The Sort-of Creative Process

Frankly, I’m not very good at coming up with topics to blog about. It’s not that I’m a boring person (and that statement never gave it all away), but a lot of the stuff that occupies my mind just isn’t fit for posting online. But here is something that’s occupying my mind a lot lately: right now I’m working on a story. I’m not going to start calling it a novel for about another 30,000 words, but that is the direction in which it’s heading. I hope. I’m not much of a writer, from the perspective that I’ve never published anything. But I am a good reader. I read a lot, and I like to think that I’m familiar with the ins and outs of novels. But I’ve never really approached it from the opposite direction. And basically, as it turns out, writing involves doing a lot of pretty unexpected things, such as the following:

1) Looking up all kinds of weird shit that you never imagined you’d want to know about. My browser history right now looks pretty insane. I won’t go into too much detail, some of my weirder searches include “traditional English cottage kitchen layouts”, “badly healed broken limbs” and a lot of stuff about the geography of pebble beaches. How the hell did people write before Google image search? And why do I need to see these things? Because I’m a visual person, and I want to see it so that I can write it. And because the story, regardless of its subject matter, rests on the question: is this realistic? This is absolutely important, because even if the reality is a little different, the minute you pull some whacky stunt that leaves the reader going, “… Whut?”, you are down like the Hindenberg.

Tangentially, this was the biggest problem I had with 50 Shades of Grey (which puts it on a cosmic scale). I could suspend my belief about a millionaire with a BDSM hobby who inexplicably falls in love with a neurotic English major who is as generic as a sheet of printer paper. I could reluctantly accept his private helicopter and ability to apparently ignore his massive business empire for days at a time to get his jollies on with an assortment of toys that would make a whore blush. But when he buys her a laptop with 32GB of RAM (or something) to use for email and Word Processing, and I’m like… what is this bullshit? Fuck off! Thirty-two gigabytes of RAM… in a laptop? What is this, a fucking NASA laptop for use on Mars? Do you work for Pixar? Wait, it’s a Mac? For email? Are you kidding me? Shoulda just googled laptops.

2) Writing from experience but not about it. I always kind of chuckle when I see those little disclaimers that say “Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.” Of course it’s not. Artists are basically giant lenses: they watch and interact with the world and take from it that which interests or affects or fascinates them. A look, a word, a moment. It gets taken in by the lens, filtered, twisted, trimmed down, re-imagined and explored, often beyond the recognition of anyone but the artist. Which is Why Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee*. Everything is inspired by something.

3) Editing in the early stages is a terrible idea. This is my least favourite part of writing. Really, I hate it like fire and brimstone. Usually because I end up whittling away stuff and frequently ending up with much less than I started with. I’m trying hard to avoid it at this stage because I’m focusing on just producing stuff. But it happens. It usually happens when you go back a chapter to check some minor detail and end up noticing a clunky sentence or something that you can tie in with something that happens later. I’m a perfectionist and therefore editing is my nemesis.

So anyway. These are some unexpected aspects of the creative process. It’s all pretty normal I think, but I was surprised by it. It made me see novels in a new way, possibly with more enjoyment, and it made me think a little harder about my creative process in other areas, like photography. Anyway. I’m off to google stuff.

* Why they did what? you say. Not why they did what. Just why.

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