I promised you a few words on my creative process last week. So, here they are:
- Show up.
- Move words around.
- Take risks.
That’s 7 words. Leigh Chambers, who wrote about her creative process here and passed the baton to me, suggested about 700. I’m 1% finished. Hmm….perhaps I can expand.
Showing up at the blank page – I prefer mine to be unlined in an A5 journal that fits into my bag, thank you very much – is something I try to do every day. Some people write morning pages; others write evening pages; I’m sure there are those who write mummy-has-locked-herself-in-the-loo-to-hide-from-the-kids pages. As with so much writing, the adjective is less important than the subject-verb-object construction: I write pages.
Musicians spend hours on scales and etudes to become fluent on their instruments. This is what showing up at the blank page is for me: it’s a way of becoming fluent in my own language, learning how to sound like myself. When I get to the point where I let the words come without being precious about them, then, yes, I generate nonsense, but I also generate possibility, something to work with, to work from.
Showing up requires time and attention. Two natural resources to use with care.
Move words around
I move them across the page. I shuffle them in their sentences. I transplant them from story to story. I sweep them into the bin.
People cite ‘kill your darlings’ as a golden rule of editing. I say splice them up. A phrase here, an image there – they don’t all need to be centre stage. Sometimes, a sentence doesn’t do itself any favours being in a particular piece. Instead of trying to make it fit, I’ve learned to move it elsewhere. In a garden you don’t want all the flowers to bloom in the same place at the same time. Why would you in a story?
Once I have a workable draft, I aim to reduce the word count by 30%. It’s an arbitrary number, but it makes me interrogate each word. I ferret out those that are hanging around, not doing much. Some of my usual suspects: most adverbs, passive verb constructions, just, and, the, so, also.
I change tenses, shift points of view, flip the order of events in a story or stanzas in a poem. I’m playing LEGO with the bits and pieces of the writing. I want to see what they look like in different configurations.
Sharing writing feels risky. For all of my blank books filled with words, having a public voice is new for me. I started this blog using a pseudonym because I wasn’t sure how to claim words that no one else had asked for. Now I use my own name because I got jealous of the attention that fictional person was getting! My blog has been a way to meet people, to experiment, to build community. Itinerant readers and writers come and go. I like to think of my forest as a pausing place for busy travellers on the web.
Another risk is submitting pieces for publication. Sure I get rejections. That’s part of the game. But the rejections are getting nicer. And I have a fund: for every rejection, I pay myself £5. I’m saving up to do an Arvon course.
I’ve joined a writing group. It makes writing and being a writer much more real. They are a fantastic bunch. Still, though, when I share something, it’s scary. We use the rule that the writer can’t talk during discussion of her/his piece. I love this rule. It removes the impulse to explain. Instead, I take the responses as indications of what the writing transmits on its own.
When I comment on another’s work, instead of taking the easy route of simply saying ‘I liked it’ or ‘I didn’t like it,’ I challenge myself to articulate why something does or doesn’t seem to work. I try to make specific suggestions in terms of craft or technique that could be helpful feedback while respecting the writer’s vision.
Lastly, I’ve been finding opportunities to get others to write and share their writing. I’ve had a ball leading writing workshops this spring. I’m planning to do more in the autumn. Watch this space.
These are unnecessary risks. I don’t have to do any of these. Each one makes me feel exposed. Every time. But they are also the choices that keep the process alive and make it worthwhile.
There you have it. My writing process, in 698 words.
I’m fascinated not just by writing processes, but by creativity in general. So I’m pleased to share with you the creative processes of some marvellous friends. Below you’ll find a short bio for each with links. I find these women to be inspiring, funny, powerful, and generous. Do treat yourself by clicking through to find posts about their creative processes. Notice that not only will you be jumping across countries (UK, US, Australia), you will also be roaming through different fields of creativity!
Sue Ann Gleason
Sue Ann Gleason, creator of Chocolate for Breakfast, the Well-Nourished Woman, and the Luscious Legacy Project, is a lover of words, a strong believer in the power of imagination, and a champion for women who want to lead a more delicious, fully expressed life. Sue Ann has been featured in Oprah and Runner’s World magazines and numerous online publications. When not working with private clients or delivering online programs, she can be found sampling exotic chocolates, building broccoli forests in her mashed potatoes, or crawling into bed with freshly sharpened pencils and pages that turn.
Click here to read Sue Ann’s thoughts on her creative process. You can also connect with Sue Ann in a number of other places. Go on, take look! Delicious freebies await you!
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Lynne Cameron loves change and being in different places. Each new space offers fresh ways of seeing, and its own opportunities for making a home. Basic needs include a kettle for making tea, poetry books, paints and brushes. She is an artist, painting colour-rich abstracts grounded in the natural world. She has been a professor of applied linguistics; a teacher of children and adults; a trainer of teachers. She’s written books on complexity, metaphor and empathy, some of which won prizes. She runs training workshops for women who want to progress through academia, and for businesses who want to understand how empathy can work for them. What does Lynne think about the creative process? Find out here. See Lynne’s paintings and read her art blog at lynnecameron.com. You might also enjoy reading the Empathy Blog or visiting her facebook page. If you tweet, Lynne’s Twitter handle is @lycameron
Emily Gubler suspects John Wesley Powell would say she is over encumbered by unnecessary scruples. She spent a decade traveling the country as a wildland firefighter and another half working in the back of an ambulance–and was thrilled by the number of poets and artists she met in each field. Currently Emily lives on a Colorado hillside, writing short stories and personal essays and delighting in Western Tanagers, Great Blue Herons, and Golden Eagles. To see what Emily has to say about the creative process, click here. Her writing can be found at www.ordinarycontradictions.com.
Narelle Carter-Quinlan embodies the Body-Land. She is a global leading exponent on yoga with scoliosis and the lived experience of spinal anatomy, illuminating the complex with reverence, humour and story. As a Photographer, her work is a benediction of communion; our inner and outer terrain. As a dancer, choreographer and artistic director, she is currently researching House of the Broken Wing; a performative, image and written exploration of moving within a scoliotic landscape. She is also a Transformer; true story. Narelle’s thoughts on the creative process are here. Visit Narelle at embodiedterrain.com to view her Embodied Ecology Photography© and blog, and to hear more about EASS-y, her upcoming e-course exploring the embodied anatomy of scoliosis and yoga.
And what about you? What are your thoughts on creative processes? Please join in with your thoughts or add your link in the comments, I’m curious to hear what you have to say.