The Writing Process #1
Answers to your questions...
So, as threatened, here’s the first paid subscriber post. Some great questions came in about the writing process, which between them get to the heart of both doing it and also the attendant frustrations…
Here’s some thoughts in response. Feel free to ask for clarification in the comments.
“Are you intentional in getting inspiration and ideas, is it passive or a combination?”
It’s both. There are times, and they’re blessed times, when an idea will drop straight into your head. Maybe half the short stories I’ve written were born that way: a notion came from nowhere and the job is then to write it down before it escapes or becomes stale. I like to start writing before thinking the story out too clearly. Especially now I’ve published nearly a hundred shorts, it’s too easy for me to (very lazily) think “Okay, then that’d happen, then that, and it’d end like this”… after which actually writing it down seems like an unnecessary exercise.
With other stories I’ve been given a brief — and I’ve been lucky to work with editors to tend to keep them vague — and I think about it for a few minutes, see if anything immediately occurs to me, and if not then kick the question to the boys and girls in the back of my brain and ask them to work on it. Usually they’ll suggest something within a day or two. This is a lowkey version of the “flypaper mode” I’ll come to in a minute…
So a “passive” part does happen, but you have to arrange the circumstances for it. We’re just back from driving from Santa Cruz to Eugene, Oregon, and I noticed how novel ideas started popping into my head in a way they haven’t for quite a while. Maybe not ideas, in fact, so much as the desire to write one. That shouldn’t be a surprise to me — many of the Michael Marshall novels are set in the Pacific Northwest, and almost all my books got sparked on road trips — but I hadn’t consciously realized how that type of experience seems to get my mind working.
So while it’s passive in the sense that I wasn’t looking for ideas, it’s active in that you need to learn which circumstances trigger your creative mind. It might be going for a walk. It could be sitting in a pub and people-watching. It might be reading books by certain authors, or of certain types. If you’ve got a short story to write, for example, then reading an anthology might help. It gets your mind in the groove.
The creative impulse needs food: you have to learn what it likes to eat.