Garth Nix is the author of one of my favorite trilogies (the Abhorsen books) and he has written a concise, lucid, intelligent summary of his writing process. I recognize every stage that he talks about, and I think most writers will.
“A week, a month or even years after that initial ‘small vision’ I will usually sit down and try and work out the bare bones of the story and how I am going to tell it. I look back at the notes I’ve taken and I dredge up all the salient points I’ve been thinking about it. Then I sit down and write a chapter outline. This is quite a simple affair. I write a paragraph for each chapter, describing what happens.
I sometimes wonder why I bother to do this, as my chapter outlines rarely bear any close resemblance to the finished book. I’ve usually departed from the outline within a few chapters and by the time I’m halfway through a novel there is often almost no correlation between the outline and the actual story.
In retrospect, this chapter outlining serves two purposes. One is that it makes me think about the overall structure of the novel, which I think kickstarts some subconscious process that will continue through the writing, monitoring the narrative structure. The second purpose is that it serves as a psychological prop. If I have a chapter outline, I presume I know where I’m going, even when I don’t really. In this sense the chapter outline is like a very out-of-date map. Most of it is wrong, but there will be some landmarks on it. So if I get terribly lost in my book, I can always go back to the outline and though most of it will be wrong, I might see some important plot point or notes for a character that will help me get back on the narrative road.”
“[The writer] must be in his story but not apparently in it; the story must go his way while appearing to act itself out. For this sort of skill, the short story is the practice ground. It is so short that a flaw in the point of view shows up like a spider in the cream; it is so concentrated that it forces a writer to develop great economy and structural skill; and it is so intense that like a high-velocity bullet it has the knock-down power of a heavier missile.
And a writer must knock readers down. This is what he must constantly have in mind: to make people listen, to catch their attention, to find ways to make them hold still while he says what he so passionately wants to say. He is an ancient mariner laying hands on wedding guests, staying them with his skinny hand and his glittering eye. And though creative writing as an intellectual exercise may be pursued with profit by anyone, writing as a profession is not a job for amateurs, dilettantes, part-time thinkers, 25-watt feelers, the lazy, the insensitive, or the imitative. It is for the creative, and creativity implies both talent and hard work.”
-Wallace Stegner On Teaching and Writing Fiction
Nick Kazan has written scripts for the films Reversal of Fortune, At Close Range, Frances, and more. In this 10-minute clip he talks about his process as a writer, from engaging storyline to authentic dialogue.
The March ‘Intro to Fairy Tales’ class is going swimmingly, thanks for asking! We have six full-time students and one who drops in when he can take time away from working on his Ph.D. in mythopoetic studies at the Pacifica Graduate Institute (this is an unusual privilege – don’t go getting any fancy ideas). In terms of age, I think we’ve got a representative from each decade of life from the teens to the fifties (with a few doubling up in the 20s and 30s); in terms of experience, we span the entire spectrum, as well. And it works beautifully! Class discussions are funny, intelligent, and engaging thanks to the cool folks who came out to play this time.
Last night was the third class in this series, so we have officially hit the halfway mark. There’s no turning back now! With each class we move steadily closer to our goal of a complete, polished, original fairy tale for every student. There’s some great imagery on the table, and I’m looking forward to the stories that are in the pipeline.
Check back in three or four weeks (at the very least), when I will post student stories – if the students in question don’t get too shy!
This video is not, on the surface, related to fairy tales or the creative process. But it is if you look under the hood. Aimee Mullins is a double amputee who has prosthetic legs of every variety – sprinting legs modeled after the hind legs of a cheetah (she broke a world record for speed in the ’90s), carved wooden legs like baroque fantasies, polyurethane legs that look like glass, and more. She talks about that ability that is imperative, vital for artists to have: true sight, the ability to see beyond the surface of things, the ability to breed seemingly unrelated ideas to create exotic, miraculous offspring.
Hopefully her short lecture will inspire you to see new wavelengths of creative light.
Delicious video of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Toni Morrison, Jessye Norman, Judith Weir on the Charlie Rose Show talking about a collaboration they did called Woman.Life.Song. Interesting, funny, intelligent conversation about creativity, femininity, and more.