Wednesday, January 06, 2010


In the comment trail of the post below, the one on 'The odds of getting published,' I was nattering on about the creative process.  I have a certain stake in this, being in one of those particularly creative professions, like knitting or cooking or being a confidence trickster. 

So I pondered about process a bit.

Whether a writer comes up with cool-and-wonderful creative or three-day-old-mackerel creative, I think it's the same process.  That is, good writers, mediocre writers and downright poor writers probably all go about it in pretty much the same ways.  There's not one supergood process and fifty bad ones.

Being organizational here,
(I do love to sort and categorize,)
you got . . . hmmm . . . three paths to creation,
says I.

The Bricklayer Process. 
'I sketch the plan and get out my measuring tape and blue chalk line.  I keep laying bricks down till I have a barbecue.'

The Boys in the Basement Process. 
'My subconscious does the work.  I toss a hook down into my mind and pull up pictures and ideas.'

And the,
I Haz Got Muse Process. 

'There's a force that comes from outside.  If it comes to me, I write furiously.  When it doesn't, I can't write.'

Most writerly folk combine these methods, doing a bit of one and a bit of the other. 
It's not about being good writers or bad writers, skilled writers, hack writers, wildly unusual writers, commonplace and predictable writers, LitFic writers, Romance writers in upstate Maine, S.F. writers, or Steampunk writers with purple hair.  I think everybody uses roughly the same methods.

Though it occurs to me Mystery writers, being plot heavy, might tend to go more with the brick-and-mortar approach.
And LitFic writers may be more 'muse oriented', them being above the crass commercial need to create a comprehensible plot or deliver on deadline,
(Is this so?  I darkly suspect LitFic writers claim an innate superiority for the muse method by virtue of its being associated with The Gigantic Importantness of Teh Literary Fic.  Hah, says I.)

But I digress.

if a person's creative process leans toward the bricklayer -- or they can learn to be creative in that way -- they've got a commercial writing process. 
When a writer leans towards having a muse -- they may be less commercial.  Writing to deadline gets iffy when you have to wait till Godot  the muse shows up.

I'd call myself 40% bricklayer and 60% Boys in the Basement.
I don't have any sense of an outside force at all.  The work is all me.
The whole 'muse thingum strikes me as slightly creepy, in fact. 

The creative part of writing feels like . . .
(I'd be happy to hear what anyone else's creative process feels like.)

I have a sense of myself as an island of awareness floating on a vast dark sea of unawareness.  Creation happens down there in the madness and dreams.

Up on the island I do the story organizing and the plot bricklaying and the chinking and tapping of individual words into place.
But the 'making up' of the story' . . . not so much.

The creative process is me settling down and trying to go to that, 'near sleep state.'  I build up a mental nugget of what I need.  I say to that ocean in my mind -- "I need to hear and see the scene where Hawker and Justine meet at the foot of the guillotine."

I let go.  I jump overboard and sink into this sea of translucent, formless crazy.  The process is dreaming. 
The process is watching
shimmerystrangecreatures swim by.  I grab some of them and yank on the rope to get pulled back up.

Then, at the top, safe on the dock again, I lay my catch out on the boards and turn over what I got.  I have to write this down before the flopping bright critters turn into clear water and leak out between the cracks.  Even when I pick 'em up for a good look, they're already running away through my fingers.

The good scenes, the ones that 'ring' right, come to me this way.

cat and mice cc attrib TanyaT, dog and cat image attrib GNU Wolf Howard


  1. Anonymous6:38 PM

    Do you know, as I was in that shimmery dreamy place last night, I had the funny thought that Spymaster's Lady was a bit like The Wizard of Oz... There was a sort of yellow brick road, poppies that made them sleep, Galba (behind the curtain on Meeks Street) and a wonderful dark-haired heroine with all those male characters joining her. It was only missing Toto - who maybe was Kedger in a different story...

    Needless to say, I love both stories!

  2. @Anon --

    Oh *snurggle*

    I am so fond of Oz. The mother of all 'Road Books'.

  3. I just haul the bricks to the work site every day and let the Boys in the Basement get on with the masonry. My muse is next to useless -- she flits here and there around the room, sometimes chasing shiny fragments of ideas, but mostly eating bon bons and acting self-important. I only put up with her because now and then she'll share a piece of candy with me.

  4. Thanks Jo! I've fished in that ocean before but never had the words to describe exactly what that part of the creative process felt like. It's exhilarating to find out what mysterious things are swimming and growing down there...

  5. Hi Deniz --

    It's all in there somewhere, innit it? Kinda scary when you think of what some writers write.

  6. Hi Linda --

    It's not bonbons that get in the way of creativity. It's the blasted floor. No sooner do I get one set of mud and pine needles and leaves mopped up than the next lot comes in.
    And they wonder why I go to Starbucks to work.

  7. Jo--

    I've never actually tried writing at Starbucks. I think I'm too afraid somebody might peek over my shoulder while I'm composing something naughty.

  8. @ Linda --

    I've never had anyone show the least curiosity over what I'm writing.

    But then, I have to admit I've never much wondered what anyone else is doing ...