Between conception and creation

my writing process

Between the conception

And the creation

Between the emotion

And the response

Falls the Shadow

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

I am a TERRIBLE PERSON. Three admirable writers of my acquaintance have now tagged me in the Writing Process Blog Hop, a couple of them MONTHS ago. And then, just days ago, Daniel tagged me, reminding me that I had totally dissed Will and Sue. (Sorry, guys!). It is especially bad that I’ve dissed Will since he tagged me first and is in fact my little brother and I will have to face him at Thanksgiving. Read Will’s writing process blog post to get inside the mind of an MFA-trained writer who’s grappling with the big questions of genre and meaning. Check out Sue’s writing process blog post for a different take on the process–Sue blogs about “communication tips with a sci-fi/fantasy twist,” and her writing is always fun and informative. Daniel’s writing process blog post is as spot-on and intelligent as everything else he writes, as he works on his PhD and contemplates the intersections of literature and life.

Now, imagine with me, if you will, my negligence magically transformed into intent. As a lifelong serial mangler of faerie tales, I have decided that good things come in threes and I shall now respond to the standard Writing Process Blog Hop questions since I have been asked three times. The questions are four. (Which seriously disturbs my faerie tale aesthetic, but I’ll get over it.)

1) What are you working on? I’m writing a fantasy, tentatively titled “Vessel,” about an anchorite and a ghost miner. I’m having a hard time describing it without a lot of overexplaining. Suffice it to say that this is probably going to be more literary YA than high-concept. Basically, it’s a story about the ways we fill ourselves with things that aren’t us, and the courage–and sometimes violence–that it takes to strip all of that away so that we can be complete on our own terms. There is a magical book, a girl with a pickaxe, a society on the brink of turmoil, and, because I can’t seem to avoid them, there is a cave. There are also creepy monsters and creepier people. There is love, too, but this is not a kissing book.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre? My work is heavily informed by my previous academic studies, because I am a nerd who likes playing with ideas and smooshing different ones together in much the way my kids play with playdough, often resulting in a big ugly brown blob. I studied medieval literature in graduate school, and it’s so much a part of my psyche (I suspect that I should have been a scop) that it’s almost inseparable from what I write. I don’t know that my work is hugely different, but it’s characterized by at least an attempt to be literary, a love of language, a certain amount of allusiveness (possibly leading to elusiveness, but hopefully not). In a nutshell, I write to try to make connections between things and people, people and other people, myself and the world. E. M. Foster is my homie, yo.

3) Why do you write what you do?  I can’t not write. As my family can attest, I am a deeply unpleasant person when I am not writing. I get cranky. And weepy. And generally useless. I write YA because I get teenagers. I don’t understand adults. Yet. Though I aspire to someday. I write fantasy because I believe that there is magic in the world, whether literal or figurative, and that there is mystery, and I’m sort of torn between wanting to suck out all its meaning and wanting to stand guard over mystery with a flaming sword and smite anyone who gets too close to it.

4) How does your writing process work? My writing process runs on tea, paper, and lots and lots of colored pens (see picture above). It is often actually physically messy (again, see photo). In more detail, here is what I sort of do:

  • Get an idea (anchorites). Months or years pass.
  • Get another, totally unrelated idea (ghost miners). Again, months or years pass.
  • Smoosh the two ideas together.  PLOT!!! TA-DA!!!!!
  • Percolate these ideas for a minimum of several months. During this time, I hold them in my mind and they just sort of germinate. I work on other stuff.
  • At some point, start jotting down random things just so I don’t forget them–plot points, opening lines, important quotations, sketches of characters, maps, word webs, timelines, family trees, etc. This rarely takes the form of any kind of systematic outline.
  • Start writing. I’m largely a pantser after the percolation stage, but with my current story, I’ve plotted it out in detail first. We’ll see what happens…..Usually, I’ve percolated so long that I can draft the entire thing in a month or three. Often I like to use NaNoWriMo for this. Deadlines are my frenemies.
  • Congratulate myself. I have just written THE BEST BOOK EVER.
  • Reread it. Freak out. I have just written THE WORST BOOK IN THE HISTORY OF TIME. James Joyce sobs in a corner.
  • Put it away in my Deepest, Darkest Drawer for several months.
  • Reread draft. It’s not a total loss. I might even love it again.
  • Start revising. Hopefully with lots and lots of help.
  • Repeat the previous five steps for months or possibly years.

Having said this, I don’t know that I’ve ever used exactly the same process twice. I like to shake it up, try different things, in search of The Magic Process that is my unicorn, my windmill, my Xanadu. For this novel, I am doing some weirdo research on anchorites–reading Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of NorwichThe Letters of Abelard and Heloise (Abelard is kind of a jerk); and Ancrene Wisse, a medieval instruction manual for living all alone in a tiny room (how did they pee? Vitamin D deficiency, anyone??).

I am supposed to tag people. I am so late to this party, though, that I think everyone I can think of has already done this. So please, consider yourself tagged if you haven’t been and would like to be (or if you’ve already written this post, but, like me, have a different writing process by this time around).

Happy writing!

2 thoughts on “Between conception and creation

  1. Brenna, how did you know I love that line from “The Hollow Men”? Also, my favourite class from my MA in English was Women Writers of the Middle Ages, and I have always wanted to be able to smite someone with a magical sword. It’s fate we met, I tell you. Glad to read all about your writing process, and no worries about the lateness. I can’t wait to read your work in progress someday – hopefully it won’t be years!

    1. Thanks so much, Sue! It’s always lovely to know that somebody else adores the same things. My favorite M.A. class was Women in Medieval Literature! Thanks for including me in the Writing Process Blog hop. I really hope to have good news one of these days!

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