“Creativity itself doesn’t care at all about results – the only thing it craves is the process. Learn to love the process and let whatever happens next, happen…
– Elizabeth Gilbert
Being someone who notoriously seeks out blog posts, videos, interviews, podcasts and books about writing, I am obsessed with what the writing process looks like for anyone and everyone. I love writing about writing. I love reading about writing. I love talking about writing. I love listening to people speak about writing. And yes, strangely enough, I also love the act of writing.
Creativity is such an elusive entity. It’s dynamic in its interactions with each and every one of us, and so I can’t help but wonder what all the variations of dances with it look like. So today, I offer you my own.
I write a variation of things: I blog, I journal, I write poetry, sometimes I write (really terrible) song lyrics – but mostly, I write novels and I write them for fun.
I haven’t gotten to the stage of wanting to go through the publishing process yet, because at least for now, I like to keep my novel writing for myself. The reason for that being, I don’t want to stain it with my own egoistic thoughts and have to worry about whether I will ruin the greatest part of my life with anxiety over what everyone else thinks of it. So as of now, my novel writing process is strictly for the sake of my own pleasure. I’m open for that to change because I do have dreams of being a published author someday and I do have hopes that other people will get to read my work. But for now, I just want to hold it scared for my eyes only.
So back to what my process looks like: It usually starts with becoming interested in learning about something that may seem random at first. It could be a subject like economics for instance. It could be a more specific social issue in our society. It’s typically a flaw/problem of sorts, but it could honestly be anything. Said topic won’t be a passion of mine, but it’ll be something I’m fascinated with and just want to learn more about.
I’ll typically spend weeks researching it online, read a few books on the subject, find out who some of the well known experts are and listen to them talk about their work. I will have no idea that this will somehow lead me to writing a book. It is truly just a random interest at this stage.
It’s only when I listen to music, that the idea of a book pops into my brain. It happens completely out of nowhere and there is no blueprint for what genre or song makes the cut. Sometimes it’s the beat of the music, but usually it’s the lyrics. I’ll visualize some sort of scene in my head as if the song was a trailer to a movie I just made up and that is usually where it all begins for me. So this “scene” in my head won’t always show up in the book, but it’s usually the starting point for the main character and what they are like. Maybe what goes on in their own head or what they are most likely to do in a specific scenario.
I keep exploring the random topic I’m interested in (on the side) and will usually be listening to whatever song spoke to me on repeat. I’ll also spend a lot of time looking up and listening to new music, trying to find a melody or lyrics that tell me more about the character, creating a playlist just for that character as I go. Usually, within a couple of weeks (and sometimes it is months), I will understand the main character through lyrics of various songs.
Then I just start. Honestly, I just go from knowing as much as I do from the lyrics of the songs about said character and I trust that as I work my way through the novel, they will continue to reveal more and more about themselves.
The first draft of my novels are typically me just understanding my story, learning about my characters, and discovering a completely new world. I write a lot of dystopian novels because I love world building. I also love learning about the world as I go through the first draft of the novel (which I realize is a complete faux-pas in the mountain of tips people tell you about writing). Said tip is typically, “always plan out your world/outline if world-building BEFORE writing anything.) Yep, I don’t do that.
I write all of my first drafts by hand in journals (and the same goes for my blog posts by the way). I just find that I connect and dive so much deeper into writing when I am writing pen to paper. There are no distractions (other than my phone which I set a rule that I can only use for research purposes or finding synonyms via the thesaurus.) When writing, I’ll utilize the playlist for the character that I’ve made and just pick a song that feels right. This can be the challenging part because for me, music is essential to writing. Having the right song playing on repeat in the background of the scene just lets me fly through sheets of the paper.
I like switching points of views as well in my stories, but even if I’m not doing that, I still create playlists for the rest of my characters so that I can understand them better. As for the random subject that interested me – that will usually be a starting point for the world building.
I always have a notebook dedicated for “character journals” and “notes”. Here, I write journal/diary entries from the perspective of the various characters of my book. I’ll also write down notes or questions I’ll need to solve in the upcoming writing sessions. I make it a priority to date each entry I make and journal a little about how the process is going. Why? Because these notebooks are a great resource for me to look back on, even when the novel is finished. For instance, when I go to write a next first draft, I will typically experience a similar roller-coaster ride and it’s just nice to look back and know that you felt stuck or lost before and you got out of it. You’ll typically find patterns of what works for you and what doesn’t which will allow you to problem solve plot-holes or scenes much easier moving forward.
Throughout my physical first draft notebooks, I’ll add in sticky notes for things that come up that I’ll want a reminder to change, dive further into, or check up on during the second draft.
I’m a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person, but do a lot of research throughout the process of writing my first draft and in editing. I love to just play and trust the process because whenever I give my characters that sort of opportunity, they will typically lead me into a direction I had no idea I would be going in, but it makes all the more sense to.
My favourite part about this process (other than the breakthroughs when you just hit a sweet spot and write for hours and don’t know what day or time it is), is when I write a scene being led by the character and I have no idea why the character is behaving in such a way. I have this strong urgency to change it or control it, but if I let it sit there, what usually happens as I continue to write throughout the days/weeks/months, is that I learn the backstory and it just ties everything together so perfectly. I’ll be so astonished by the backstory and just quietly say to myself “Oooooh I get why they did that before! It all makes sense now.”
Lesson learned: The characters know best what they would do in any situation. My job is to just let them do it.
When I am in the writing process, I like to keep a habit of writing every day. I play around with it a lot and with my first novel, I kept a word count of 1000 words a day minimum – meaning that once I was finished writing by hand that day, I would then go back and physically count all of the words and then add them up from the day before. Yes, that is how I knew how long my book was. And yes, it’s a little nutzo, but it worked! It also worked for my second book.
But with this book, I found what works better is just giving myself an hour a day. In that hour, I have to remain glued to my seat with just a pen and paper in front of me. I have my phone for music to listen to and from there, I can spend the hour staring blankly at a wall. I can write a few sentences. I can switch the music and just try and find the right song for the scene I’m about to write. I can journal from the character’s perspective. As long as I spend that hour there for writing, I have done my job.
I don’t always feel inspired but I do always have to show up.
What’s your writing process like? What have you learned works best for you and what doesn’t?