Today I was going to write about outlining, and how that process hurts my brain in ways I didn’t think possible — but then I started typing and went in a different direction. So, switching gears! Outlining process TBD. Right now, let’s talk about the creative process — specifically, whether you let “outsiders” in or not.
I mentioned last week that I was stuck, writing-wise. And to help move me along, I met with two writer-friends who sort of forced me to get UN-stuck. We sat down in a coffee shop and they asked me questions. A lot of questions. Both these writers are part of my regular writing group, so they’ve read most of my current work-in-progress. They asked questions about the characters. About the plot. About the overall theme. About character arcs. About protagonists and antagonists. And as they kept asking and I did my best to answer, it dawned on me — I didn’t know the answer to a lot of these questions.
Which… you know, not a FANTASTIC thing. Some things are ok not to know when you’re writing a book (I think theme is one of them). But character growth, motivations, plot developments? Yeah, you kind of NEED to know these things. No wonder I felt stuck — I’d been plodding along, writing as best as I could, without any real idea of the overall structure of my book.
In the end, it ended up being a great meeting — we stumbled upon what I think is going to be “the key” to the book, the one (now obvious) element that brings all the other pieces together. And while I’d like to say that this stroke of brilliance was mine — nope, no it was not. It was a suggestion from one of the other writers, after we’d all been talking for probably an hour and a half.
Now, I know a lot of creative types are probably going to gasp in horror at this. I let someone else into my process! Worse than that, I let them dictate my story — come up with a vital plot element. But I don’t think of it that way. Honestly, I don’t think I would have stumbled upon this revelation on my own. I needed the collaboration to get things moving. I don’t think this makes the story any less “mine” — I am, after all, still the one writing it. Still the one developing the characters and the plot. But the story will now be much, MUCH better as a result of this collaboration.
During all this, we had an interesting discussion about “the myth of the writer” — this idea that writers (and other creative folk) should only work in solitude, and that it’s EASY work, that the muses grant us these pieces of genius and we just type them out like obedient puppets. Can we all just laugh at that for a moment? In what other profession is this expected to be the case? Yet I think we in the creative fields are often seen this way — and more so, we often help build this stereotype ourselves.
I never used to show works-in-progress. I would never discuss a story’s plot. And yet, that’s exactly what I needed to move forward with this book. It’s that whole Open Door, Closed Door thing — do you “open the door” and let people in on the creative process? Or do you keep it closed until the big reveal? TADA!
Austin Kleon posted this quote on his Tumblr the other day:
We must strike down the insidious lie that a book is the creation of an individual soul labouring in isolation. –John Green
Now, granted — Green is talking about self-publishing here. But I think this quote applies to the whole process. We CAN’T work in a vacuum. There are others who influence our work, who make it better than it would otherwise have been. Whether we acknowledge and welcome these influences or not — that’s the sticking point.
More and more I’m becoming an advocate of an Open Door policy. Not with everything, mind you — and certainly not with everyone. You need to choose your confidants wisely. But writing can be an incredibly isolating act. Why do we make it more than it needs to be?