Writing these days

Morning! (What? I’m starting this when it’s ten minutes to noon. Still officially morning.)

Yesterday’s prompt was about wanting to leave someplace when you couldn’t. It wasn’t the best writing day — I started fleshing out the character of Ezra, the middle-aged black gentleman who owns Fredrick’s cheese shop (he just kept the name, as had the previous two owners before him.) It was supposed to be about him but my eye turned to Andrew and Jayne, the two guys who help him in the shop. . .

Today’s prompt was “Write about secrets revealed”. Andrew, the guy from Fredrick’s cheese shop showed up again. I was writing in a coffee shop, and the most amazing looking young man came in and I based Andrew off him and then there was Andrew and how his latest spell went wrong (mainly because of his cats stealing the potion) but he found the love of his life Jayne anyway so it all worked out. . . It was a good story, a cute/clever ending. The end needs more setup for it to be a real story, but it felt good to get there.

The chapter that I’m working through in the Fearless Creating book is all about choice, and choosing the right project. There’s a visualization exercise that I want to do, need to do before I read more in the book.

Now — ya’ll know I’m all about process. But it’s always been, for me, about the writing process, that is, getting idea onto the paper to published product. This is the first time that I’m really thinking about, considering, the choosing process, defining the choosing process.

How do you select what you write about?


For short fiction, it’s pretty easy for me to come up with a topic. Even before I started doing these writing prompts. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Really. I’ve always known how to brainstorm ideas for fiction for myself.

My process, and again, this is just for short fiction, goes roughly like this: I sit somewhere quiet, holding myself open and in readiness (The Fearless Creating book calls it “hushing”.) Then I ask myself, “What am I really interested in right now? What is holding my fascination? What questions am I asking at this time?” Maybe it’s issues of gender and identity (What happens if the coming of age rituals for a boy don’t work? How does he fit into a society if he can’t consider himself a man?) Maybe it’s questions of class (What if I don’t want to be “rescued” by your upperclass white ass? What if I consider the work I do, even though you look down on it, to be my art, my life? And yes, for those who know the story, some of that was the basis for “Slow Honey”.) What if love *is* enough sometime? (I find that in a lot of the writing prompts I’m exploring themes of love.)

But for novels — it’s so much more of a gestault thing. I’ll get an idea. Generally it’s a whole book idea — I’ll see the beginning, some bits of the middle, and definitely the ending. It isn’t that I was necessarily searching for a novel idea. I may be journaling or writing something else and there it is. It feels *different* than a story idea. Part of why I recognize it as a novel idea is because when it first arrives, I can’t hold the whole thing in my head — there’s so much going on, so much that’s missing — it’s like an incandescent ball of string with huge gaping holes in it — perfect and round and complete and damn, how the hell am I going to write that?

The Fearless Creating book talks about holding those ideas, the big ones, turning them over in your head, questioning them, seeking the vivaciousness of them. It’s hushed and holding. It’s the chaos and wildness of creating and the tameness of teasing it alive, making it walk.

This latest novel — the Japanese one — I think I killed it earlier through the outlining process. I think I sucked all the life and joy out of it while defining it. There’s too little for me to discover, too little for me to pursue, not enough for me to be interested in it. I’ve added technical challenges to make it more interesting, but it’s still pretty lifeless.

And yet — I still believe that this is the novel that I choose to write next. Because I think I can make it interesting — not by adding more technically difficult things to it, pretty sculpted pieces that hide the lifelessness underneath — but by going deeper.

Understand — when I first conceived this novel, when I first outlined it, there was a part of me that scoffed — figuring that after I did the research, it was going to be more or less easy to write.

Then my circumstances changed. I lost my mother. I left my husband. I abandoned my home.

All of that needs to go into the novel, now. It was all there before, on the surface — but I wasn’t really exploring it. I stopped writing, in part, when I did start going deeper. It was hard, and I have such grief.

But I think it’s important for me to do it. I think it’ll be a much better novel if I can get through it. I think that this is the right choice. All I have to do now is figure out how to get back to the page. I’m not too worried about doing it — I trust myself, I trust my writing and my will.

Yeah — I guess it does all boil down to the fact that I’m too damn stubborn to quit.

So — what is your process for picking ideas? For discarding the ones that aren’t viable, just won’t work? Are you missing opportunities because the work’s hard? Or is your selection process finely enough tuned that you always pick the right thing? The thing that you need to work on most?

Comments (6)

  1. I’ve been switching back and forth for so many years. unless something self-selects by having a deadline, I work on whatever grabs me.

  2. All of that needs to go into the novel, now. It was all there before, on the surface — but I wasn’t really exploring it. I stopped writing, in part, when I did start going deeper. It was hard, and I have such grief.

    But I think it’s important for me to do it. I think it’ll be a much better novel if I can get through it. I think that this is the right choice. All I have to do now is figure out how to get back to the page.

    ——————————————-

    Why, yes. Of course it’ll be a better novel. Possibly a great novel. I can only comment from the reader’s view, not the writer’s. But.

    The really good stories are the ones that address the Big Questions. Questions of loss rank high among these, as loss is universal and the fact that everyone experiences it makes no damn difference to you and your pain. So we constantly seek stories to guide us through dark times. Stories that tell us how to exist through the moment and stories that guide us toward our new future. Our new selves, the ones who have lived through the thing and hold their hand out from our future. It’s what makes stories like, oh, say, Buffy, good. Because the metaphors and setting supported stories of growth, love, loss, and responsibility. Growning up, in short.

  3. My experience is that when I hit a novel that forces me to dig deeper than is comfortable — that’s a sign that it’s going to be a novel worth writing, and maybe take me someplace new, and maybe stand out a little more when I try to sell it later. (But that’s later–it’s the story itself that matters while one is writing.)

  4. I’ve been switching back and forth for so many years. unless something self-selects by having a deadline, I work on whatever grabs me.

  5. All of that needs to go into the novel, now. It was all there before, on the surface — but I wasn’t really exploring it. I stopped writing, in part, when I did start going deeper. It was hard, and I have such grief.

    But I think it’s important for me to do it. I think it’ll be a much better novel if I can get through it. I think that this is the right choice. All I have to do now is figure out how to get back to the page.

    ——————————————-

    Why, yes. Of course it’ll be a better novel. Possibly a great novel. I can only comment from the reader’s view, not the writer’s. But.

    The really good stories are the ones that address the Big Questions. Questions of loss rank high among these, as loss is universal and the fact that everyone experiences it makes no damn difference to you and your pain. So we constantly seek stories to guide us through dark times. Stories that tell us how to exist through the moment and stories that guide us toward our new future. Our new selves, the ones who have lived through the thing and hold their hand out from our future. It’s what makes stories like, oh, say, Buffy, good. Because the metaphors and setting supported stories of growth, love, loss, and responsibility. Growning up, in short.

  6. My experience is that when I hit a novel that forces me to dig deeper than is comfortable — that’s a sign that it’s going to be a novel worth writing, and maybe take me someplace new, and maybe stand out a little more when I try to sell it later. (But that’s later–it’s the story itself that matters while one is writing.)

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