Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Author's Journey: Part 3: The Creative Process - The Trials and Tribulations

Welcome again to the third edition of The Author's Journey.

I am writing this as part of my Master of Arts (Writing) under the subject PWR70002 - Online Writing and I want to share with emerging writers as well as those who are keen to further their own writing.
I have already put out the request to my fellow authors for help once again creating some helpful advice, honest insights and tips and tricks for those who are on their own journey of writing. The comments and emails are coming through and I am finding that some of my peers have some incredible ideas that help them in their creative endeavours.

This week's topic was actually a suggestion by my lecturer who prompted me by saying, I needed to further examine the "complexity of creativity as part of the human condition." (Clover, 2016) And so that is where today's post goes. We have already looked at what inspires the writer, but now we must further investigate the trials and tribulations of the creative process. How we create, how we design and how we research the idea that inspired us.

We all have our own complex processes. Those things that help us work through a problem, or perhaps it is a point of reference that will always be a guiding light for our creative processes.  We can decide to travel to different countries or even different worlds, we can create new places, new processes, new ideas and even some authors have gone on to be the inspiration for inventors. Our creative process allows us to fly, to be free of constraint, we push boundaries and we make our characters suffer, in the name of our creative process.

Amy Wright, owner and author over at Murder Library and Serial Killer GPS app and the associated Facebook page which is incredibly informative explains her creative process...
Once I have an idea and start to put it on paper, I like to look at photos of the subject. I usually print them out or save them to a document, and start writing down words or phrases that come to mind when I'm looking at them. I often put the photos into a timeline, and write underneath. Eventually I can mix it all together to form my piece.
Musician and author Peter Altieri has a different approach to his creative process
For me, silence is golden. I get creative most times when I'm ready to write and the house is quiet. The next best thing is putting on headphones and listen to thunderstorm noise. With kids and grandkids, I've had to get creative over the years in many ways.
Charlotte Frisby  shares a similar approach to Peter, in preferring silence to create, both in mind and body.
Creativity comes often after the initial idea has formed in my mind, when I listen to a particular piece of music that 'fits' the story - always classical. Then sections of the story will flow in my mind. The house has to be empty and tidy - not sure why but if I have other things to do, that intrudes on the process and instead of figuring out how the character could be killed, the character drifts off to do housework or something equally odd. 

Authors are well known procrastinators. I cannot tell you how many times I have paired all the socks in the odd-sock basket, purely to avoid having to face the dreaded realisation that I have a void of ideas and I know that I should be writing.  I find the cleaning bug often strikes too when I have spare time and the opportunity to get in some extra writing time. We can find some extremely creative ways to avoid the fear of writing.  Of course these days we also have social media, for most of us it's a new way to avoid writing, and it can be extremely detrimental to the writing process, but sometimes the creative process can be so extremely enjoyable that nothing can get in our way when we are writing. It is those moments that makes it all truly worth it. Even looking through older status on my facebook I find some amazing comments that make me love the creative process of pulling ideas together.

 Tegan Barber another of my "serial killer" friends (in that she writes about serial killers, not that she is one)
My creativity comes to me from the real world and real people. I commonly find myself sitting in a public place like a cafe and writing down random bits of conversations I overhear or things I see that I like such as hair colour, tattoo ideas or building design.
Author David Russell goes a little deeper in his thought process on how he works through is early creative process,
Creativity is imagination, and the imagination is the creativity. The two go hand in hand.
For me, creativity isn't the process of putting the words down, it is what happens in the mind. After that comes the transition from mind to paper, the hard work. I visualise the things I want others to see, and describe those things as best I can. I'd like to think that more often not it works out okay.
Award winning author Rosanne Dingli explains
Inspiration means as little to me as "idea". Until either has been solidified into a good concept, with a solid premise, some tangible leads forward, and a proper understanding of what their whole might become, I trust neither ideas nor inspiration.
My life has shown me that idea-driven projects fail unless that ethereal inspired fragment has been taken and made real. Inspiration must be acted upon, and not only by putting the thought in writing. One must tackle the topic, see what others have done before, work on what emerges using analytical principles, and THEN one might have something worth developing.

A dear friend, author Karen Carlise has gone all out when responding to the question I posed. I think
it really highlights the pure joy of the creative process of an author and why we come back book after book, spending hour after lonely hour pulling together incredible ideas and amazing storylines.
Ah, research. Now you’re talking! This is the fun bit.
Once I have the seed of an idea, I need to let it grow. I try to immerse myself in the atmosphere, the mindset and the mechanics of the story. For me that is often nineteenth century, with a twist. But to know where to twist reality, and still keep the reader’s suspension of belief, requires a lot of background information.

First I gather up as many visuals as I can find (I’m a visual person: possibly the artist in me?): photos, maps and books written on my chosen theme/subject for a story. Fortunately, there are many virtual tours of historical buildings and ‘Victorian lifestyle’ documentaries available either online or on DVD. I sometimes make drawings of specific contraptions or characters...
For Doctor Jack, I read books and articles, and watched a slew of Jack the Ripper documentaries (including one with you, Amanda - you can watch it here). Currently I am reading Magic: stage illusions and scientific diversions, including trick photography (published in 1897) for the third book in my current series.

For the ‘smells and bells’, I do as many road trips as I can afford. I’ve done photoshoots in historic areas of Adelaide and, earlier this year, our local library did a bus tour of early historic buildings in the area; we were permitted to walk through some privately-owned buildings and discuss their history with the owners and local historian. I’ve even had a guided tour of ‘behind the walls’ at one of the Medici palaces in Florence. That will likely feature in another story that’s been bubbling away...
When I can’t physically experience something, I return to my default: do research... I’ve been fortunate to have experienced many things in my lifetime. I have friends who have done research or lecture in the most amazing (or obscure) subjects and are willing to share their experiences. This helps to germinate the seeds of my ideas. Then I just need to feed them with research and hope they grow.
So pushing further into this process, I want to share my own, explaining that first concept when inspiration has already struck and now the creative process begins, using my most recent true crime book, Rope: A History of the Hanged.  The concept and inspiration was the easy part, write a book on hangings, but then I needed to get creative, writing about a dozen or so people being hanged would be very very dull. So where did I take that?

Though I will go into research in a lot more depth later in the Author's journey, I will touch on it slightly here also. Having written many true crime books, I have some incredible resources to fall back on, working through piles of historical reading material I let the stories become part of my creative process. Finding themes, such as people that had been hanged wrongly, and wrongly hanged. Stories of escape. There was no writing just yet, just getting the ideas flowing, using some records as a basis of the book, and then searching through my own assumed knowledge that floats around my brain I was able to start bringing together some great ideas. I began with some very rough chapter headings, murders by hanging, suicides, escapes, the creative juices quickly began to flow as I recalled cases that would fit perfectly into the various chapter headings I had penciled in.

Now I hear you now... "But Amanda, I am not writing a book on hangings, I am not even writing a non-fiction, so how does this help me?"  Recently someone asked how different is it writing in both fiction and non-fiction, and my response was that they are both challenging in their own ways. Non-fiction requires that massive amount of research and references and various amounts of checking and cross checking, with fiction you are free to write whatever you want and then get stuck when your muse is not talking to you. So whilst in non-fiction the 'story' is already there, it is restrictive, and in fiction it is non-restrictive, but you need to ramp up the imagination and creativity. This can be tricky. I often collate a pile of ideas and notes (see previous posts about inspiration and where to be begin) and then it's time to get creative.

Even when I am working in fiction, I put together a chapter list, a list of ideas, a brief explanation of what I want to happen and when, including the ending if I have it. Now it may begin as a list of 15-20 linked ideas, for instance various victims (I write thrillers so there is always a body count), a couple of red herrings, some personal events for the main characters, a few diverging issues that keep the story interesting. Often these little tantalizing ideas will get the creative process bubbling along. I work out how the killer become entwined with the story line, how they are caught. Of course it sounds a lot easier than it is in process. Often I will find massive gaps and need to work on that process. I talk to family, friends and readers about ideas, seeing how far I can push the boundaries. Still no story line detail is written, just working out that first creative journey.  If I am stuck or frustrated, I will often go for a run, often with my phone to my ear, talking through ideas with those who understand my process, bouncing ideas, asking advice. I need to find the skeleton (pardon the pun) of the story line before I can start.

Though I have mentioned earlier that writing in fiction is much freer than non-fiction, there is still plenty of research that can go into a story. I've freaked out my neighbours by conducting blood splatter experiments in my back yard. I've spent countless hours talking to serial killers, getting into their minds, learning the way they speak, it is those kinds of creative details that can make the stories more believable and in my case, (hopefully) far more chilling.

This is the joy of a writer when the process is working and working well. It can be just as exciting as the actual writing. I have marvelled at artifacts from history as I have travelled to different countries in search of research material, I have stood where many a criminal was hanged and felt the chills wash over me. A moment in time can inspire a hundred story lines if you get creative with your processes.

I know many of you are extremely keen to talk through what happens when the muse is mute and writer's block strikes. That will be another topic coming soon, so be sure to keep visiting for more.

Until next time, I leave you with a little writing task, something to get those creative juices flowing.  This was something I did earlier in my Master's degree and found the responses quite amazing. Write about a first in your life. First kiss, first tragedy, first fear, first bike, first friend, first book, first loss... Make it something that is outside of your comfort zone and also write outside your genre... if you write humour, write something tragic, if you write romance, write something horror. Go to the opposite end of your scale and see what you can create!



Amanda Howard

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