If there’s one fact about writing that I make sure to stress to my students, it’s that writing is a process. There’s no way around it, and the sooner they embrace this reality, the easier their time in writing classes will be (and, hopefully, the better their work will be!) This basic tenet of writing holds true in academic and creative writing alike (heck, it holds true in any area of writing!), though for each I approach it slightly different.
But knowing this and putting it into practice are two completely different things.
When I was working on my MA thesis, I had detailed outlines, lots (and lots and lots) of 3×5 index cards, books strewn on my dining room table (where I did most of my writing), notes and scribbles from my notebooks, copies of relevant essays I’d written throughout my graduate career, and my laptop. It was a straightforward research process, but one that involved prewriting, writing and rewriting nonetheless.
Writing this novel, though, has taught me a completely different process. This one is more organic and chaotic; instead of a linear process, it’s one that’s cyclical. I’ll write a few scenes, revise them, rewrite them, organize them, separate them, write a few more scenes. Back and forth, back and forth, until I see the story moving forward. In between, I do research as needed, I write and re-write character sketches, and I look for images for inspiration. I have a writing “playlist” on my computer/phone (consisting mostly of Adele and one or two other songs) and they have come to embody my world, my story. I’ve created a creative space in one of the rooms upstairs. In that small, orange room (the walls are painted orange), I have a dry-erase board and some cork-boards containing lists of plot points, ideas, scribbles of important tidbits of my characters/world, and any other pertinent notes and inspiration. These are all over a small writing desk, which is mostly bare except for my laptop, a couple of books, and more notes. Oh yeah, and my Cricut machine from when I tried scrapbooking and such (still love that stuff, just don’t have time! Writing trumps scrapbooking any day.)
But my process doesn’t end with the written. Every day, on my commute to and from work, in between classes, in the bathroom–in other words, everywhere–I’m thinking of my characters. I’m thinking of the story and where it’s going. I’m thinking of the world I’m developing. I’m asking myself, what if? What if this happens? What if that goes down? And I’m coming up with more ideas. Or, I’ll write down notes in my phone (love that app!) and when I get home, to my writing space, I’ll sketch out those ideas some more.
And then, after I’ve written and rewritten my scenes, I share them. In my UCLA extension classes. With my critique groups. With select friends and family. And I take their suggestions and questions, and I revise some more. I used to hate revision; now, I actually like it. It’s what allows the skeleton to fill out and transform into something beautiful.
It’s a never-ending process. It’s not linear. It’s chaotic. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.