objective existence. You probably have some idea where you want to go. In any case, you can look at where you are going and decide based on objective observation whether it is where you want to be.

Writing is qualitatively different to that. There is no objective pre-existing landscape to navigate. Whether you take the rational first approach or the intuitive second approach, you are making it all up as you go.

If you are trying to write about something that is predominantly factual, you would probably be best served to do at least some minimal amount of research and planning. If you are making everything up as you go, its not as important to plan.

The one point where this is not the case is when it comes to plot. It may happen that you will wander around and tell an interesting tale but if you don’t have any idea what the ultimate point of the journey is you are going to end up, as I have on multiple occasions, with a disappointed and perhaps even pissed off audience.

So the point here is that you have to court your muse at least to the extent that she gives you an end to your story. I’ve talked to other authors and they have told me that they often set way points that they use to steer their story toward a given outcome without dictating the entire journey beforehand.

Creativity is a strange phenomenon. It balks at excessive planning but thrives when given constraints within which to operate. A pre-imagined ending is probably a good constraint within which to work. Goodnight all.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Essays vs. Stories

We all tell stories all the time. Sometimes we relate events that have happened to us. Sometimes we repeat things we’ve read or heard in the media or from friends. And even when we make up new stories they are variations on patterns of stories that we have heard. The trick, I suppose, is to be aware of the patterns that you are riffing on and be sure that you make the story your own.

I am becoming a fairly competent essayist (opinions to the contrary welcome, especially if you can tell me specifically something I can improve). I would like to become a story teller. What is the difference? I have an idea but it’s kind of fuzzy. This blog is full of essays. An essay is a search for the essence of a topic. My blog posts are not highly polished. I write them off the top of my head. I edit them lightly and then post them. A proper essayist would write the essay. Put it aside. Come back and read it. Edit it. Get friends and colleagues to read it and comment on it. Edit it some more. And then post it. I suppose blogging just exposes the dialectic process more. I write a draft. I post it. Hopefully, people comment. I write more. Eventually, we arrive at something nearer the essence of the topic together. I think this is a good process. Perhaps better than the “proper essayist” process I described before.

Back to the point. I want to become a story teller and I am discovering that I don’t understand the process of creating a story. I know a good story when I hear one. I occasionally tell a good story. At least, I think I do. Help me out here. How do you create a story?

Courting the Muse

7anby made a video that described his writing process. I know, every writer’s process is unique, otherwise much of the magic of the written word would be lost, but there was a spark of recognition as he described how when the muse is at work, the words flow effortlessly. I write to achieve these moments. It is such a joy to see your ideas flow out onto the page and be captured for posterity.

Another point of recognition was when he talked about how he needed to write. I feel that way too. I’m not sure that anyone will ever read these words, but I need to write them for my own mental health. I need to write them so that I can become comfortable with the process and start to shape it to my will. I think the mind-page connection has to be firmly established before you can start to successfully shape what goes on to the page. If I think about what I’m writing too much, my censors kick in and I start trying to edit what I’m writing instead of concentrating on getting a draft onto paper. I’ve been told all my life that the most important part of writing is rewriting and perhaps that’s true. But you have to write something first before you can rewrite it.

I suspect that is why so many writers keep journals. This gives then the opportunity to become comfortable with the mind-page connection. It’s just like learning to play a musical instrument. You have to noodle around with it for a while until you’re comfortable with the instrument and then you’ve got to practice. And, as the super athletes tell us, you’ve got practice doing it right. If you practice your mistakes, you’ll get really good at making them.

I doubt that writing in this journal/blog once a day is sufficient to develop the skills and process that I’m after. But it is better than not writing regularly at all. So I’ll continue writing these short essays and when I skip a day, I’ll get back to the grindstone the next day. I’ve learned that that’s how you get in the habit of doing anything that you want to make an integral part of your life. And I want to make writing, video making and exercising into daily activities in my life. Thanks Mike (7anby) for inspiring me to keep this up until I get it down.