Blue Sky Writing

1/2/07. Trying to stake fog — the writing process


I’ve been thinking about a comment a fellow writer made about not being able to relate to the writings and teachings of Natalie Goldberg because “that’s not her process.”

That got me thinking about MY process. I found Nat tremendously inspiring as I was trying to kick my way back to the surface as a writer. I had gone so deep into denial, I didn’t write for 30 years, except a dabble here and there.

Restarting the creative engine was painful and slow. The wheels and cogs in my right brain were sludgy and rusted. The oil that greased the wheel was first, Natalie, then my writing practice group. As a result, my creaky engine cranked into gear while I was still poring through the owners manual and work books, reading all that I could on craft, trends, new writing.

I found myself in middle age to be a nascent writer again. First, because lack of practice had made me as wobbly as a newborn. Second, years of negative internal dialog had to be deprogrammed and excised from my thought process, so that what had been frozen could melt and germinate again. And third, writing over the last 30 years has evolved, and I had a lot of catching up to do. And, of course, trying to take those first baby steps after years of inactivity. So what is my process?

I find my process changing with each new project, sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly. But it changes nonetheless.

When I wrote my first short story after years of silence, my heart sang with the poetry of place. My inspiration was the red desert of Northern Arizona and a terrifying but liberating experience I had while there. Trying to capture all of this on paper was a bit like trying to stake down fog. I was suffering sensory overload and drafts of writer’s block by turns. It nearly overwhelmed me. On the plane back from AZ, I quickly sketched out the basic outline of what had happened. When I got home, I generated a list of symbols and meanings. What did it all mean, for gods sake! How could I massage actual details of the experience into scenes, dialog, and story in such a way that my words would carry plot lines, through lines, character development, theme and message to a plausible conclusion — was there a conclusion — and leave the reader feeling satisfied?

Next I got started on novel, a fantasy. Here, I thought, the struggle I’d had with theme and message could be glossed over. Fairytales themselves would provide all that. I could just adapt and corrupt the storehoue of stories to suit my own mood and metabolism at any given moment. Wrong again!

The story I thought I would write turned into a parody, a farce, a satirical fantasy piece that constantly feels as though it is running away with me, on the verge of leaping out of control. It is a big, sprawling paramecium, and I feel myself constantly plumping it like a big, shapeless pillow as I try to force form and structure onto this mindless chaos, this free-for-all of indulgent but fun writing.

So that’s my writing process. I chase story ideas and suffer through restless nights while characters whisper plot points in my ear — one actually insisted the other night that I would have to “get rid of” another character. Herding the story through its various iterations is a big part of the process, even while the story contorts, twists and shifts to escape. Again, I am attempting to stake fog!

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July 12, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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