I want to focus on creation. By this, I mean both in this essay and in my work. There are several mechanics of writing which fascinate me and the process and nature of creation are among them.
Story creation is different for every writer. We can be planners with outlines which guide the story or we can follow the story wherever it leads. I am the latter type of creative.
I first tried writing when I was fourteen. My sister-in-law had a word processor she let me borrow to write papers for school. I started writing a book about a group of teens who went to the woods for a party and wake up in a government facility where they are being experimented on. I got to the part of the story where the teens return to their lives and I stopped. I stopped because I was afraid.
I was told my whole life to “write what I know”, but I didn’t know anything. I was sheltered and shut off from the world, but more importantly, I was shut off from myself. I didn’t know what I thought or felt about any of the things going on in these teens lives because I was no one. I was whoever people wanted me to be, I was meant to appease and placate them. I was a blank slate for them to throw their anger and pain at and in return I gave them the cruelty and entertainment they desired. This is no way to live let alone be a writer.
I tore the book up. I stuffed it in trash bags and put junk on top of it so no one would ever know I had started to write something and failed.
Two years later the bug got me again. A story haunted my thoughts. It was there whenever I closed my eyes. I would follow it in my head and watch the characters grow knowing they would always be safe inside my mind. But one night I convinced myself to write it out. I wrote the story of a young adult who’s small-town becomes scandalized by a gruesome murder. A tall dark stranger arrives in town to investigate and the woman can not help but be drawn to him and the mystery. I got as far as the two main characters meeting before I threw this second endeavor away.
How could I write about love? I didn’t know or understand the love I wanted my characters to find. I saw types of love represented in movies and books. I saw glimpses of what I imagined it could be. How could I write about the love I wanted for my characters?
Then I met Michael.
I picked up writing again at twenty-six. I wanted to capture love the way I understood it now. Something that is selfless, and sweet but built on respect. There was also something inside me that couldn’t wait. I was tired of being told what I couldn’t do or who I should be. I thought, “why should everyone else get to decide what’s best for me?”
I began writing Shade. I wrote the story of a young woman and her brother trying to survive in a dying world against an authoritarian government and creatures of darkness who possess the mind and steal your life. I was writing what I knew. But more than that I was writing what I dreamed, what I imagined could be. I stopped defining my writing by what others would think of it and started writing for me.
The words flowed from me this third time. They found me like the river finds the sea. Every time I sat in front of the screen I felt the story bubble up inside me and out through my hands. I can’t type without looking at my hands, and I watch my hands tell my stories. The one I can’t speak but can’t write with ease. When I write, it feels as if the story is this independent thing, it flows through me as if it needs to be written. It will rush out of me in order as if it’s playing out, and the story will nag at me when I’m not writing. This leads to this mindset and mentality that I am just a vessel or servant to the story. This is something that I discovered I have in common with Stephen King when I read his book “On Writing”.
“My job isn’t to help them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety-those jobs require the noisy jackhammer of plot-but to watch what happens and then write it down.”
When I separate the story from myself and make it its own thing, it frees the story from my ego. As writers, we sometimes become attached to our stories and we feel they are extensions of ourselves. I might not sacrifice a character or idea that I loved if my ego were attached. However, if the story is separate, if it flows organically then I can just tend and support it where it needs and the story will reveal itself. My characters aren’t me but they are, the experiences aren’t mine but they are. I write the world as I see it laid out before me.
I began to read books I never would have picked up before. Being raised in a white patriarchal religion puts a set of blinders on you. I took them off and began to see all the lives and experiences I was missing. I realized I only had books by white cismen, this was the only perspective I knew. Even favorite shows were written by men. I am a huge fan of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Firefly (but isn’t that guy a fake feminist). This made my perspective limited.
Growing up I read most of Stephen King’s work, and I even had a book which explained how all his works were connected. King tells stories of all sizes and perspectives, from the end of the world to a young boy trapped in a car and terrorized by a rabid dog. Stephen King writes about the ‘What-If?’ in life. This is his method of story creation. In his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King talks about his process of story creation.
“A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me. The most interesting situations can easily be expressed as a What-If question: What if Vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot)” (King, 2000)
This “What-If?” mechanic is a way of investigating and satiating King’s curiosity about the world. He puts his characters in situations just to see how they will react. It is like he has run hundreds of experiments with changing factors distilling human nature down to either greatness of failure. This is interesting to me because it can be applied to stories of any scope, I can use What-If and build a universe around it, or a single event. Because of my early years and being cut off from myself, I am interested in figuring out how and why people behave the way they do, or how someone might react to certain stimulus. The “What If” is a way of putting yourself in that person’s head. This helped me understand how to discover my voice but I couldn’t begin to discover my voice without being honest with myself.
Honesty and creativity go hand in hand for a writer. We write the truth on the page and hope to find ourselves in it.
While King specializes in “What If” there are other ways to create a story. All authors have their advice for writing. One thing we all agree on is that a writer must read, read, read and write, write, write. Another author who inspires me, Ursula LeGuin, has a less formulated approach to writing.
“There are “secrets” to making a story work — but they apply only to that particular writer and that particular story. You find out how to make the thing work by working at it — coming back to it, testing it, seeing where it sticks or wobbles or cheats, and figuring out how to make it go where it has to go (Le Guin).”
Stories can come from personal experience, a dream, or they can come from a place of cultivated creativity. Creativity is like a muscle or a garden. It is something that people have which helps them think outside of established physical reality. The best way to harvest the fruit of creativity is to feed it. You feed it other creations. Books, music, art, movies, and television are all the labor of some other creative’s garden. (Make sure to compensate them for their labor.) Go there and breath the air, watch the sway of the leaves, and follow the path laid out before you. But this is just the food your creativity needs to grow, you also have to give it sunlight and water it. Sunlight for creativity is the actual doing. It is writing out a poem a dozen times till it says what you want it to say. It is trying a new perspective on a story to gain a new perspective, or spending time just naming things. As you grow your creativity it will begin to react to the world around you. You’ll find inspiration in the ordinary and meaning in the chaos. You need to water creativity too. You have to listen to others, be introspective, and be willing to change. You need to work on the craft of writing.
The biggest obstacle for my own creativity is my anxiety and depression. When I’m anxious, it is like a cloud of impossible hangs around me and I can’t see my way out. When I’m depressed, there is no reason to try. But nurturing creativity is also pleasurable and exciting. When I’m creative, I feel like my mind is doing what it was built to do.
Where once I had only one perspective to draw from, I have other writers who inspire me now. On creativity, Le Guin said, “The creative adult is the child who has survived.”
My story gives me hope for my writing future. I survived. My creativity didn’t quit trying to break out no matter how much doubt and shame I felt. In return, I won’t quit giving it what it needs to grow. My creativity helps me find be introspective about myself and others, it helps me express my emotions and myself, and it helps me be me. But it’s not the creativity, it’s me. I found myself. I found the path I need to take. I found my story. I found the words of creation which will allow me to finally have a voice.
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Scribner, New York, 2000.
Le Guin, Ursula K., “How DO You Make Something Good?” Book View Café, July 27 2015.
Le Guin, Ursula via Ragsdale, Melissa. “These Ursula Le Guin Quotes Will Inspire You to Read Everything She’s Ever Written”, Bustle, January 23, 2018.