October 14, 2013

Work How it Works for You. Even if It Doesn't Work.

I am well aware there are some things about my creative writing process that don't work so well. Here are the two biggest things I do as a writer that break every rule of advice I've ever been given:

1. I start with "the moral of the story" in mind. 

The moral starts niggling at my brain long before I hear characters' voices or think of different plot scenarios. There IS a message I have learned through my not-so-dramatic adolescence, and I want to share my hard-won wisdom with the teen world!

Why is this approach a terrible idea? I'll let Angela Morrison tell you, as paraphrased in my WIFYR 2009 notes:
Fiction rises to the level of art if it’s written as an honest quest for personal answers. Writing artistic fiction can be difficult if you think you already have the answers. . . . Setting out to teach a moral is propaganda, not a story. Fiction writers write to find answers, not share them.
So . . . basically all my first drafts are propaganda--messages written to my teenage self, showing her how not to be stupid if given a second chance. If I tried to publish first drafts, readers would wonder why I write such dense, unlikable characters who need to be taught a lesson or two.

I have tried to change my process. I have tried to banish morals and themes from my mind and just ask myself interesting hypothetical questions, like, "What would a character do if she dropped her keys in a sea of molten lava?" But so far I can't work like that. Life's tough lessons already learned seem to inspire me more than questions yet unasked.

I guess I do look for some answers as I write. But the questions aren't the same ones most authors are asking, like, "How will this character respond to having lost her keys in a sea of molten lava?" Instead I'm asking,  "How can I develop and convey a great deal of empathy for this character even when she's doing stupid things?" By the end of the novel, I do love my characters. And maybe myself a little more. And everyone else who's doing stupid things too. Awww. How's that for therapy?

2. I edit as I go. A lot.

This is not efficient. I edited a WHOLE BOOK I just threw out. But I'm an editor at heart, and I want my heart to be in my work every single day. Revising is what I love. If I don't get to do some of what I love during the terrifying-blank-page stage of writing, I would quit.

So for now, I'm self-righteous and I'm slow. I hope that someday, when I'm a professional, I will have moved past these hindrances. But Libba Bray doesn't give me tons of hope.

What's wrong with your creative process? Do you have one?

1 comment:

Michelle D. Argyle said...

You know, I wouldn't necessarily call those these wrong, and I'm a huge advocate of FOLLOW NO RULES EXCEPT YOUR OWN. If these things work for you, why, why, why change them? I edit as I go, and I'm about to publish my seventh title and I'm doing just fine. I guess if you feel these things are hurting your writing, try to change them, but if they aren't, I'd see keep 'em. :)