Writing Process Notes

I was talking to someone the other day about how I write, integrate life into writing, and vice versa, and she basically shamed me for not posting writing advice on my blog. I don’t really have any writing advice; what I do have is habits. Here are some of my habits.

  • The Idea Jar. The first iteration of this was a Hershey’s Cocoa tin with a slit cut in the top like a piggy bank. The current one is a Ball jar. Its purpose is to serve as a repository of all the ideas that don’t have a home yet. Sometimes, when I get stuck or feel like a piece of writing is bland, I’ll rummage around in there and see if anything fits. Recently, I ended up combining several into a description of a car a character was thinking of buying* and it worked out magnificently. Some things might never find a hole and make no sense out of context: A place that generations of spiders had discovered was a useless location to set up shop. Some of them are just quips: You can’t steal boyfriends, honey, they’re ambulatory. This is where all those little things from dreams go. The lines that come to you on long drives. The things your friends say that make you laugh and ask permission to put in a book. My favorite example of this last one comes from Midge: You’ve kicked my ass, ma’am! Asses off to you!
  • Phone Notes. Digital version of the Idea Jar. Easily accessible from home screen. Vital for turning observation into fiction, especially on road trips. Can be converted to analog later when you have paper scraps and post-its available, then stuffed into the Idea Jar.
  • Aleatoricism. The integration of chance into the creative process. Yes, sometimes I really do roll the dice. Sometimes I ask Twitter. Sometimes I click though Wikipedia until something hits me in the face. The exception to this is the question will the dog survive? The dog always lives. I flipped a coin one this once, and realized while it was in the air that I had made a mistake. This is my promise to readers; the dog always lives.
  • The Wall of Notes. Novels are big. Like, really big. And I have never once sat down to write a novel knowing everything that happened from beginning to The End. Sometimes, though, I know that about two-thirds of the way through a character is going to do something specific. This is why I prefer the wall of notes (or picture window of sticky notes, as I’m using now) to the notebook. I can leave gaps, or move things around. Digital cork board works just as well.
  • Theft. Using things from real life is really the best thing you can do to make fiction. Give your ethereal fluff some real bones. Write in a bumper sticker you saw in real life. Recycle that funny story about the guy at the bodega. Steal. If your friend says something great, steal that, too, but ask first. If only to be sure that they didn’t swipe it from someone else.

* Excerpt from a short story about Zelda:

“Look, hon, I’m happy to sell you this car, but you should know some things about it.”

The woman eyeballed her purple PT Cruiser.

“It’s basically a rebadged toaster. It purrs like a cockroach. It doesn’t start on full moons. The left turn signal goes on if you hit a pothole too hard, but the trunk only opens if you kick the bumper. And it smells like chihuahua. That’s never coming out.”

Zelda sighed a happy sigh and hugged the grape-popsicle hood. “She’s perfect.”

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