The Creative Cycle: A Primer

The Creative ProcessMy first book, A Year Since the Rain, was released earlier this year—in March. It was a strange time for me. That day in March saw the end of the most intensive and longest creative cycle of my life. It was the most public my writing had ever been. Well, that may not be entirely true. Blogging may be more public by definition, but blogging doesn’t come with the same pressure.

An indie publisher had decided to take a chance on my little book and traditionally publish it. This vote of confidence from the publisher was huge for me. I decided early on that I didn’t want to go the self-publishing route—at least not for my first novel. I won’t rule it out for future endeavors, but for whatever reason (I blame Academia), I wanted some external validation from someone who didn’t know me. And I found that in Snow Leopard Publishing.

But this isn’t about that—not entirely. This is about the creative cycle, which is different, I think, from the creative process. Let me try to explain.

The Creative Process: A Working Definition

When I think about a process, I think about a list of steps or a checklist of items that have to be accomplished in a certain order. The creative process, then, would include the specific steps that an artist must take in order to create. For me, that looks like a coffee (if I’m writing during the day) or whiskey (if I’m writing at night), followed by putting on instrumental rock music (usually Explosions in the Sky), followed by parking my ass in my old and gross green chair that I’ve had since college. These things are important for getting my head right.

Then, the creation part—I’m a “let the story happen to me” kind of writer. At least, I let the story happen for a while. Eventually, I will transition into researching and outlining. To me, the creative process ends when I stop creating—that is, once the story is complete. Certainly I add to the story afterward, or take away from it, but these things happen with a different part of my brain. I think that revision is a step in the creative cycle that exists outside of the creative process—for me. Some writers are revise-while-writing writers. Clearly, one phase of revision is important to their process. The rest happens in the greater cycle, but outside of the process.

The Creative Cycle: A Working Definition

The creative cycle is bigger than the creative process. The cycle changes based on the project, just like the process changes based on the artist. For me, the creative cycle that ended when my book launched in March of 2016 was a cycle that began sometime in 2012 when I first wrote the words that would become the title down on a page in my journal. So, something like four years.

The cycle included trying to write a poem and realizing it was something different. It included all of the things from the process that it took to create the book. The cycle included querying and pitching and being rejected and rejected and rejected. And finally, the cycle included acceptance, signing a contract, rewrites and revisions, promotion, and finally release.

That’s four years of my life spent focusing on one creative pursuit. Of course I was working on other projects, but the novel drew most of my creative energy. And then one day in mid-March of 2016, it was over.

And next time, we will talk about what happens when one of these lengthier cycles ends.

~~~

I’m Shane—one of the newer members of the team here at Today’s Author. I am grateful to Rob and company for allowing me into their space. I look forward to working my way in to this new community and trying my best to contribute something worthwhile.

Until next time—

Hi, I’m Andrew

I’ve always had a desire to write and to be creative.  I wrote my first play in third grade and showed it to some friends.  They liked it and laughed at the jokes I put in.  It was almost three pages long.  Sadly, I’ve lost the manuscript.

In my teens I developed a taste for science fiction movies and started to read science fiction books.  Then I discovered magazines like, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Analog.  If you would have asked me back then what I liked to read, I likely would have given you a long, well rehearsed lecture on “speculative fiction” and how that differed from science fiction.  That is in part due to my taste for post apocalyptic books like Earth Abides, Alas Babylon, and On The Beach.

Over time I developed the urge to write and had the desire to become a science fiction writer.  It was more than just a bit of a dream, as I actually sat down and started to write a book.   Most of the adults who I showed it to were encouraging, but I was young and lacked the persistence to complete the work.

Later, after I started work as an electronic technician in the fledgling personal computer manufacturing business, I tried my hand again, writing a few stories.  Knowing that I didn’t really know much about how to write a good story, I did attend a few writing classes and attended science fiction conventions where I’d seek out the writing sessions.  I learned a lot and had the courage to send a few of my short stories and a poem to a few magazines.  All of which were, quite rightly, immediately rejected.  Since that experience I proudly tell everyone that I’ve been rejected by the best magazines in the world.

Then life happened and in my rush to develop a career, earn lots of money, a car, a house and all the “things” my young mind thought were important, I suppressed my desire to write.  I did take the odd class in writing from time to time and did write a story or two.  There was a fairytale I wrote for my mother’s birthday, a short story about the world falling apart, and one with the title, Turpentine.

That was a strange experience.  I had been at the grocery store and smelled the faint odor of turpentine as I got into my car. The word beat in my mind. When I got home, I sat in front of the keyboard and in the early hours of the morning finished a “boy meets girl” story set in an alternate reality.

I showed the story to my friends and they liked it.  It was a year or so after I wrote that story that I started dating a woman who was much like the girl I’d written about.  It was that realization that drove me to do the only really brave thing I’ve ever done, I asked her to marry me.  She’ll be the one editing this post before you read it.

There was another thing in my life that I had always wanted to do and that was to get a bachelor’s degree in English.  I didn’t have the money, or family support to go to the university in my youth, so as I approached middle age I was determined to find a way.  There were years of night classes at the local community college and years of saving money.  Then there was a very supportive wife and at 45 years-old, I took two years off work, and attended San Jose State University, where I earned that BA in English.

At SJSU I spent most of my time studying literary criticism.  I read the classics of English literature and wrote paper after paper analyzing them.  It was there that I finally admitted that I had lost my taste for science fiction and confirmed my desire to write.

In the spring of 2011, I gathered up my nerve and started writing a blog at www.andrewsviewoftheweek.com.  Sadly my first attempts were without much discipline and I didn’t achieve my self-made goals of frequency, or quality.

Then my world forever changed.  Late in the year, the doctor called with the news that short circuited my brain.  I had prostate cancer and needed to be treated.  Between the tears, fears and starting radiation treatments I felt an overwhelming need to write down what was happening to me.  I put those words in my blog.  They just poured out, and kept coming.

It was that experience that drove me to commit to myself that I’d write at least once a week and in the last three years, I’ve been able to maintain that schedule most of the time.

About a year ago I started having trouble writing.  It was becoming difficult to start and hard to complete the pieces I did start.  Then an odd thing happened – I started to write a post and out came a poem.

And then another poem.  Then came the memory of my teachers telling me I had “lyrical quality” to my writing.  I decided to embrace it and now call myself, “A poet and writer.”

When I sat down to write a book about my cancer experience, I decided to do it as a collection of poems.  It was the only way for my mind to approach the subject without freezing up at the keyboard.  I’ve finished that collection and am now working on getting it ready for publication.  I don’t have a publisher for the book and haven’t decided if I’ll self-publish or not.

Writing hasn’t been easy for me.  It has plenty of challenges and there are things I don’t do well.  I am horrible speller.  Seriously, I can’t spell to save my life.  In fact in the sixth grade there was serious talk of holding me back a year so I could improve my spelling. If it wasn’t for spell checkers, Google and my wife, I couldn’t spell.  Then there is handwriting.  I can’t do it.  Hand me a pencil and a piece of paper and even I can’t read what I write.  If it weren’t for typewriters and now computers, no one would be able to read my words.

And commas, what are those about?  My wife claims I don’t breath when I write.  Honestly I do commas by instinct and hope Heather corrects them before I press the publish button on my blog.

And the list goes on.  I am not a perfect writer and I still have plenty to learn.  It’s taken me some time to perfect what skill I have and I am always amazed that I’ve come this far.

That’s what I hope to share here on Today’s Author, what I’ve learned so far and how my writing journey is going.  I am convinced that if you have the desire, you’ll be able to write and grow in your abilities.

I am grateful that the good folks here have decided to let me join in the conversation as one of their writers.

Keep writing,
Andrew

Alpha

As if they present like a basket full of clothespins, writers oftentimes want answers before they have to face the questions that will help establish order and arrangement, will help organize.  The writer will enter the aesthetic world with hopes of success and will search out a handbook with empty boxes along the left margin of a page for them to check off as they markedly address the elements that make up a story or an essay or a poem or a script.  And while there are many worthy books on the craft of writing creatively, they shouldn’t be used as strict instruction–we aren’t building a desk or making a quiche.  Writers, perhaps most importantly, have to trust themselves, their intuition, their budding clairvoyance.

As writers, as artists, we are haunted by trust.  If we don’t engage our work with conviction we risk hesitation and start self-editing stories that haven’t yet been written.  It’s natural, because our work is so personal, to approach it with some level of trepidation or pause because we so desperately don’t want to fail.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  You’re a writer, start with that.  Tell yourself so, make sure your parents describe you as such to their friends, have business cards made that note this truth and tape them on your bathroom mirror and kitchen cabinets.  Whatever it will take.  And then write something you believe, something you like.  All the while, trust yourself.  Know your work, know what you want it to be and accept the advice that applies. Nod, smile, and trash the advice that does nothing for you.  Realize that you are a writer not just for a week but for the full stretch of your being, just as you are left handed, just as you have always had a strong affinity for peaches.  You are a writer and it is part of your weaving; know that your work is a process and trust that process, and your persuasion, that you will see this thing all the way through.

I look forward to sharing ideas and counsel and response and comfort through this forum.  We are part of a special family, us writers, and we ought to be honest and tender with one another, helping each other achieve all we want in the pages we fill, clearing away the clutter, inspiring the soul.

Book Review: The Guns of Retribution by Icy Sedgwick

The Guns of RetributionMy name is Virginia Diaz and as this is my introductory post here at Today’s Author, I’d just like to say howdy and tell you something about myself. I, like many others who read and write for Today’s Author, was that kid–you know, the one who read incessantly, voraciously, and also kinda non-stop once she had found the true value of reading wasn’t that she passed the test or got praise from her teachers and parents, but that it was a place all her own–in fact, millions of places, zillions of places, an infinite multi-verse to which she could escape and have adventures both romantic and strange. That was me–is still me–is us, I think.

Yeah, I know you already know about the value of the shared word–you’re here aren’t you? But, how did we get here to that exceptional love of reading? Each of us, of course, had her or his own journey. As far as I can remember, mine began with an adventurous kids’ book about the famous Money Pit on Oak Island which ignited my imagination like nothing I had read before ever had. I was about 10 or 11 years old and the exact title and author’s name escapes me, but the experience of reading it remains decades later. Before that, I wasn’t at all likely to pick up a “boy’s book” like a treasure hunting adventure, but since then, well considering how that one book had changed my view of reading, limiting myself from any genre seemed silly.

Not only am I one who loves reading and has a love-hate for writing (you know what I mean if you’ve ever had writer’s block) but I really love to pull the storytelling apart like a clock and see what makes it tick–and talk about it–man, I love to discuss why a particular set of words works well or doesn’t work at all.

And so, I come around to what my main focus here at Today’s Author will be: Book Reviews. In keeping with the spirit of this site’s purpose to encourage new and independent writers, I will be focusing mainly on self-published authors and small presses. (If this is you and you’d like me to consider reviewing your work here at Today’s Author, make contact in the comments.)

As I previously wrote, I will read just about anything–even “boys’ books” like westerns, so today I’ll be reviewing Icy Sedgwick’s just re-released novella western The Guns of Retribution (Beat to a Pulp, 2013). The Guns of Retribution is a story of one Grey O’Donnell, a tragic hero of the old west whose fatal flaw seems to be that, while he can bring justice for others through his wits, determination, and quick shooting, those victories come at great personal cost to Grey. For Grey, no good deed goes unpunished and nearly every truth told or act of common decency is paid back with betrayal and deceit–it’s awesome! Okay, it’s not awesome for Grey or for anyone who he cares about for they also feel the brunt of his misfortune, but as a metaphor for how capricious fate can be, and how we puny humans can do little to truly influence our fate and change our lives for the better, it’s awesome.

One of the other strengths of the book is Sedgwick’s deft handling of description. As a reader I have always found heavy-handed description to be hugely distracting and sometimes even enough to put me off a book (I really don’t need to know what the characters had for dinner for three paragraphs, you know?). The description in The Guns of Retribution is sprinkled between the action and throughout the dialogue so smoothly that the reader hardly notices that it is description and it sure as shootin’ doesn’t pull one out of the narrative, but instead allows the reader’s mind’s eye to fill in the blanks. In a tale meant to move fast and take no prisoners (okay there are like half a dozen people taken prisoner, but that’s not the point) the author still manages to create a full, lush world populated by the old familiar archetypes of the genre given new liveliness and deeper motivations.

The one real criticism I do have is that while Sedgwick’s female characters ring true in both words and actions, they rarely get a chance to interact with each other. The femme fatal, Madeline Beaufontaine, is a near perfect characterization of that well used trope–she is sexy bad news and we know it from the moment we meet her. She also has a sister, the lovely Violet, who keeps the town of Sandwater’s only inn and puts herself squarely on Grey’s side through her actions. However, all the reader gets to know about their relationship is what others–mostly male characters–tell us. As I read I kept waiting for the scene when those very opposite sisters would interact, but it never happened. Cocheta, an Apache woman from Grey’s past, gives voice to her entire tribe and has a hand in the resolution of the main plot, but her sole interaction with another female character is to hold her daughter’s hand in the background of a scene. Certainly, the author should be credited for creating well rounded women, but as a reader I would have loved for her to go another step farther and let us have some more interaction between the womenfolk.

I have heard rumors of an upcoming sequel and I am very much looking forward to more adventures with Grey O’Donnell in the cruel, dry world that Icy Sedgwick has built. And, if I had my wish, Grey would meet up with his own version of Calamity Jane or Annie Oakley to give the world of The Guns of Retribution an even more well-rounded feel.

Introducing Prairie

Hello to everyone at Today’s Author! I am a new contributor, and I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself, my work, and to tell you what I hope to bring to the readership of Today’s Author.

I am a poet. It has taken me a long time to say that without qualifying the statement, or shrugging, or grinning nervously as though to say, yeah, I know, poetry is hard. I started practicing saying the statement as confidently as I could to my students, and seeing how it sat with them and with me. They were alternately impressed, blank, encouraging, or indifferent. For a while, I felt foolish. Now, not as much. I bring this up for two reasons: one, to tell you what genre I write; and two, to bring up the struggle that I think many artists face of naming themselves and owning that name without qualification.

I am also a college teacher. This, too, has taken some practice saying.  Once again, it has to do with reception. Saying I teach composition and research is met with a strange response, one that I can only categorize as self-demotion. For those of you who teach writing, you may have heard these kinds of statements: Well, I better watch my grammar around you, or Oh God, I better not show you my writing ever. As if I sit around all day waiting for someone to slip up. As if I diagram each sentence the moment it pops out of someone’s mouth, looking for a missing subject or predicate. As if what I know about writing is such a mystery that it cannot possibly be learned. I often wonder: do biologists get this kind of response? Or business majors? Or sociologists? Or math majors? No one says to the business major, Oh, I was just terrible at making money at my lemonade stand when I was a kid. What is it about writing that makes people shrink into themselves like salted snails, and immediately point out their own inabilities?

So, I suppose in identifying as a writer and in teaching writing, I have an over-developed awareness of fear as both a feeling on my part of telling people what I most like to do, and as a kind of barrier many people erect between themselves and the act of writing. And, if I’m honest, there’s the presence of fear in my own writing as well. How to begin? What to say? How to be original? In thinking about what I want to contribute to Today’s Author, one of the things I’d like to focus on is this idea of fear as an impediment to the act of writing, the experience of this fear by other writers, and the ways to battle with it. And I also want to focus on poetry—the process of writing poetry, the structural concerns a poet considers, the range of subject matter, and the importance of poetry in our literary landscape.

In my author’s bio, I briefly mentioned an interest in the confluence of cultural and personal experiences. I am interested in writing and reading about how the personal can always be found amidst the cultural/political. I recently watched a documentary about the British photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who died in 2011 covering the Libyan civil war. His photographs capture a more human, personal experience of the wars he covered. His photographs focus on the periphery of those wars: the abandoned house just to the right of the conflict, the graffiti left in the wake of fighting, sleeping soldiers, a woman staring at a man as he mounts a vehicle to leave for combat. Whether these things are on the periphery, as I suggested, or whether these things are actually the heart of the situation is something I’d hazard to say Hetherington thought about. In my own writing, I try for this perspective shift: to look at a subject, and then reroute my focus left or right, to see what or who is there, and then to write about that. When I read, I look for poets who do this: Brian Turner, Rita Dove, Randall Jarrell, Medbh McGuckian, amongst others.

My own writing process is often haphazard and unstructured. I work better with some kind of outwardly imposed framework. Each April (National Poetry Month), I challenge myself to write 30 poems in 30 days. I’ve been doing this for the past four years, and it works. I hit that number because I’ve told myself there’s no alternative. I just do it. Some years I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, which sets the challenge of writing a novel (50,000 words or more) in 30 days. These sorts of things work for me. I am excited to write for Today’s Author for many reasons: to be part of a community of writers, to contribute something to the field, and to produce writing on a deadline. Another way to put it: to produce writing without fear. There’s no room for fear when a deadline stares you down.

I look forward to interacting with the writers and readers of this blog, participating in the writing prompts, and contributing to this ongoing conversation about our personal and professional relationships with writing!

Finding Your Process

Earlier this week, I discovered that my oldest child (7) was diagnosed with ADHD. One of the things her psychologist suggested as a way to help her with her homework was to get a big dry erase board, and let her write her work on it as large as she could, to help engage her gross motor skills in learning.

This afternoon, she was struggling with her sentences, so I figured hey, why not start now? I dragged out the whiteboard, handed her a marker, and she started doing her homework. She stands up, writes out her sentence on the board, then sits down and transcribes it. Then, she stands up and does it again.

All writers have their own processes. Some of us must hole ourselves up in a dark room, in utter silence, or perhaps with mood music, and write without distractions. Some dictate their work. Others sit in coffee shops with laptops or notebooks, looking off into the distance thoughtfully. Still others love the fury of a group writing session, at social events like a NaNoWriMo write-in. Some like outlines. Others run by the seat of their pants.

One of the things I have struggled with over the last year is the realization that my process doesn’t work. I’ve always tended to write the same way. A flash of blinding inspiration, followed by frenetic deadlines and massive quantities of padding and meandering. Then, months and months of doing nothing. I would declare to any and all who would listen:

Outlines? Outlines are for the uninspired. I need freedom!

I had a bit of a crisis this fall. In October, as I geared up for the NaNoWriMo event, I didn’t know if I was really a writer or not. I mean, I have the talent. I like to think I am pretty good, even. But I have never really finished a novel. I haven’t finished a story in longer than I care to think about, and in fact have never finished anything to the point that it’s good enough for me to shop around.

So why do I even bother?

After many tears and much angst, I realized something. I am a writer. It is as much a part of the way I live and breathe as the way I walk. I can’t not be a writer. And I do have the potential to be a professional. What I lack is discipline. The way I was doing things wasn’t working for me, so it was time to try something new.

Maybe even… an outline.

In the end, I didn’t outline my novel. I did finish the event though, and had a sense of accomplishment that I’ve lacked in previous years. And I’ve recommitted myself to discipline. I snagged a friend who happens to be much, much better than I am at being disciplined, and recruited her to start slave driving.

And it’s working.

I finished a handwritten WIP last week. And actually wrote an outline for it for transcription purposes. (I know, you’re supposed to write it before you start, but throw me a bone here. I’m trying!) I have a goal of transcribing 1,000 words (twice as much as I wanted to write, but she challenged me, knowing I can write faster than that.) And it’s working. I’m meeting my goals, day by day. I even have a tracking spreadsheet.

I have… discipline.

It’s baby discipline, to be sure. And only time will tell if that discipline sticks and becomes something more. This is a good start.

So here I am. I am not a great writer. Not yet. But I will be.

Hello, To Our Early Followers

hello-on-wall-BCTo Our Early Followers:

Today’s Author is not even a week old–though some of you found us in the last week or 2012, our official launch was January 1–and already we have several readers.

So far you’ve been introduced to most of our regular writers, as well as a handful of writing prompts to make sure that you’re not wasting all your free time reading our stupendous blog.

I just wanted to make sure that you were all aware of our Facebook page. We won’t be using Facebook simply as a place to post links to our articles. Our Facebook page is the only place for you to find our Micro-Writing Prompts–designed to be completed on the spot, in the Facebook comments. While this blog will offer serious advice (though hopefully not in a serious tone), the Facebook page will probably be a little more playful.

The other authors and I would like to welcome you to Today’s author. We hope you enjoy it here.

Thank you,

Dale Challener Roe

Why We Can’t Stop

The longer I write–and the more I fight against writing–I wonder if we’re all just masochists. I’ve tried hobby after hobby over the years, and none of them inspire the levels of stress, angst and dissatisfaction that writing does.

Archery, a hobby that seems to revolve around tinkering with dozens of individual pieces of equipment just to get a 1/4″ improvement on a grouping of arrows–a hobby that seems like it’s purpose-built to drive people to frustration–is more relaxing than writing. At least, that’s true when you’re up against a block.

So why do we do it? The most basic–and somewhat true–answer is that when it works, when you clear the barriers and can slam down 2,000 words without realizing that 2 hours have passed, it feels glorious. But that’s not the real answer for many of us. Especially when the frustrating sessions outweigh the productive ones.

So why?

Ben Dolnick, a writer and occasional contributor the NY Times, recently did a piece for NPR about the retirement of Philip Roth, a noted and long-time author. In the piece, Dolnick explains why he doubts that Roth will stay retired.

“There are plenty of times in a typical writing day when retirement seems, even to someone much younger than 80, like the sweetest imaginable relief…. But fiction emanates from an organ every bit as mysterious, and as much beyond conscious control, as the liver. The actual work of being a writer – the generation of plots and characters, the resolving of tangled chapter transitions – goes on while you sleep or shower or walk the dog. You might as well announce your retirement from metabolizing sugar.”
–Ben Dolnick

Yes. That’s it. I write because… well, because I can’t not write.

And that’s why we’ve created Today’s Author–for those of us who can’t not write.

Here’s the link to the full article.

 

 

Just Keep Writing

As we launch this site, I am trying to find my lost passion for writing. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to write, I still want to write and I still need to write. But writing simply never bubbles to the top of the to-do list anymore.

And this needs to change.

When I was a little boy–even before I was old enough to write–I’d wake up in the morning and stay in the bed for a while. Not just for the sake of lingering–even back then I saw sleep as an unfortunate-but-necessary evil and wanted to do as little of it as I possibly could.  Rather than just enjoying a lazy moment or two with nothing to do, I would lie there and imagine.  I’d imagine what the day ahead held for me. I’d imagine what the day might be like if the last little bits of what I could remember of my dreams were somehow to be real. It was truly exciting to imagine the world in so many different ways.

Once I was old enough to write, I continued the pattern of waking up and imagining, only now I would put the imaginings on paper.  It was exciting to build worlds and characters every day. I would end my days the same way, often writing until I fell asleep at night, sometimes continuing sentences as I was in the process of falling asleep (you can imagine the crazy things that got to the page in that state of consciousness).  Back then, the point wasn’t the quality of the words that made it to the page or the neatness of the handwriting—it was the pure joy and excitement of the act of getting them to the page.

Fast forward to today, some 35 years into the future and it’s a different story.  I still wake up early and still hate that I have to sleep.  When I wake up, I imagine what the day holds for me, just like I did when I was little.  But now the imaginings are of bills, deadlines, kids’ schedules, the day job to which I am enslaved and many other things that are simply not as pleasant.  I no longer drift off to sleep with a pen in my hand nor do I wake up and reach for one.  Somewhere along the way the passion for writing was lost.  And I want to find it again.

Here at Today’s Author you will find many writers in various stages of their writing careers. Some of us are published, some are not; some of us have major works-in-progress that are underway or nearly complete, others are between projects.  But all of us share the love of writing and a desire to inspire and support writers in every stage of their writing life.  Whether you’re a lifelong-hobbyist, an emerging professional author or a first time writer just trying to find out how to get started, we’ve got you covered.  Here you will find articles about the technical aspects of writing.  There will be articles about our favorite tools of the trade (there are as many different ways to write as there are writers!).  We will have articles talking about our own journeys through the creative landscape and our own plans for our futures as writers.  We’ll have articles focusing on how to participate in – and win—NaNoWriMo.  Are you looking for regular chances to write but you lack ideas for getting started?  We’ll have several writing prompts here every week.  And if you are simply looking for a place to read what other people are writing, we’ll have that for you too!

Writing today is different from what it was for me 35 years ago when I started scribbling words in whatever crayon or pencil I had laying around. The world provides today’s authors with many more distractions and excuses to take us away from writing.  Yet, it also provides us with so many more opportunities to create our worlds and share them with each other.  Our mission here at Today’s Author is to foster a community of writers, a community in which we encourage each other to be creative and ultimately just keep writing.  We are glad to have you join us.