Are you curious about other artists’ processes? See the links at the bottom and hop over to more Creative Process posts!
When Melissa asked me to write about my creative process, my first thought was “Wait, what is my process?” Over the next few days I watched myself and realized I do have a process. Naming and recording these rituals has been its own experiment in process. Our creative processes are our soul prints combining the practicals of place and schedule with the dreamy play of relaxing and creating.
I break the writing process into three stages: creating, editing, and marketing. I love being in the creating stage. I awkwardly fumble through the editing and marketing stages. In this post, I focus on my creating process and leave the editing and marketing processes for other posts. I want to give you pragmatic information and avoid blurry muses, but I’m only partially successful. Part of creation is the joy and surprise–the magic–of what comes from the unknown.
Still, security and grounding is in the practical. I’ve included sections describing the practical parts, the nuts and bolts of my writing process whenever I can.
Before I create raw material, I journal. I use the morning pages Julia Cameron describes in The Artist’s Way: I fill three pages in my notebook with anything and everything that comes to mind. It is often the worst writing in the world. I catalog everything I need to accomplish that day; I record my nagging worries and mundane responsibilities. Journaling is like stopping in the mudroom before entering the house. I have to take off my hat and gloves, put them in my coat pocket and hang up my coat. I unlace my muddy boots and leave them behind, ready to be stepped into before going back into the world. I leave these outer world things in the mudroom through journaling; after leaving my restless energy in the journal, then can I enter the house of creation. Recording what I need to do reassures me that tasks won’t be forgotten. My brain releases its obsessiveness.
Nuts and Bolts
I journal in plain, college-lined, 100-page notebooks made from recycled paper that I buy for $2.99 at the grocery store. Often halfway through a journal something important strikes me and I write it on the cover in black permanent marker. My current journal cover says “Stop Fixing.” When stickers come to me I put them on my journal covers. My journal from last summer has an “I climbed Old Baldy” sticker, while my fall journal is decorated “Mountain Strong.”
My pen: I prefer the Zebra F-301. It’s a metal ballpoint pen that comes in black, blue, red, and green. I was introduced to this pen by an emergency room nurse who was a fast-paced charter. The pen nicely fits my hand and moves quickly. My brain is often several sentences ahead of my pen, but the pen tries valiantly to keep up.
After I journal, I set the timer on my phone for sixty minutes, hit start on the timer, put my pen on the page, and begin writing with the first image that comes to me. I don’t plan what I write, but this writing isn’t journaling. This is the crux of creating, the point when magic occurs. Characters come to the page and action happens. Where do they come from? I don’t know. That is the joyful (at times painful) unknown. I enjoy them and I go where the characters want to go. If I fight them, or try and control them, my writing becomes forced and contrived. In improvisational comedy the players have to agree to what happens to them. Writing is the same. My character might start off wearing a purple pillbox hat and later on be wearing a red batting helmet; I can fix that during editing. I write solidly while my timer counts down and I don’t check the time. Interestingly, I often find myself wrapping up right as the timer beeps.
Why don’t I plan? For a long time I tried to make outlines, define plots arcs, and create character descriptions. That type of pre-work kills the process for me. I do these organizing and clarifying tasks as part of the editing stage, not the creating stage.
In her book, A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle writes the following about planning:
In the final exam in the Chaucer course we were asked why he used certain verbal devices, certain adjectives, why he had certain characters behave in certain ways. And I wrote ‘I don’t think Chaucer had any idea why he did those things. That isn’t the way people write.’
I believe this as strongly now as I did then. Most of what is best in writing isn’t done deliberately.
Like Madeleine L’Engle, I don’t think writing (or any type of creating) is a deliberate, step-by-step process. Instead, it is the conscious and the unconscious working together, revealing pattern and meaning previously unknown to us. This is why separating the editor from the creator is important: if we don’t, we might be inclined to nix the patterns before they develop. The creator reveals the patterns. The editor works for clarity and consistency in the patterns. After the character has acted in the pillbox hat and the batting helmet, the editor can go back and add the scene where the character changes from the purple hat to the red helmet.
Nuts and Bolts
I use one notebook for journaling and another for writing. Closing the journal and opening the writing notebook is a sign to my brain to switch modes.
I handwrite 90% of my first drafts. I have less fear of blank notebook pages than blank computer documents. My creator lives on notebook paper; my editor lives on the computer screen.
I have a sweet little desk at home that I occasionally write at. But I’ve found that writing at home is difficult: weeds call from the garden, flies wander up the window, dogs paw at the door. I prefer writing away from home. I write in libraries and coffee shops. My current favorite place to write is an old country store that has a deck of medicine cards on a solid pine table; I draw a card halfway through my journaling and record the card I pull and what it sparks in me.
I write three times a week (more if I have the time). I schedule the times on the calendar beforehand. A chunk is at least two hours, but sometimes four if I have the time. A four-hour chunk is an hour to ninety minutes of journaling, an hour of timed writing, a break, then another hour of timed writing. During timed writing I make myself stay in the chair: the bathroom, the coffee refill, and the snack can wait. I also silence my phone during this time.
Those are the nuts and bolts and the magic of my creative process. Over the years I’ve read many books on writing and formed my habits by taking what works for me and leaving the rest. I see one concept repeatedly: writers write. That concept is the reason I hold tightly to my schedule. Keep writing.
If you are working to find your process, I invite you to watch yourself create over the next few days. What works? What kills it for you? Are you lost if your jaws aren’t grinding against gum? Or if your hand can’t hold that warm cup of coffee? Where do you create? When? What gets your brain in the creative state? Share with us in the comments and check out these other artists’ posts on their creative process.
Lynne Cameron on the creative process: The Creative Process
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 (with Karen Littleton), and for businesses who want to understand how empathy can work for them (with Jo Berry). And she paints.
You can see Lynne’s paintings and read her art blog on www.lynnecameron.com
read the Empathy Blog at http://empathyblog.wordpress.com
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/lynnecameronArt
Melissa Fu on the creative process: My Creative Process in 7 Words
With a background in physics and English, Melissa Fu is an educator and writer who enjoys working across many disciplines. Currently, she is writing a collection of pieces based on growing up in the Rocky Mountains. Melissa’s approach to teaching writing is informed by her experiences in the classroom as well as her studies at Teachers College, where she earned a Masters in English Education. She is especially interested in creating ways for writers to claim and hone their voices. Read more from Melissa at her blog, One tree bohemia and find out about upcoming workshops at MelissaFu.
Sue Ann Gleason on the creative process: Maybe You Can Hang It In the Garage
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.
Narelle Carter-Quinlan on the creative process: Creative Process- breathing the emBodied Land
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. Visit Narelle at Embodied Terrain 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.