When my friend Bookwyrme asked me if I'd like to contribute to her blog and talk about the creative process, I jumped at the chance. Bookwyrme and I both have a passion for and sincere love of books. I'm a lifelong reader, and I recently published several books, something that's been an aspiration of mine ever since I was little. Given this, it's probably not surprising that I loved the idea of talking about my creative process and what it means to me.
When I think of the term "creative process", I love how it sounds. It seems so organized, so orderly, a sort of checklist process where I follow the steps and the end result is a written work. If only this were actually the case! The truth is, my creative process is messy, disorganized, and confusing--which tends to make me crazy because I am, by nature, a very organized person. I make checklists all the time, I track everything on my calendar, I alphabetize all of my books--you get the picture. But when it comes to the process whereby I create my books, well, that's much more like the way a room looks after a young child has played in it. I'm constantly tripping over things, trying to wade through the mess, and finding myself distracted by something when I'd meant to be doing something entirely different. The truth is, though, that I wouldn't give this chaos up for anything.
I've been scribbling since I was a child, so living in my head, creating imaginary worlds and filling them with people, is something I've just always done. I loved it when my teachers gave us creative projects to work on, because I was happy to have an excuse to let my imagination run wild. Even the most mundane tasks are a source of inspiration to me at times. When I'm out walking, I'll find myself looking at a tree and thinking up a little fiction about it. When I take a trip, I love to look around the airport and imagine where all the people are going, what they'll find when they get to their destinations. I live and breathe the words "what if", and this often serves as a springboard for my ideas. What if the world looked a little different than it does now? What if I chose to leave the house five minutes later than I actually did? Endless speculation is like my bread and butter.
And that's precisely why my process is so messy. I often start out with good intentions, creating outlines and setting up character sketches--or at least trying to do these things, anyway. But as I'm staring at my character template trying to think of what color hair my character will have, a story will come to me and I'll have to switch to writing, to getting the flow of words and images from my brain onto my computer screen. At some point I may go back and flesh out that character template I was working on, but I may not. I'm what's known as a "pantser", which means I fly by the seat of my pants, just watching where the story takes me.
This isn't always entirely productive. Sometimes, when I'm finished with something, I'll go back and gut it and totally rewrite it. I'll decide I don't like a minor plot thread that I introduced, or think that I need to flesh out a secondary character. I don't feel like my stories are done until I have the sense that I've ironed out all the nagging details. I don't think, "This character needs to do x, y, and z" because that feels too much like I'm guiding them. As strange as this may sound, my sense of rightness comes about when I feel like the characters are guiding me. The story is done when I think, "Yes, that's just what this character would do."
Like many authors, I have lots of different ideas percolating. One of the things I love about being in control of my own books is being able to write anything I want. So far, I've done a Beauty and the Beast retelling (The Eye of the Beholder), a young adult dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel and novella (Contributor and Creators), and a novel of contemporary women's fiction (Phoning It In). But while my genres may vary, the common thread that ties them together is this: What If? After all, isn't life ultimately a game of What If?