Monday, September 27, 2010

My writing process

I never sit down with blank paper or laptop and try to command my brain to write.  I wouldn't know how.

The spark of an idea just pops into my head and I run with it.  Often I don't have any idea where it's heading.  Like on Saturday, I looked out the window and saw raindrops falling off the end of a kookaburra's beak.  I just knew that a story was brewing.

Now, having said that, I have recently started writing flash fiction to given prompts.  This is a totally new approach for me and I'm finding it to be an interesting experience.  All the same, I still don't try to push my brain uphill to squeeze a story out.  If an idea doesn't come to mind without effort, I just don't do it.

I remember seeing an interview with a professional artist.  He was in his garden enjoying nature when he said, self-critically: "I should be inside painting".

Oh, for God's sake, creativity doesn't recognise the word "should".  It's not something you can just whip into shape.  His whole identity seemed to be tied to the idea of him "being an artist" instead of art being just part of his life.

comes from

Others may disagree with me, especially if they see writing, painting or whatever as a discipline to be practised daily or if it is their "job".  For me, an amateur in the true sense of the word, it happens when it happens and I wouldn't want it any other way.

I don't know how to kick-start the creative process, but I suggest that you record your ideas as they come, whether you're out shopping or watching TV.  And keep a pen and paper by your bed because how often has an eloquent expression come to you in the night, only to be forgotten by morning?

I sometimes sit quietly observing what is around me, not thinking about writing, not thinking about anything.  Just absorbing the minutiae of my environment like a sponge.  If something comes to mind, I write it down, then put down my pen and return to just watching.  I begin to see things I hadn't noticed before.

Elegantly written in simple words, observations of the everyday can take on immense power.  The mundane becomes absorbing.  The ordinary acquires presence.  I mean, you only have to think about how much a cricket commentator, in love with the game, can say about a man hitting a ball with a stick.

For me, the power of haiku, for example, is in succinctly drawing attention to a moment in time that could have been easily overlooked.  Not necessarily a "big" moment, but a single moment looked at intently.  My favourite all-time haiku is a modern one, unconstrained by 5-7-5 syllables, posted on Twitter by Hermonhermit:

Snowy road
the emptiness
of the school bus

For me, it is perfection.  Simple words, an everyday moment.  But what power!  It explodes into my mind. *

I can't remember who said "Learn the rules, then ignore them", but I like it.  You can start a sentence with "and".  It's called style.  Don't be afraid.  Let the words flow out in their own way.

Although, once that initial outpouring is over, go over your draft ... and not just once.  You will always find unnecessary words or think of a better phrasing.  SLASH AWAY!**


* I've just read another haiku that blows my mind.  It's by @cirrusdream on Twitter:

empty playground
... but the wind
rippling the puddles

** Unless, of course, you're Bertrand Russell who, it is said, never re-drafted.

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