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Creative Writing Process Differs By Author and Project

There is more than one creative way to build a book or make art.

creative process checklist

I hate mindless chain letters (and they’re all mindless). But when Paul Beaumont, author of A Brief Eternity invited me to participate in a so-called “Writing Process blog tour,” it made sense. I had already interviewed Beaumont, and although I’ve been interviewed about how I wrote my most recent book, creative processes evolve over time. So here we go:


1) What am I working on?

Having worked for a decade on Kylie’s Heel, my first novel, it feels weird to say I’m not working on it anymore. I can now understand why people write sequels and trilogies, because letting go of a major “living” character is emotionally and intellectually difficult.

However, while waiting for responses from agents and publishers, I did begin another novel. About 16,000 words into this new one, Kylie’s Heel was taken by a publisher. Then my energy got gobbled up by seeing it got off to a good start. Now that I’ve done what I’m willing to do, marketing-wise, I’m ready to move on.

My second novel features a female main character and two major but secondary male characters, and it involves time travel. The science fiction element probably won’t predominate. Rather, I’ll focus on character change over time and through changing circumstances. Instead of using first person, which felt right for Kylie’s Heel but presents its own challenges, I’m using third-person limited point-of-view so I can learn to write partly from a male perspective.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My work doesn’t fit neatly into a genre, but is more or less literary fiction. That said, my main interests are emotions and the experience of family life, rather than the larger economic and political forces at play in the world. The themes and ideas that are important to me are by-products of the story.

This is my first effort at science fiction, and I’m making that part as realistic as I can. No monsters, no “cross this threshhold and find yourself in another century” type story. I hope to sustain the illusion that there’s a scientific grounding to what happens.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I began writing when my kids were little and I was desperate to earn money, to find something engaging to do, and to express myself when my world felt limited and my then-marriage was stultifying. From short pieces about family, to longer articles about various psychological topics, to nonfiction books (six of them), I tried it all. I loved writing books even more than writing articles, as they gave me time to go more deeply and be less constrained by magazine editors’ formulae.

With a husband who’s a poet, and friends who write fiction and poetry, I accepted a challenge to write something made-up. It was great fun. I knew that eventually I had to try a novel. Turns out it was very hard work to learn this new craft. But it was exciting.

4) How does your writing process work?

My writing process isn’t a very good example for anyone to follow. Then again, no one else should be telling you what sort of writing schedule will work for you. But let’s say we’re talking about the new novel, the time travel one. A writing day (one not broken up too badly by tending to other family members) might go like this:

After breakfast and coffee and reading some of the newspaper, after checking to see if there are any crucial emails to attend to, I open my novel file and spread out my notes on my desk. Those notes consist of a timeline and a page of photos I’ve collected from the Internet to inspire a sense that my characters are real people, yet not me nor people I know.

Then I look for a way in. At this stage, I may skim over what I’ve written to see if a (re-)starting point jumps out at me. Doesn’t matter if it’s mid-scene. Or I just start a new scene anywhere that fills in some of what I’ve got in mind for the plot. I’ve set myself a challenging task of writing the stories of at least three elderly women’s lives, in reverse order, as an integral part of the novel, along with a romantic element, and a quandary. Now I just have to prove to myself that I can do it. I hope the challenge is just hard enough to allow me to enter a flow state and stay there for a while.

Don’t miss next week’s exciting Blog Tour participants who’ll be posting about their creative process at their own blogs:

  • Diane Lefer is a widely published small press author. Her most recent novel, The Fiery Alphabet, about an 18th-century child prodigy beguiled by a charlatan, was a Small Press Pick and listed among the year's best by The Next Best Book Blog. Her short story collections include California Transit, awarded the Mary McCarthy Prize and, in addition to hundreds of pieces of advocacy journalism, she is co-author with Colombian exile and torture survivor Hector Aristizábal of the nonfiction book The Blessing Next to the Wound: A story of art, activism, and transformation. For 24 years, Diane taught in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and has facilitated writing workshops for adjudicated youth in California as well as Spanish-language workshops for vulnerable youth in Bolivia and Colombia. Diane’s Blog
  • Ellen Wade Beals started her website and blog when the anthology Solace in So Many Words was published. The book is still one focus of her website but the site also regularly features writing and visual art on the theme of solace (broadly interpreted). Recent posts this year have included a short story by an esteemed author, a poem by a Pushcart Prize-winning poet, and photographs by a Chicago journalist. Ellen also posts personal essays on topics related to writing, publishing and current events as well as her own poetry and creative nonfiction. She is always looking for submissions.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

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