My Writing Process Blog Tour

My friend and colleague, Melanie Fishbane, invited me to be a part of a “My Writing Process” blog tour. I’ve been out of the blogging habit, so I’m thrilled to get a bit of a jumpstart! Thanks, Mel!

Melanie’s YA novel based on the teen life of L.M. Montgomery will be published under the Razorbill imprint in 2015. She has 17 years of experience in publishing, specializing in children’s and teen lit, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She loves talking about writing, books, old movies, classic women’s lit and anything that amuses her. Melanie blogs at http://melaniefishbane.wordpress.com/

Without further ado – here we go!

 

What are you working on?

I have a few projects that are incubating at the moment, taking their own sweet time to form:

A picture book about a boy who projects his desires (both good and bad) onto his stuffed animals… and then they act them out. (I am trying my hand at some drawing, too! New to me…)

Tipps

An early reader about a misunderstood dog named Bud who lives with two supercilious cats.

A magical realism novel about a girl who draws birds that keep flying away…

 

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

What an odd question! As the late, exceptional Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod said, “Nobody has your literary fingerprints.” I believe that my work differs because it is my own. Give the same premise to five different people and you will get five vastly different stories… which is why I feel 100% ok with sharing the premises I have above.

What my characters think, feel, and do are of utmost concern at all times. And, since my characters are little random bits of me stuck together, with little bits of my own experiences, snippets of overheard conversations, and my understanding of the world combined, they are unique. Thus, the stories are unique.

But perhaps this question is more after style. I am enchanted with sound and rhythm, and I tend to write in a very close third person voice – that is how the characters come to me. I also tend to write emotionally detached characters who take their sweet time letting me know what’s going on with them! (Argh!)

 

Why do you write what you do?

 I was moved recently by Amanda Palmer’s TED talk (“The Art of Asking”) in which she describes the beautiful exchanges she had with lonely people when she performed on the streets as “the Eight-Foot Bride.” She stood on a milk crate in a long white gown and handed flowers to passersby. Palmer said she had some profound encounters: through prolonged eye contact she communicated, “Thank you. I see you,” and the eyes of the stranger seemed to say, “Nobody ever sees me. Thank you.”

Writing for me is like giving out flowers. There is so much power in being seen – I write because I hope that readers feel seen when they connect with a character, situation, or emotion I have written about. The beauty is that when that happens, readers are also saying, “I see you,” back to me.

And the other part of this is that I write because I am always working things out. I am answering my own questions. I am learning. I am exploring. I write whatever comes to me because that’s what I need to do at that moment.

 

How does your writing process work?

Incubate, incubate, incubate.

Freewrite, freewrite, freewrite.

Put it all into scenes.

Recognize when what I have written is “not true” (i.e. I have overridden my characters!)

Delete. Delete. Delete.

Repeat until finished.

Then smooth and preen it.

 

Thanks for reading and joining in on the blog tour! Please check in next week with Stella Papadopoulos and Silverleaf. Here’s a little taste:

 

Silverleaf   http://www.silverleafjournal.wordpress.com

silverleafI started my blog as a journal for my thoughts on mid-life stress – everything from careers to parenting to anxiety. In the process, I rediscovered my love of writing and the blog morphed a bit. It is now also my writing journal; a way to share the poetry and short fiction that blogging has re-inspired in me.

 

Stella Papadopoulos http://www.inspirationsbystella.blogspot.ca/

Stella Papadopoulos

As a late bloomer, I’ve done many things late, marriage, children, art school, and writing picture books. My circuitous path of life has given me paintings and something to say. I’m passionate about creating art and hopefully one day writing for children.

 

 

Process: MY story. THE story.

It is an unmatched thing of beauty to have people in my life who are writers. I can talk honestly with them about my characters and they aren’t concerned for my mental wellbeing. I can share with them in the ups and downs of productivity, fears, passion. There is, however, one thing I have found that is hard to talk about – that’s process. Perhaps it’s because I’m a new writer, and I don’t have “a process” to speak of. Perhaps it’s because I fear restricting myself in that way: “this is my process…” when it may just be my process for this particular story.  Perhaps it’s because I fear that I should have a process, and don’t want to admit that really, I have no idea what the heck I’m doing. Just when I think I have my story nailed down, I’m back in the thick of it again.

Process is the way in which a story is birthed. We all do different things in order to conceive of a story: Sharon Darrow wrote about hearing a voice that comes from a specific place and how those are inseparable; Ingrid Sundberg is a proponent of method writing and inhabits her character, even dying her hair if need be. L. Marie is also doing a series about writers’ processes, and so I think it’s safe to say that we all do things differently. I have made origami birds, surrounded myself with bird photos, poems. Taken long walks in the forest. This has been helpful to me in terms of story conception, but birthing – birthing is a different matter.

Last week I wrote very little. But what I did write was fierce, and it was resonant. And after I wrote it, I felt a sense of relief and closure. I even said to a writing friend, “I think I have it now! I think I have a full arc!” What I realized, though, was that while I do now have a full arc, it is not my character’s arc. It is my arc. I have figured out where this story comes from in me. But now I have to move this thing from MY story to THE story.

And so I wonder – when we’re muddling through our works in progress, do we need to find our own closure before we can shift and find closure for our character? Most of all I wonder – am I now in a place to surrender to my character? I feel like I’ve been in a tug of war, and I think I’m dropping my end of the rope. But, I’ve said that before 🙂

I hope she takes that rope and runs. Who knows, this time I might pick up my pen and follow her.

I am not my character.

In Tristan Poehlmann’s February 25th blog post (http://figurings.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/whose-story-are-you-telling/), he said:

. . . If we aren’t honest with ourselves and with our audience, our characters don’t matter. They become stand-ins for our own beliefs, fantasies, and realities. They don’t exist on their own terms. They don’t feel their emotions or achieve their goals–they feel our emotions and achieve our goals. Who they are, or might have been, ceases to exist. Characters come to us with stories to tell. If we don’t write these stories around the truths of these characters, then we aren’t honestly telling their stories.

In this insightful post Tristan discussed Tarantino’s inability to inhabit his character (Django) and do him justice, and cautioned writers against doing the same. Sometimes after I read hearty stuff like this and take in the key points, my mind starts spinning off in all sorts of  directions, making a whole bunch of other applications. This time, my mind spun off into a variation I see a lot of in my own writing, especially in the early draft stages. It is a conundrum that locks me right up and is no good at all for my creative output: where do I end, and my characters begin?

It seems to me that writing fiercely is all about being incredibly open to anything that might appear on the page. All the raw emotions, all the crazy sidetracks and detours your brain takes when you are trying to tell that story. Some of what appears on the page is real and true to your character. And some of it – let’s face it – is your own crap. And when you’re being open like that, you might need to do some sorting: what, on that page, is your crap, and what actually belongs to your character?

My writer-friend Mary Pleiss and I were griping about the perception some non-writers have of our characters – that they must be us in some form, be venting our baggage, be stand-ins for our own histories. We looked at each other and said, in unison, “I am not my character!” and it quickly became our inside joke. The thing is, sometimes I need to say this line to myself not because it’s true. Sometimes I need to say it to myself because there’s a danger that it ISN’T true. Because my own stuff does get thrown on to the page. Sometimes I do let my own crap take over my characters.

When Tristan cautioned writers about this very thing, he concluded,

It’s OK if that happens, but then we need to figure out whose story we are actually telling. Is it a character we thought was secondary? Is it our perception of what we would do if we were that character? If so, we need to be honest about that. We need to rethink. We need to rewrite.

If we can’t live inside a character’s head, then we are not doing them a favor in trying to write their story.

Bottom line: I think it’s inevitable that our own stuff is going to get thrown in with our characters, especially in the early stages of our writing. We need to be honest with ourselves about that, but not let it hold us back or lock us up. Instead, we need to get to know our characters better.

How can we go about this? I am reminded of some direction my writer-friend Graeme Burk gave me when I was having this crisis a few months back.* He said (and I quote him loosely here), “What about your character is different from you? Where does she live? Who is in her family? What does she like? What doesn’t she like? Think of all the ways she is not you.” What Graeme was suggesting was pretty much the same thing Tristan concluded: you’ve got to live inside your character’s head in order to write their story.

So I’m going to stop worrying about that conundrum of where I end and where my character begins. Instead, Mary, let me suggest an addendum to our mantra:

I am not my character. I will develop her so fully that I couldn’t possibly be.

If I keep my focus on that, it will be her story and not mine on the page.

* writer-friends are indispensible. They’ll pull you in off the ledge. A shout out to Tristan, Mary, Graeme, Ingrid (my most-recent ledge-puller-inner) and all my Dystropians!