The creative process is not something I blog about a lot because I don’t often analyze it, and most of the time it fits with the catch phrase in Shakespeare In Love — "It’s a mystery."
The other day I was trying to think back to the days before I seriously tried to write a book to recall how I thought authors created one. I’m not sure I ever thought about it at all, but I probably assumed the writers were in control and knew exactly what they were doing. Perhaps I assumed it was like knitting a cardigan — something I have never done, note!
(This picture of a cardigan in the tumbling blocks quilting motif almost makes me want to try. Almost. If you’re braver, the pattern is here. )
Perhaps I thought a novelist would follow the pattern, put in enough hours, and a book would come into existence. Whether it’s a good book/cardigan or a terrible one would depend on both materials and skill.
As I’ve never met an author in calm control of the creative process, I’m sure I would have been wrong.
But I toss out my first question. If you’re a reader-only — ie you’ve never tried to write a book — what thoughts do you have about how novels come to be? If you’ve learned a lot recently from blogs such as this, can you remember what you thought before?
The second question is, does it matter to the reader how the author creates a book? If you knew an author neatly outlined her novel and then wrote for a disciplined number of hours a day, would you expect a better book, or wouldn’t it matter? What about an author who plunges into the mist every day, hoping to find the next bit of her story? Or the one who works in mad bursts then lurches around in writer’s block, trying to find something to add. There are writers who are extremely fast, and sometimes people will say that they can’t produce a good book. But is being very slow at a job a sign of talent?
Just some things to chew on.
I’m a fly-into-the-mist writer, and though I sometimes have vague ideas of what is to come, or at least a couple of elements I dearly hope will be part of the novel, when I start a new one nothing is certain. Nothing at all. It would be much less stressful otherwise, but we writers don’t seem to have a lot of choice.
I do however, get gifts, as I’m sure all writers do, and I choose to think of them as gifts from my muse. Occasionally they are strong story ideas, or large chunks of books, but sometimes they are vignettes. They’re not to be sniffed at, however, and two have formed the starting point for my current works.
The first was a scene in a coaching inn where a gentleman overhears a lady swearing. A lady, note. He is suitable shocked, but also intrigued. As she seems upset, he approaches her, intending to help. He was a sober sort of gentleman, about to be caught up in trouble. This was a regency setting and the lady was probably a governess.
I’m not sure I’ve ever done a meeting-at-an-inn story, so it interested me and I spent a lot of time trying to come up with a good storyline that might grow from this. I fly into the mist, but I’ll take a map if I can and it felt as if I maybe could.
That, of course, was folly. I never can. When I ended up with a convoluted story about an heiress escaping guardians who were spending all her money on charitable acts, and I was trying to plot a route to somewhere useful that would take them through wilderness in Regency England, I knew I, not they, was up a swampy creek to nowhere.
But all that wild invention was probably necessary to prime the pump for the real story, which was suddenly there — the beginning at least. A Georgian rake encountering a swearing nun in Northern France, and them setting off together into a wild adventure of murder and mayhem, must of which I had no clue about until it happened.
That’s A Lady’s Secret, out in a few weeks. If you like excerpts, I’ve just put up a second one here.
If you missed the first excerpt, you should read that first. It’s here.
But the muse was generous over the past couple of years, and somewhere along the line she tossed me a scene. Not an idea of a scene like the coaching one, which I could play with in my mind, but a "write me now!" scene, complete with talons and teeth.
Hastily, I did so, wondering what I was supposed to do with it. A young officer — very young, a teenager, still full of ideals — dashes to an inn to prevent a fellow officer from seducing an innocent young lady. He doesn’t know the girl, only that she shouldn’t be ruined by a scoundrel.
At the inn the hot-headed seducer draws his sword and in the chaotic fight our young idealist kills the rotter. Enter inn servants crying murder, and shortly afterward the girl’s relative, who insists that as our hero has killed the man who should have done right by her niece, he must marry her. When it seems to be that or the noose, he agrees, then rides off to war, swearing off noble gestures for life.
As I said, I wrote the scene, parked it on my disk, and thought that maybe, sometime, I’d think what to do with it. It didn’t quite feel like my sort of story (which may seem nonsensical, but there you are) and it also didn’t fit with the "worlds" I am writing in — the Rogues World and the Malloren World.
But in writing A Lady’s Secret I saw where my story vignette could indeed fit into the new mini-world I was creating there. I didn’t plan it; it wasn’t on my mind; it was simply a moment of saying, "Oh." Then, "So that’s what you were doing, muse." But I still had no idea of some delightful ramifications that are being revealed as I write.
And now I’m waiting and hoping for another scene — any type will do — that will grow into the third story, because the first two have proved to be a great deal of fun.
So that’s about what you get when I talk about the creative process. For those of you here who are writers, is this any use at all? For you readers, is this interesting or just confusing? And don’t forget the questions above.
What should the reader/author interface be like? Does it matter?
And if this seems a bit rambling I’m just recovering from bronchitis and a cold and I don’t think my brain’s had adequate oxygen for at least a week! Oh, yes, I should mention that Lovers and Ladies will be out in
April, too. I keep forgetting it. Isn’t that awful? Especially when it contains two of my early inspirations. There are excerpts of those stories up, too. Check out more here.