Well, I did not complete the next Great American Novel. I don’t think that was ever possible, especially with the non-existent free time I’ve had throughout this year thanks to classes and clinical practice. While my Pulitzer may still be a few years off, I did learn a lot about the writing process and how I can improve as a writer. I found a variety of resources that allowed me to hone different aspects of my craft, from character depth to avoiding passive voice and overuse of adverbs (thanks, Hemingway!). When I set out on this journey at the start of the term, I sought to answer a few questions, and I think I’ve learned a lot to help me do that.
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1. What setting (location/time/noise level) works best for me in terms of creative writing?
I found that I am at my most creative late at night (which of course conflicted with my early morning clinical practice). Location didn’t seem to have much bearing on my writing, as long as I was able to sit comfortably. The noise level piece seems to have been key for me, as I had suspected due to my being an auditory learner. If there’s ambient noise, I get distracted and my work suffers. I found that I write best when I have my noise-cancelling earbuds in, and when I’m listening to mostly instrumental music (I end up typing out lyrics otherwise). In particular, the albums “The Northern Borders” and “Black Sands” by Bonobo were very conducive to my writing.
2. How can I best plan out the broader plot arcs of a story to ensure it remains a tightly interconnected central narrative?
One of my biggest obstacles to accomplishing this in the past has been my tendency to let a story spiral out, the cast and subplots multiplying until the thread of the original story has been lost. Using the character creation guides and supports NaNoWriMo made available, I was able to avoid this. Instead of adding new things all the time, i was able to create a deeper interplay between existing elements of my story while keeping the number of threads to track very finite.
3. How much of my personal experience/historical knowledge should I include in my writing to keep it relatable?
I found that I liked my writing best when I largely kept my experiences out of it. Some lines of dialog and specific events were similar to those I myself had experienced, but I found it much more freeing to imagine events and people removed from my own life.
4. Is it better to plan out broad themes beforehand, or start writing and see what comes up?
A mixed approach seems the most natural to me now. I started with specific ideas and scenes in mind, but as the story went on I found that those elements were warping and shifting based on how I was feeling at the time. I was able to keep the core content I had in mind from the start, but I was also able to have spontaneous inspiration layer on top of that to create what was, in my opinion, a stronger whole.
5. What sorts of drafting procedures do published authors typically employ?
Looking at NaNoWriMo, it seems, writers use a wide variety of strategies with regard to drafting. Honestly, while the NaNoWriMo stuff was very helpful, I feel I learned the most about drafting in Humanities Methods class, when Blaze Newman spoke to us about Writing to Learn. The purpose of drafting as I now understand it is to transition from the creative portion of the brain, where the story ideas and content are being generated, and allow the organized section to go through checking for spelling, grammar, and narrative errors. The use of some of the simplistic writing tools I found (like Writer) made it much easier for me to focus on getting ideas down on paper first and then organizing them later. Furthermore, I have become more aware of my tendency to switch back and forth between the two during most of my writing since Blaze’s presentation. Reading interviews with published authors, it seems that there is no one-size-fits-all best drafting procedure. It’s all a matter of finding what works best for you. This is an ideology that I have also taken into my clinical practice, recognizing that students refine their work in different ways and doing my best to support those different ways.
6. What sorts of dialog am I best suited to writing?
I feel that my best dialog is that which sounds the most like how I talk. Why this caught me by surprise is a mystery to me, but it is what it is. I have a very specific (and some would say irritating) manner of speech, and writing in that manner feels more natural to me than any other. That’s not to say every character in my story sounded the same, though. While I may not have wanted to take events or people from my personal life, I did find myself mimicking the speech patterns of people I know as I went through and wrote out dialog between different characters.
7. Am I able to set aside a set time each week to work on writing, or am I better off writing whenever inspiration strikes?
Honestly, it was kind of foolish of me to think I would be able to schedule writing time. Aside from the fickle nature of the muse and so on, I also found that between coursework, meetings outside of my coursework related to the credential program, planning, teaching, and grading my classes, working on TPAs, and keeping any other plates I had spinning from crashing down left me with no scheduled time to work on writing. However, this did mean that I discovered that I am a very productive writer when I am either sneaking a quick writing session in, or (as was more often the case) procrastinating on some other project or assignment.
8. How long should this story be?
As I mentioned in a previous post, the style in which I write seems best suited to a longer story, but (again) the many varied demands upon my time meant that I was unable to complete an entire work. That being said, knowing that I work best in long-form stories will help me to know what I’m getting myself into in the future when it comes time to work on something in writing (as the verbosity of this post no doubt demonstrates, I tend to prattle on a bit).
9. How can I best toe the line between homage and outright theft?
I found this line to be easier to manage than I had thought it would be. I don’t think this is because I am a master of intellectual property (HA!) or just so creative I don’t need to think of other works (HA HA!). Instead, I think I reached the point where so many things I had read, seen, and heard were influencing me that my work was an amalgamation of homages that was no longer identifiable as part of any one thing.
10. Am I suited to writing collaboratively, or would I be more productive working alone?
I briefly pondered writing collaboratively with a friend, but my lack of time travel abilities quickly made it clear that this would not work. That being said, I do think that interacting with others during my writing process is a valuable practice. Instead of writing collaboratively, however, I will aim for a mutual exchange with some of my friends who are also creatively inclined. By setting (for example) a day each week when we exchange our new work, I push myself to find time to work on my writing regularly while also benefitting from feedback on my work.
As the above responses show, while I may not have succeeded at finishing my story, I did gain a wide range of highly valuable resources, skills, and knowledge of myself that I can put to work in many areas of my life from now on. With that in mind, I think I would label this project a failure, but a successful one.