Tag: muse


The Creative Process

A couple weeks ago, I was on a panel of authors at my alma mater discussing The Creative Process. At first, I wasn’t sure the panelists would have anything in common. One was a screenwriter, another an expert in Russian literature, another had a bestseller about Steve Jobs and yet another wrote American literature. And then there was me: the thriller writer. But, it turned out that our creative process all involved research and a degree of musing about the world–although we did it in different ways. I am pretty sure I was the only panelist that regularly uses excel spreadsheets to plot out the action in my story, the character arcs, and play-by-plays of integral scenes before I start writing.  So, I asked my fellow MissDemeanors. What is an integral part of your creative process. Here’s what they said: “I love brainstorming. In fact, part of why I’ve enjoyed nanowrimo so much the last few years is because it feels like a month of br ainstorming. I write down notes about characters, themes, words they might like, scenes that might be good. I don’t edit myself. Then, when I’ve filled an entire notebook, which usually takes about a month, I have enough material to begin writing.” –Susan “I hate to admit this but, as a life-long insomniac, an integral part of my creative process is to use the long sleepless hours in the middle of the night to think about plot lines and characters and how they might react to twists. Those hours between 2:00  and 4:00 are when reality stares me right in the eye. Sometimes I exhaust myself into a deep sleep and very often I come up with new ideas that would never occur to me during my waking hours.”Michele “For me the creative process has to be a balance between planning (what do I need for the story in specific terms, what does the story arc need) and free form thinking. That means time at the desk and time doing something else which lets my mind roam (yard work is a help here). Creative does mean just that…. at the same time process, well, means steps, piece by piece something coming together. It’s the blend that matters!” –Tracee “Before I begin actually writing each story I draw a mind map with my protagonist at the center. Then I add villains, sidekicks and secondary characters with descriptions of what each one wants and where desires intersect to trip each other up. It’s an exercise that lets me visualize logical expectations of both characters and readers, remove cliches or turn them on their heads, and explore opportunities for twists. The final map becomes a touchstone but I don’t let it lock me in as I write. I find that my characters sometimes surprise me so I stay open to that possibility and have as much fun with it as possible.”–Robin “For me, it’s a combination of daydreaming and research. My research I mostly mean reading. So it doesn’t really seem like research. This is the fun part–daydreaming and reading and thinking about characters. I often have an idea for an opening scene, at least what will be the opening scene of the working draft, and I write that just to get it down, as a way into the story. I make nonsensical notes in a big sketchbook and when I filled that, I sit down with that material and jot down notes for scenes on index cards. When I have about 60 index cards, I start writing in earnest.” –Paula

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Distraction or Inspiration?

Years ago I met Dean Koontz at one of his book signings. He was and remains one of my literary heroes. As a fledgling thriller author I had a burning question for him. “Do you listen to music when you write?” He looked startled and fixed his darker-than-dark eyes on me. “Wow,” he said. “No one has ever asked me that.” The answer was yes. In fact, he chose a single album per manuscript and played it repeatedly as he wrote. It became the rhythm of the book. For example, when he wrote Sole Survivor, he told me, the accompanying soundtrack was Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” I listened to that album when I read Sole Survivor to see if I could match songs to passages. It doesn’t work that way, of course. Writing a book takes heck of lot longer than reading one. But I’ve listened to music while I write ever since. These days, it’s my iTunes library on shuffle unless I need an extra push to inspire a darker mood than my eclectic pop/jazz/dance/country/80’s/R&B/insert-genre-here tastes run. At such times, I listen to movie scores. Thrillers, of course.  So, my fellow Miss Demeanors, what do you listen to while you write? Cate: I try to listen to music the puts me in the mood of my characters at various points. For my third book, Lies She Told, this was my playlist: All That She Wants: Ace of BaseBack Door Man: The DoorsWhat Kind of Man: Florence and The MachineFire: Bruce SpringsteenEverybody’s Got The Right To Love: The SupremesWerewolf: Fiona AppleJanie’s Got A Gun: AerosmithYou Know I’m No Good: Amy WinehouseSamson: Regina SpektorI Told You I Was Mean: Elle KingFast as You Can: Fiona AppleYouth: DaughterStone Cold Crazy: QueenWith A Little Help From My Friends: Joe CockerPsycho Killer: Talking Heads Tracee: Great questions Robin! I definitely listen to music! I have a long playlist that is background music, often played so low it is barely audible. What I find interesting is that I usually don’t notice it, but if I accidentally hit shuffle and the songs are in the ‘wrong’ order then it’s a distraction. When I really need to focus I listen to the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos. Otherwise, my playlist is eclectic: Mumford and Sons, U2, Imagine Dragons, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Carrie Underwood, Eagles, Adele, Coldplay, and much more… including a recent addition. k.d. lang’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. That one I still turn up and listen to full throttle. Paula: I have my playlists organized by genre/emotion/audience: romance, country, dance, creativity, meditation, happiness, poignancy, sweet dreams, etc., and for my bad days, f–k you. Note: For whatever reason, this f–k you playlist is the one my fellow writers most often request that I share with them. Go figure.I play whichever playlist suits the scene I’m writing–and if it’s something special, I just create a new playlist. When I’m stuck, I play my OM playlist, which is a combination of kirtan, gregorian chants, and classical music. That always gets me either to the computer or to the yoga mat…and then to the computer. Susan: I can’t listen to anything. I need complete (musical) silence to write. It doesn’t bother me if my neighbors’ are doing construction, but put on Sibelius and my mind goes dead. Alexia: I can’t listen to music while I write. I end up enjoying the music too much and paying more attention to it than to my writing. Mendelssohn is the one exception. I can write with Mendelssohn playing quietly. Usually, I either write in silence or with a quiet buzz of human voices running in the background like white noise. Michele: Put me under the column of writers who don’t/can’t listen to music while I write. I find I am so deeply and sometimes unconsciously influenced emotionally by music that it affects my writing in unintended ways. I like either total silence or the sounds of nature (birds, waves, wind, etc.). I’ve learned I love to write outdoors. It’s not that I don’t love music. Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli can make me weep, even though I can’t understand the lyrics. Dave Matthews gets me out of my seat. Simon and Garfunkel have been favorites since I was a kid and bring up lots of memories. I walked down the aisle to Scarborough Fair. I love Irish music. Harps kill me. Piano and violin move me. But all of these reactions to music tend to muddle what I’m writing. I must say I am fascinated by how my fellow Miss Demeanors intentionally use music to set their moods. I may try it.I am writing this while my daughter’s two kittens are practically sitting on my keyboard, purring like a feline orchestra. My mood is definitely influenced. I want to read a cozy. How about you, dear reader? Do you listen to music while you write?  

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Looking for a muse? Maybe you should stop.

A muse, that inspirational goddess of literature, science and the arts found in Greek mythology, is supposed to inspire an artist, writer or musician. But does she? Does anyone wait for the muse to walk into their mind and ignite that spark? I’m not saying that ideas don’t spring to mind fully formed as a random thought during the night, or while walking the dog. Those are the words and ideas that writers rush to put on paper. They may in fact be the kernel of the next great novel or short story. However, rather than putting my faith in the muse, I’m a believer in the creative process. I don’t think that relying on a Greek muse will get me anywhere in the long run. Perhaps it’s because I was trained as an architect, and architecture and writing both rely on a creative process. In architecture you may be designing a house or a library. In writing you are perhaps creating a novel or a short story. A mystery or a memoir. Know this and you’ve started. I’m currently working on a series, so I know the name of my main character, where she lives, who her family is and what motivates her. All I need to do is put her into the current story. In architecture this is the equivalent of picking a site. Now you know the house will face the ocean on a narrow plot of land. You have a start. I think that the most important part of the process is simply beginning. You need the first word on the page; the first line on the page. Once you’ve started, the process continues – this is where it feels like a toss between a miracle and torture. Another layer in the writing unrolls. Perhaps it’s the development of a character, the addition of characters, the development of setting, the addition of details. If you’re writing a mystery, clues are scattered. It’s healthy to look at the exact process other writers use. Do they outline, create detailed backstories for all of their characters, or are they ‘pantsers’ writing by the seat of their pants. But it is also healthy to remember that each person’s process is individual and each person’s mind works in a slightly different way. The most important part of the process, to me, is to keep moving forward. Will you take a left turn on the road to completion, or a right turn? Maybe even a u-turn. You will get there if you keep at it. Keep putting words on a page. Keep reaching for the end, and one day you will arrive.     

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