Recently, a dear friend and writer asked me what my creative process looks like. I had to think about if for a while since it’s not something I’d ever defined before. Thinking about this process has highlighted some important elements for me, and maybe you can relate.
The first thing I realized about my creative process is that writing, like most things I do, is an intuitive process. So far my stories have begun with either a character or a setting.
With a character, I usually see an image or ask a ‘what if’ question. What if so and so actually did this instead? What if it this character is more than meets the eye? Or, as in the rough draft of a short novel I wrote last year Fences and Forest, if I can imagine a character whose personality is almost opposite of mine, what would he/she do? Most of my questions about characters put a spin on something familiar to me.
Little maps I’ve sketched become places of interest. Who lives here? What are the tensions and friendships that exist between them? Whose secrets will come to light? How will these secrets impact others? These are the kinds of questions that drive me to write about these places. Whether I start with a character or a setting, writing starts with getting curious about them and exploring their stories.
After I’ve written a draft, I sit back and read with a slightly critical eye. Without fail, I discover that it contains an element of therapy for me. That means that I have unintentionally begun to process a life event through the story. I have not yet chosen which life event before I start a story. Even in the stories where I tried to avoid that by choosing a polar opposite character from myself, I still managed to draw significant parallels between transitions in my life and my protagonist’s story.
Since this cannot be escaped, I can develop it into an asset. In fact, it is an asset. Some of my favorite stories are ones in which I can draw multiple parallels between the plot and my own life events. I know I’m not the only reader who feels that way, either. So by tapping into this process, it can help create resonance with my readers. Resonance reaches people like few story elements can. (See this article.)
At some point in writing, I take a break from the story to gain a fresh perspective. It might be a day. It might be a year, as in the case of last year and my longest-running project. I have certainly found this to be helpful and I always gain something from this break that improves my story.
In finishing the story, I always try to get feedback first if it’s something I want to publish. Writing can be a solitary endeavor. That is necessary, but writing and the writer need community. Asking for feedback is a great way to invite a trusted writing buddy or even non-writing friend into the creative process.
Ultimately, the stories that I find most rewarding to write are the ones that end on a hopeful note. Not perfectly, not neatly. The protagonist doesn’t get everything she or he wants. In fact, it’s often when characters face loss and hardship that we as readers connect with them the most. It’s how they face, overcome, or grow in the midst of these challenges that inspires readers. That’s one reason I love writing stories. I want to acknowledge my Creator in them, and I don’t want to use Christianeze. (In fact, I joke that I’m allergic to it.) Stories teach in a way that teaching and sermons can’t. Stories can take facets of invisible realities and offer them in a different light.
For me, the creative process will always be linked to hope. Redemptive, creative, fragile yet resilient, hope.
Have you ever thought about your creative process?What does that look like for you? I’d love to hear!