When you write, do you see pictures in your head? Video? I remember one of my co-workers and a writer friend of mine, Mary Zitta, talking about how when she wrote, it was like a video playing in her head. She’d have her eyes closed, fingers dancing on the keyboard just trying to keep up.
That never happens to me. In fact, for the longest time I thought it meant I wasn’t really a writer. Most of the time when I write it is
like chipping away at stone. I know there’s something in there–although I’m not always sure even what it is. It is a matter of chipping away rock to reveal the story, the poem, the essay underneath. It’s hard work, not very exciting–and definitely labor intensive.
Of course, the longer I’ve been in the business of writing, the more I realize there many different ways to write. Heather Sellers believes in writing slow — as in dipped-pen-in-ink slow. Some writers believe in writing fast — no revision until the whole thing is done (think NANOWRIMO). Some authors outline, some don’t. So while I no longer feel like my chipping-away-stone style of writing is wrong, I’m always searching
to make it better. Faster would be nice too.
It took me some time to realize I DO visualize things. It just doesn’t tend to happen AS I write. Sometimes I get a picture in my head and then paint, draw, or WRITE to describe that visual in my mind’s eye.
Sometimes the visual follows the words–like in foreign movies where the dubbing is off sync and the actor’s mouth moves after the words have been spoken. Even then it is a matter of rewinding and playing again as I try to get the visual right. So maybe for me, the visual comes more in the revision stage. In looking at the words on the page, and deliberately “seeing” the picture they create in my head. Does the picture match the scene, the emotions? If not, I revise. If so, I move on.
Since I have started dabbling in painting and drawing, I’ve found I can play up the visual to enhance the writing — and vice versa.
1. Sketch or storyboard a scene BEFORE you write it. (There are many different storyboarding tools. I’ve linked to Storyboard That which is a free tool.)
2. Pick some music fits the content or mood of what you are writing. Close your eyes and listen to it BEFORE you write. Pay attention to what images form in your head. When you write, play the music again. I create playlists for my novels–music or lyrics that fit with the plot and /or emotion of the piece. Not only do they help me sink into the writing stage, but also they help create images in my head as well as make me feel the emotion of the piece. (This makes sense if you think about it. Music soundtracks add to the tension/joy/sadness… of a movie.)
3. After you have written a scene, videotape yourself acting it out. Granted, depending on the scene, you might want to make sure no one is around before you start. Acting it out helps not only with the movement in a scene (sometimes I find I’ve written something that just isn’t physically possible), but also with dialog. You’ll hear when the dialog isn’t working. Trust me. **Even if you don’t videotape it, it’s still worth acting it out.
4. Draw your characters — or find them in magazines or real life. Does the picture you are looking at match the person you described?
5. Sketch/Storyboard the scene AFTER you have written it. You wrote it, can you “see” it enough to storyboard it?
6. When stuck for words, look for images. When stuck for a visual, play with words.
How about you? What is your style of writing–and what do you do to “enhance” it?
A small example from my writing practice: (keep in mind that I do not consider myself a poet. However, sometimes content choses form. But that’s another post.)
So, there’s a poem I’ve been monkeying with–not that I knew it was a poem when I started. It started with a visual–that of a loved one dying.
I spent the last few weeks in August helping give hospice care to my mother-in-law. Strange, sad, difficult, and wonderful days. Some of the hardest moments in my life–but something I was so blessed to be able to do. The stillness in her face held such a sense of… timelessness and urgency, waiting and great activity, all at the same time. The papery white cheeks, the breath–shallow and rapid–moving the ribcage up and down.
Those days stayed with me, and I needed to write about them–so I started with the visual of those last days.
wings limp, damp
The word “wings” brought me another visual — that of a chrysalis. So I chipped away at that image.
moth pale skin
the minutes, days, years
cocoon you waiting
Looking at the words on the page, I kept seeing the chrysalis part of things, but not the becoming a butterfly part–not the transformation, beginning part. And when I was in that room, the warm golden light of the sun streaming in the window, Frank Sinatra crooning in the background — I had the sense of beginnings as well as endings.
Two weeks cocooned
now come and gone
and still breath
rises and falls
in its ribbed cage
eyes under thumbprint lids
move back and forth
seeing joys and sorrows
in the caterpillar past?
or dreaming of a winged future
soaring into the light
away from this inching physical form
How much longer
before full transformation?
released from this shell
spread your wings
and fly home
I’m not convinced it is there yet, but by going back and forth between the words and the visuals, I think it is getting closer to what I wanted it to express. Next, I want to paint it. Stay tuned!
And I feel fine. This morning, when I woke up at the awful hour of 7:00 am (only awful because I wrote until 2:50 am and then couldn’t sleep until who knows when), the lake disappeared into mist halfway across. Sometimes this place really does feel apart from the real world. Quite often I suffer a sort of compression when I return to my life at the end of the week–a form of jet lag if you will.
Anyway, now the view from my window is bright and sunny and I’m not totally hating what I have written so far. Last night I started the novel in contemporary omniscient, setting the scene, and then delved into single third, in Sera’s head. After getting frustrated (partly because I switched to past tense as well and I’m so used to writing in present), I started a second beginning (See previous post about my insane creative process) with classical omniscient and then into single third, present tense.
This morning, I sort of melded the two together by making the classical omniscient beginning into Sera’s journal entry. At one, I’ll see whether my small group thinks it is working.
The other thing I’ve had to think about is what question(s) I am going to ask the large group. I’m in charge of leading a group discussion about the writing process–and because I’ve done this for so many years, it’s hard for me to come up with something we haven’t discussed many times. So here is what my brain came up with during the wee hours of the morning.
My daughter recently told me she thought her life was boring, so she had decided to say “yes” to one thing a year that was outside her comfort zone. If you were to do this in your writing this week (and I do challenge you to do so) what might this “yes” look like?
What draws you to write what you write? I want you to think about that in terms of the form (poetry, prose, short story, novel…), the tense, and the content. (go with what you are writing currently if that helps–each piece being rather individual, I understand)
Feel free to share your answers to these questions in the comments.
Happy writing! (or, if you can’t be happy about it, at least make it productive writing)
Words of wisdom: Creating is not reliant on setting. One can still produce great works even when her desk is sandwiched between the cat litter pans and dirty laundry. (Even when her husband adds a box of indoor/outdoor pillows to the mess–right in the doorway at that.)
If you’ve been putting off writing or painting because you don’t have a creative workspace — be creative in the space you have. (and burn nice smelling candles when the occasion demands it.)
Just saying, don’t wait for perfect.
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” -Stephen King (On Writing)
I finished an art project recently that made me realize that I have a rather messy creative process. Maybe everyone does, but I doubt everyone ends up with 6 finished pieces where they intended to make one. That would be what happened to me.
A friend of mine was going to have open-heart surgery and the surgeons were to put mesh around the values to strengthen them. I had an idea that I wanted to make something she could take with her–that would give hope. I knew I wanted to use the image of a real heart and mesh. It was also important to me to have a Bible verse on it as well. But how it was all going to go together… that part was a mystery.
After gathering all the components, I put together my first attempt. It wasn’t right. So I started another. Now, that’s not that weird. The strange part is that I didn’t give up on the first attempt either. Nor did I give up on the second attempt when I started a third. And so on and so forth.
In the end, I brought 6 finished pieces over to her house and had her pick which she liked. The whole experience gave me a few insights into my creation process that maybe could be applied to others as well.
1. Creating is non-linear.That doesn’t sound like a huge revelation, but I think often schools teach writing in this manner (and maybe art too, I’m just not in those classes as often). Rough draft, revision, peer-editing, revision, and polished piece. I have found the true
process to be a lot more back and forth and then slant and maybe even slant again. If I graphed the process, it would probably appear much more tangled than linear. My painting instructor once told me the difference between professional painter and beginners is not that they don’t make mistakes — it is that they work through their mistakes. (this was, of course, as she was helping me correct my mistake)
2. Creating is about persistence. I’m not saying one should never quit on a project, but if I quit on a project as soon as it wasn’t exactly what I expected/wanted, then I’d never complete anything–or discover the unexpected. Persistence, willingness to keep trying, changing, adapting, working at it, is (in my experience) much more important than inspiration.
3. Creating is about being willing to re-see and imagine anew. I started with an idea, but when that didn’t work out like I wanted, I had to imagine it a different way. Sometimes (often in my case) that takes time–and a willingness to try, play, fiddle–monkey around as my mother would have said.
4. Creating is about input. At one point I took my pieces (I only had 2 at that point) to work and showed a co-worker. I told her what I didn’t like about the piece–too big, maybe not feminine enough. She asked if I had tried a different kind of mesh. “Maybe tuele or lace or something.” When she brought some back after lunch, I started to see other possibilities. Getting input from writing groups, art groups, classes, books, lessons, videos, YouTube… can feed the creative process. I get why some people say you should never talk about your novel. If all you do is talk and not write, yup, it’s a problem. But I find that sometimes talking can feed the creative energy.
5. Creation is about trial and error. I didn’t get it right the first time. Or the second. Or the third. But I kept trying. I kept improving even those first, second, third attempts. Eventually, I came out with what I thought were some pretty cool art pieces (pins mostly, although one was a card and one you could hang somewhere.)
As I was thinking about writing this post, I did a little digging online and found this post from NPR on The Creative Process. It begins with a quote from Abigail Washburn (not that I have any idea who she is) that I find rings true.
“Is it an original idea? Or is it something where you’re literally a creative collagist? You’re taking pieces of the world that you see around you and that are inside of you, and put them together in a way that you see fit.”
Maybe it’s true that there is nothing new under the sun. Maybe we are all creative collagists. I like the idea that creating comes from the real world and from what’s inside and you put it together in ways that only you can.
So how about it, are you a creative collagist as well? And what does your creative process look like?