Creativity as Process and Pattern

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my creativity and my creative pursuits and how to continue to do them and enjoy them even when I’m not feeling especially inspired or motivated.  I’ve realized that most of the creative things I do follow a type of process, and that I take comfort in that process.

Take sewing for example.  You have a pattern that needs to be cut out of the fabric and then there are steps that need to be done in a certain order to sew everything together and finish all the edges and make it into a complete and finished item.  The same goes for things like cross stitch, crochet and knitting.  There’s a pattern you’re following, even if it’s something as simple as making a row with a few dozen stitches made a few dozen times to make a square.

I find that this applies to my writing as well.  It’s not always quite as obvious, but there are patterns to most writing.  Whether it’s a pattern of rhetorical choices made in a persuasive piece, a pattern of plot in a narrative, or a structural pattern for something descriptive.  There’s always going to be an underlying structure to the final product that shows the pattern I was working from.

With my writing, these patterns are often something invisible, something that only exists in my head, but they’re also a tool I use for revision and improving the piece.  With fiction, I don’t usually write the pattern down in advance, but I do map it out after the first draft.  But that’s just my discovery writing style process, and I have been experimenting with plotting out stories in advance.  That plot outline is the pattern you’re applying to the narrative.  There are all sorts of ways to think about that pattern and how to create it: seven-point plot structure, three act structure, or the snowflake method.  All of those give a sort of template for the process at least if not the actual structure of the plotting pattern itself.

I find patterns comforting.  Humans are a bit hard wired to see patterns (which is why we read so much into what is actually random or coincidental).  I can use that to my advantage when I’m doing something like a sudoku or picture-cross puzzle, where it’s obviously about patterns, but I can also use that pattern recognition tendency in things like my crafting hobbies and my writing.  Almost every sewing pattern I’ve used that has a modern style sleeve has basically the same instructions.  I can use that familiar pattern to help me make a better sleeve next time.

With my writing, the process of it all, the drafting, revising, and editing, helps me keep going even when I’m not feeling particularly motivated.  The habit of doing something every day at the same time helps my brain shift into the familiar pattern of writing work at that time each day.  I find it easier to write during my morning sprints than almost any other time these days.  My brain is so used to getting up, getting ready, and settling down to write before anything else, that it falls into the thought patterns that help me write.

In times like these, when the motivation or inspiration may not always be there, having the process to fall back on is great.  If I can’t think of anything to draft, I can work on revisions I’ve made notes about before, fill in details for a plot, character, or setting I’ve been working on, or copy edit something that’s nearly finished.  I can keep doing the work, even if it’s only for a short time, and that keeps the pattern of my daily writing work happening.

In the end, the process is how you get from an idea to a finished piece.  Whether it’s the process of laying out the colors to go in each square for a cross stitch pattern, making those stitches, following the pattern directions for a sewing project, or following the process of drafting and revision that works for you, it’s all about process.  Despite the romanticized vision of sudden inspiration, creative products don’t just happen.  Someone puts a lot of work into them by following their own personal creative process.

Right now, I’m taking some much-needed joy in appreciating that process for its own sake.

Camp NaNoWriMo July 2020 Week Three

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It’s been an interesting several months for a variety of reasons.  I kept my Camp NaNoWriMo July 2020 goal fairly low to allow for that.  I’ve been able to maintain a word count a little above my part for most of the month.  I’ve had a couple 3k days, which spiked me up but I’ve ended up plateauing a bit right after each of those, with some days with less or even no writing happening.  I’m back to fairly close to par again.

I’ve been playing with a brand new idea for July and completely pantsing it to get back to my comfort zone for a while.  I haven’t given up on the plotting experiment, I’m just taking a break.  The idea I’ve been working on grew out of a series of image prompt responses that will be posting in September, October, and November.  So you everyone can look forward to a little sneak peek of how my pantser projects usually start.

It’s this strange combination of modern fantasy and semi-apocalypse science fiction.  There are Fae and magic crystal fueled magitech but there are also cell phones and laptops and normal people.  It’s set in the UK, with the original image prompt posts taking place in Wales and Scotland respectively.  Eventually the whole thing lands in London and in theory the motley cast of characters will pull together to solve the problem and pull the British Isles back out of the stasis the Fae put them in to stop the actual apocalypse from happening.

We’ll see how this goes.  For perspective, that’s the level of planning I usually do before I start writing in earnest.  It may start with a scene idea or a character idea and a little writing (like I did on those image prompts) and then it will grow into a little paragraph of plot summary while more writing happens and things sort of spiral out or (or into) control from there.

So that’s what my July project has been, and I’ve written most days so far, and I’m feeling reasonably good about the project as a whole.  We’ll see if I still feel good about it a week from now when camp is over.  If so, I’ll probably keep working on it.  If not, it will join the large list of files (and notebooks and printouts and loose pages…) containing abandoned ideas that I mayor my not every return to.  That’s something I’ve found most writers have.  But that’s how you get better at all this, but practicing your craft over and over and over, even if you don’t finish every single piece you start.

If you’re doing the Camp NaNo thing with me, I hope your project is going at least as well as mine and continues to come along as we near the end of the month.

NaNoWriMo, Process, and December Writing Goals

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I’m very proud of my efforts during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year.  I talked about that last week.  This week, I want to talk about NaNoWriMo in the greater context of my writing process.

Writing is a process.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you different.  That process also looks different for each and every author.  Some do more planning up front.  Some are like me and Terry Pratchett who said “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”  Some struggle over drafts and relish the chance to edit.  Others (like me) love the drafting process and get bogged down during revisions and edits. Continue reading

Rotating Projects

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Every writer’s process is a little different.  Some writers plan everything out in advance while others fly by the seat of their pants as they draft, and you can find a writer that falls everywhere in between.  Some writers edit and correct and adjust as they go.  Others get the entire story out in a single draft and then go back and revise, rewrite, cut, and add.  Some keep working on a single project from draft to final manuscript all in one go.  Others jump from project to project.

I try to reflect on my own process periodically so that I can see what’s working and where I might need to try something new.  Sometimes it’s worth moving yourself along any of the various process spectrums until you’re in a little different place.  Sometimes, this is a disaster and doesn’t help anything.  Sometimes it’s miraculous and suddenly increases your productivity.  And sometimes, you just have to do what you have to do. Continue reading