Like many writers, I’ve been at it since childhood; I was eleven when I first attempted a “novel,” and before then was obsessed with writing ridiculous short stories which appealed to my mom and the two other people in the world who shared my quirky sense of humour. Back then, I wrote constantly, but always on the fuel of pure inspiration–the fun kind, the kind that just smacks you on the back of the head, makes you grab the pencil and scrawl as fast as you can, to keep up with the words, the ideas, the pictures. The best kind, actually. When I was a teenager, that kind of inspiration was everywhere and, since I had loads of free time (even during classes), I could indulge it. I thought it was the best, the only, way to write.
Then, of course, I grew up. I went to college, and could no longer afford to do whatever I wanted during lectures. I’d worked since 16, but now the hours were longer. If I blew off a paper to do my own writing, I risked losing my scholarship. Inspiration showed herself much less often, and when she did, I wasn’t always in a position to take advantage. Eventually, writing fell victim to real life, buried under jobs, bills, family, friends, romantic entanglements and general exhaustion. Because, you know, when you grow up, you don’t really get to do whatever you want.
Because I had only learned to use the “shot of inspiration” mode of writing, most of what I produced, even as a teen, consisted of single chapters, pages of brainstorming, and 4 lengthier works in which the endings rarely proceeded rationally from the beginnings. When I started writing again, seriously, at the age of 41, I knew I would have to do things differently. I was simply not going to be able to put down everything as it flashed into my head. For awhile, however, that’s what happened–lots of flashes–blinding, exciting–and forgotten before I could put them down on paper. It was very frustrating.
Then I discovered how to percolate. Like coffee. When you write for a while, you eventually realize that, for whatever reason, many ideas that seem wonderful never actually go anywhere. You can’t connect to the character, the story stalls, you stop caring what happens next…and what seemed perfect remains fragmented. I’ve learned, over the past year, that I can keep an idea in my head, and let it build and develop–without putting much of anything on paper. If the idea’s good, it stays, absorbing the water of imagination, gradually becoming more real as time passes. My first book, which I still hope to revise and salvage, is full of people who are real to me, but who only started living and acting as I put them on the page. In contrast, my new book, which has been percolating in earnest since this past winter, is populated with much more full-bodied characters. I understand them more deeply. I know how they think, how they live, even how they die. Soon, I’ll be ready to pour them onto the page.
So, how about you? How has your writing process changed over time? Let us all know in the comments!