Wednesday, March 21, 2012
The Chaos of Creativity
Last night, I was struck down by a new story idea - I say "struck down" because it's about as debilitating as a migraine - and it got me thinking about a blog post. Juggling a third story would be nuts, so the idea had to go in my little notebook of "Things I'd Love to Write but Probably Never Will" until a later date. I hate having to have that notebook. I wish ideas came in a tidy, orderly fashion right when I needed them, not before or after. But ideas are not cooperative.
In college, most of my fellow students had a writing approach that I longed for. "I want to write a story about....." they'd say, and they'd sit down with pen and paper and plan out topics and characters and relationships between those characters. And then they'd look at me and ask, "what do you want to write about?" And I'd get this blank, stupid look on my face, because I had no idea, and the harder I tried to decide, the more limited my creativity seemed to be. The more I tried to just decide on a topic, the more my ideas became sad, cripple little things.
My writing process is this:
I have this bank, if you will, of settings and objects that are aesthetically pleasing to me. Things like classic muscle cars, old barns, empty fields, cemeteries, haunted castles, redneck dive bars, leather jackets, boots, and dark, nighttime forests live there. I love music (that's a whole other post) and I drown myself in it while I clean stalls, when I jog at night, and certain songs pull certain aesthetic images out of the "bank".
Then I walk around for days with this spark of an idea. A ghost. A whisper. And I can't dwell on it too much, or it'll get scared and retreat.
And then, finally, a bomb goes off in my head. Character names, their relationships, their purposes, the plot...it all comes with an explosion. It's chaotic and overwhelming, and, usually, the idea absolutely sucks. But it comes, and not always in a neat, organized package. Most of the time, they're useless, but sometimes they can be beaten into submission.
For days after the explosion, I see story scenes in vivid, detailed flashes. But always scenes from the middle of the story - the beginning always, always has to be forced. Ugh!
Last night, the hero was Caleb, and he was kind of a dick. The vampires in his story were not sparkly or friendly, and weren't the good guys. Caleb went in the notebook, but it's still hard to steer my thoughts back to where they're supposed to be.
I don't like my process, because I don't think it's productive and I know I'll never come up with anything "hip and fresh" that way. Novels that are "hip and fresh" are not borne from explosions.
But better to know your own weaknesses I guess. I'll never be tan, never execute a real cartwheel, and explosions happen! :)