You asked: What is my creative process like?

Well, today it’s not very smooth. Although it’s nothing like how awful it was during the eighteen months I was blocked. So, let’s see. This topic seems kind of boring to me. But maybe it will help me write something else I want to write today.

For approaching five years now, approximately, I have woken up in the morning wanting badly to write. My ratio of desire to write to actual writing is 4 or 5 to 1, and the ratio of what I write to what gets published is 2 or 3 to 1. I’m a perfectionist and a lot of stuff I think about doesn’t make it to written words and a lot of stuff that makes it to words doesn’t make it to you. I can’t always explain what stops me. Some things predictably almost never make it to the screen (something that is so excruciatingly personal that even I can’t publish it, or reflections that cross the lines that Servetus has drawn around what she will say in public, or stuff that’s likely to give me more grief than I want to take on that day, or things that appear half-baked or to need more thought) but sometimes I write things that I don’t publish for reasons I can’t explain, and then abandon. Like approximately 90,000 words of a 120,000 word book manuscript for Oxford UP. Sigh. And now I’m writing a novel or novels, too … without knowing whether I’ll ever be able to expose that prose to the light of day, either.

Yes, I’m cognizant that I’m strange about my writing in ways that do not always benefit me. I’m keeping my day job — in which I have to do a surprising amount of writing, too.

Anyway, incubation: I experience an audible running inner dialogue for my waking hours, not just about Richard Armitage but about everything. For the last five years, I have kept a notebook next to my computer where I jot things down. When I’m reading on screen, I also screencap quotations and save images that prompt my thoughts in a particular direction and I keep them in a folder for inspiration. With exception of pictures of Richard Armitage, words are always more inspiring to me than photos — although sometimes I see photos that illustrate what I’ve been thinking about. Sometimes ideas percolate over months, other things hit immediately and I write about them at my very next opportunity. I have a special page for spoof ideas because I exploit them only under very particular circumstances, although if one hits when my mood is “right” for elaborating, I will make the effort to be timely. Every now and then, I see an opportunity to publish something I’ve already written that suddenly appears relevant. To answer a specific question — I don’t really have a filing system for things that relate to Richard Armitage.

The threshold hardest for me to cross on a daily basis marks the boundary between idea and text. In order to do that I have to generate flow and the process to do that can be precarious. I try to write every night — even if flow eludes me — because I suspect writing is like running (although I have never run) or any other repetitive activity; the more you do it, the more automatic it becomes while the longer you neglect it, the harder it gets. I hope I’ve trained myself out of block at this point but I experience a certain amount of trauma on that point.

When my free time was organized differently, I usually started with morning pages (often not in the morning, and I also type rather than writing. Longhand I reserve for moments of extreme distraction or need for strong concentration [as when recording memories precisely], because while it can increase my focus, it also drastically slows down the stream of words). That was the main thing I took away from Julia Cameron. I still do morning pages on weekends and some evenings now. At the moment the pages are mostly important if something bothers me enough to keep me from writing and I can’t figure it out — which happens a lot less than it used to do as I’ve become more adept at using my Richard Armitage fantasies actively to get at what’s eating me. And I do that in my head, as necessary. I used to write a lot of them down; less so now although I still record some of the main themes and it’s been something I wanted to write about more this year — the utility of Armitage fantasy in self-liberation and how it’s worked for me.

Next comes topic selection. It depends heavily on my mood, but not just on that. I consider current events (does something happening in what we learn about Richard Armitage’s life and career or in Armitageworld merit or provoke comment?) but also try not to get in a rut as a writer or fan. I think about audience members and things they’ve said, and it would be a lie to say I’m not writing for a specific audience that I imagine in my brain (as I noted this fall, when a shift in my picture of my audience caused some severe turmoil). Some nights original writing just won’t come (often when there’s too much new information to process, and that’s an initial intellectual step for me — uptake) and on those nights I limit myself to remarks on things I’ve enjoyed or that made me think, and I try to catch up with notifications and conversations that are going on privately. I frequently have a chat window open in FB for conversations with my Armitage besties, and admittedly sometimes on evenings when I want to write I get too enmeshed in conversations about some of my preoccupations or bêtes noires to drag myself away. Or, lately, I might get involved in a conversation with Pesky, who’s editing his latest book manuscript and also experiences his own share of issues with avoidance. Usually, writing at adjoining tables enhances our writing virtue, but not always.

When I have chosen a specific topic and think I am ready to blog about it, I open a new post on WP (or if I am working on my other project, a window in MSWord). I tend to do this before mobilizing all of the other writing support mechanisms, because sometimes I can simply sit down and let go of my fingers and stuff pours out. If I know that a post will have a picture or pictures, I try to locate those first because looking at them while I am writing is helpful and because interrupting myself to look for something can be destructive to the stream of words. If everything goes right, the words come out and my brain gets occupied with the words and flow emerges. What I seek for is a state of mind in which I am completely caught up and forget that I exist separately from words and thoughts and feelings. Worship in another way, if you will.

More often that doesn’t happen, or at least not immediately or fully. So, like every writer, I have preconditions and crutches for successful writing experiences.

Preconditions: I need to be healthy (not acutely sick), awake, fed, watered, sober, comfortably dressed in loose and nondescript clothing, sitting in my best writing posture at a table in public (café or library or office — it’s hard for me to write at home because I am constantly distracted by the possibility of taking a nap), in a space with the right temperature and non-fluorescent lighting and a fair amount of white noise / background distraction, with stable Internet access. If any of these factors are missing, I get preoccupied with whatever my brain perversely decides to fix on. This can be especially bad with food or beer cravings.

It’s hard to describe the emotional space where I best experience flow as a writer. I call it the “sweet spot.” Maybe the best adjective for it would be phlegmatic. That is to say: I have to be in a very emotional state, one that was extremely rare for me until I encountered Armitage, to have the sensations that lead to an emotional post — but in order to write about it, I have to come down from there so the words come and so the state of mind becomes describable. Frequently, I have an idea for an emotional post, but I can’t bring myself to go to the emotional place and that tanks it. Similarly, I have to be awake, but too much caffeine prevents me from making an argument cohere. If I’m too tired or sad, then I have to get to a place where I loosen the boundaries of personality that typically protect me against myself in those moments.

I use various tools to move to the sweet spot. Once the preconditions are met, I have music that I listen to — usually repeatedly, to create a kind of trace-like background. I’ve listened to “Time Passages” on the order of five thousand times in the last five years. If I need to move down, then calming music; if I need to move up, then funk or something with a strong rhythm, that makes me think of dancing and allows me to type in rhythm. Pictures of Armitage or scenes of his that I’ve clipped to rewatch because they have particular effects on me. Fan fics that I find particularly inspiring. Poetry. I tend to find that certain kinds of pornography open the boundaries of self if I am feeling really sad, and I’ve got one particular favorite at the moment, as does alcohol, but that’s a tricky strategy and I try to make a beer the end of a successful night of writing because it is rarely the harbinger of the beginning of one.

I also have implemented a rule that if I try for more than 90 minutes to occupy the sweet spot and can’t, I close the window on whatever I’m writing and read or do something else. Part of my ongoing internal dialogue includes a frightening amount of self-criticism and a few thoughts that would be disturbing if I let myself pursue them, and there’s an odd paradox to the fact that I now use writing as a way to separate myself from shame but that it’s also frequently a source of shame — and that I’ve found this technique via fandom, a place that does not lack for shame and shaming. It’s important for me not to get involved in castigating myself for an incapacity to write. I do not, however, clean my apartment or (as mentioned above) go running. I say I’ll try again tomorrow. And I do.

When words come, I try to write out a complete summary of the steps of what I’ll be writing (if it’s analytical) including photos — or a series of bullet points with the dominant trajectory or movements of a more emotional or personal post (writing is a way of processing and publication perhaps the sign that I have processed enough for now). Then I try to write in paragraphs. I do edit partway through, mostly because it’s easy for me to put what my seventh-grade English teacher called “sentence garbage” in my prose as a way to smooth the word flow, and that stuff (interjections, unnecessary appositives, meaningless adjectives, superfluous prepositions, overly scrupulous parallelisms, and the like) interferes with readability. If I feel my brain overheating, I stop and add tags, photos, captions, and so on for a while. I do use the trick of trying to stop in the middle of something to make it easier to start the next day, but I am not always successful.

When I finish writing, I feel good — soberly high — and also calm, liberated, at peace with myself. The troubling aspect of the inner dialogue stops for a while.

To get from prose to publication, I have to believe that what I’ve written is the best that I can write about that thing at that point. This is because I can’t see what I do at this blog as a source of shame. I have to believe that I’ve done the best job to communicate what I wanted to say that I could have done before I hit publish. Which doesn’t mean it’s perfect. But the boundary is the feeling that I couldn’t have done better with what I have available and the hypothesis that I am not going to get anything more that would improve it in the near future.

So … that’s it. For it what it was worth.

KellyDS has recently described some effects of her creative process, and I think it would be interesting to hear other people’s take on this. Since you asked and you have blogs, Tree, Guylty, Fedoralady are all tagged, but if you’re too busy to write, I totally understand. (This is one reason I customarily decline blog awards.) Anyone else who would like to write about what inspires and motivates them to do what they’re doing as fans in whichever creative medium should consider her/himself tagged as well.

~ by Servetus on January 25, 2015.

41 Responses to “You asked: What is my creative process like?”

  1. You, lady, are brilliant…….I am utterly amazed and totally in awe. Love reading your blog. Thank you.

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  2. There you go again – challenging me to step outside myself and take a good look at what I’m doing and how/why I’m doing it. 🙂

    I know for sure that my process is nowhere near as deep, or as – is it too much to describe it as ritualistic? I also know you well enough to know that you’ll say that whatever my process is, as long as it results in me writing, it is good 🙂

    Thanks for the window in!

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    • I have a luxury you don’t have at the moment, which is not having obligations to others in the evenings — it means I have the luxury of setting a fairly high bar on the conditions for success. But I think if I had a family I would never write. I’m too susceptible to the desire to meet others’ needs.

      And yeah — whatever does it for you, does it for you! (another one of my reservations about this post was that I find most writing advice that I see not especially useless. The best advice is probably something like “know thyself.”)

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    • oh: the other thing is that this is the post-block writing process. The pre-block one was very different: my strategy was essentially to scare the hell out of myself and motivate with adrenaline. Eventually that quit working.

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  3. Very interesting, thanks Serv’.

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  4. Thanks, Servetus. I envy your drive and productivity.

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  5. Thanks for allowing us this look at your process, Serv. I always like reading about how other writers tick. 🙂

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  6. Thanks for such a detailed map of the ins and outs of your creativity and how it reaches us. Everything I read from you is consistently interesting and thought provoking, or amusing , so thanks again for sharing your insights with us.

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  7. Fascinating. This phlegmatic 😉 wishes you very many “phlegmatic moments”.
    PS: Al Stewrd’s “Time Passeges” ?

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    • that’s the one. It’s something about the Rhodes fender piano in the opening bars of the song. I could listen to that for days on end.

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  8. Oi! That topic seems boring to you??? Ouch ouch ouch for those who have expressed an interest in it. Just kidding.
    When I suggested you give us an insight in your writing process, I never expected a full blown essay on it, just a short post. I evidently don’t know you well 😉 But I find it interesting to read about your writing process because there are always ideas and techniques to be discovered in other people’s reflections on writing! Or if there is nothing new, then there is the calming feeling that one is experiencing the process in a similar way.
    I have long been fascinated by your preference for writing from your favourite café. I have never ever done it, and I have often wished I could. But for the wrong reasons (I merely want to attract attention by looking like a cool Carrie Bradshaw type). I wonder whether I’d be able to deal with the noise and distraction in a café. And I am too stingy to pay for something that I can have for free at home… But it strikes me now that it could be a strategy to inject life into the process…
    In any case, I found this quite interesting, and I hope the meta-talk had some sort of benefit for you, too! At least your thoughts made it to publication, and that is a success. Thanks for sharing these insights – and everything else with us. You are redefining the bar for me all the time, and while that challenges me, I also love it. It’s not about emulating you. It’s about being inspired by you and taking something from your writing and appropriating it for my own individual needs, which in turn might inspire the next person… It doesn’t really matter what topic you write on, there’s always something there.

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    • I know, I write about myself all the time, so why would I think this would be more boring than anything else? After I published this I thought of Armitage saying in March that he thought it wouldn’t be interesting to hear him talk about he prepared for his roles …

      re: writing in public — you are probably not plagued by the constant wish to be asleep. If I stay at home, after an hour, I’ll think, oh, i could get in bed and write and then I will think, oh, i could take a nap. It’s abating a bit now, but when I was in my 20s in grad school I realized I could happily sleep 18 hours a day if I let myself and that’s when I developed the habit of writing / working in spaces that do not have bed or sofa access.

      re: distractions — anything will distract me if I want to be distracted. Re: loud interference when I don’t want to be distracted — I have the headphones and Al Stewart 🙂 But it is not for everyone. There are afternoons when my FB is just one observation after another about the people in Sbux. At times like that I should probably move, but I’ve got a whole writing bag and stuff that I unpack and put on the table and so on …

      thanks for the kind words and for the rationale for the question 🙂 I did write another 800 words and am on track to publish something again today, wow.

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      • I find it immensely interesting to read about the process. The “how” is extremely fascinating, it’s right up there with the “what” when it comes to creativity, and the “why” when it comes to factual stuff. In that sense I was quite disappointed when RA answered negatively in one of the recent China interviews re. giving an insight into his process. I don’t find the “how” demystifying. If anything, it enhances my appreciation of the final product. But maybe that is just me.
        In any case, I look forward to reading more. And I am going to follow your suggestion and write something about my process of writing, too.

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        • yeah, I guess I just still dont’ really think of myself as an artist or the potential object of interest in that particular way.

          re: revealing process — maybe he wants to hang on to his little bag of tricks 🙂

          I look forward to reading yours!

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  9. Thank you for this very detailed insight into your creative proces. I guess you have more time now after the job change.

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    • much more, although I am not (yet?) using it as efficiently as I used to when I had less of it. OTOH I try hard not to make myself feel guilty about that, because in my adult life I have rarely had the luxury of a notion of a “free evening,” or a long weekend that didn’t involve work somehow.

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  10. I’m afraid I just wing it! I’ve tried planning things out but anytime that I do, it ends up suffocating me. there are so many things that I want to write about, not the least of which is to sit down and write some in-depth fiction, but I have to do it “in the moment”. unfortunately I get distracted easily…

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  11. Thank you for detailing your creative process for us. I want to re-read your post (probably several times) before I make any other comments.

    Thank you for asking about my process. I don’t feel like I have anything interesting to say. I will try and come up with something 😉

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    • What do you think of when you start to edit?

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      • I could really relate when you talked about “sentence garbage.” I tend to write with too many words so it almost becomes unreadable. I go back and delete, delete, delete.

        My creativity has always leaned more toward art than writing. When I edit pictures (or screen caps) to post I look for a pattern and a flow to the composition. Basically I look for something that pleases my eye and hope it pleases other people.

        My initial motivation can be from a thought or from something someone has said. The Lucas posts I’m working on were triggered because Spooks will no longer be on Netflix as of February 1st. I realized I only had a week to do my own screen caps from a streaming source (easiest for me.) I have almost 300 caps from Season 7 Episode 1 to work/play with now. I have six nights to cap 23 more shows! I’ll need to make over 1,000 caps each night to get through them all. Then I’ll be able to get to the fun part of making collages.

        Wow, a long answer from someone who had nothing to say 😉

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        • Wow, that’s a lot of capping!

          But I love the idea of noticing a pattern or a flow. I do that, too, during my incubation phase (of course differently than you).

          Liked by 1 person

  12. […] today I told you about my ongoing internal dialogue. So in my final question about ownership, now we get to a piece of it on a question of “me + […]

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  13. Thanks for sharing your fascinating insight with us 🙂 It’s amazing to read how different people get to that point where they express themselves creatively and i guess everyone is different. I’m really glad you have found triggers and steps that work for you 🙂 and i hope it gives you some assurance too that you can do it and there will never be a wall again in that respect. We know it as your readers and feel it when we read you because there is a sense there is always more than can and will come 🙂 Some pressure i guess always works positively on creativity, i just hope it stays within pleasant, energising bounds 🙂 I like the idea that you can write among people so to speak; i know some people need to isolate themselves completely but generally i just like the idea of something creative coming together with life around it and i like the idea of some positive flow of energy there.

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    • One of the biggest things — and I didn’t write it here because i have said it elsewhere — is that this blog is not instrumentalized for someone else’s purposes. That was probaly 50% of the reason for the past writer’s block — that I had to make something deeply personal to me conform to someone else’s needs. One thing I swore when I started this is that that wouldn’t happen here. So I am not so afraid of the block on that level, although sometimes when 4-5 days pass without a substantive post I get a little tense.

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  14. Have re-read this a couple of times now. I’m still thinking of how this can help me to identify my own needs as a writer. Gives me a lot of food for thought -thank you.
    Since being home from my teaching job due to illness, writing was the first thing that I thought of. First, it was impossible due to the neurological damage and exhaustive nature of Lyme disease. Upon feeling better, I started cooking and baking healthy gluten-free baked goods and meals for others. Now I’m busy morning til evening in the kitchen I hardly ever leave!
    I have wanted to write since HS. Was always too busy working. ..papers for college and graduate work. Then, immersed in writing plans and creating prototypes and workshops in my field. Then, having kids and staying home left very little energy to write creatively, though I did do some which is stashed in a binder that hasn’t seen the light of day. I think the real trouble is I don’t prioritize my time to write, and I have trouble writing on a schedule creatively. I get my best ideas at haphazard moments and jot those down in a notebook, but if I were free to let it flow then, it would be better. That flow usually happens at dinnertime, picking up from school or some other crazy, inopportune time.
    Still hoping to seriously set time aside to begin understanding the how-to’s of setting up a blog. It may not be a public delight, but I’m sure after some time, I would find my voice. How to do that, run a fledgling business, be Mom/wife/daughter/sister/neighbor and perhaps make a separate space for Armitaging. ..still can’t clarify all my needs and find a place for them all. I always seem to bite off more than I can chew.
    Hope that wasn’t TMI and now everyone runs screaming. …blame it on a stream of consciousness and 5 minutes to myself.

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    • I feel like there’s a fine line between knowing one’s own process and insisting on it and this is why I don’t always like advice books. There were some things that were part of my earlier process, that i insisted on, that were bad for me. If something isn’t working, I need to know when to be flexible.

      You sound like you have SO much to do. Maybe a micro-format would be best for you to start? A picture and a few sentences?

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  15. Thanks to those who asked this question, this all turned out to be surprisingly more productive than I would have guessed.

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  16. […] been asked more than once to talk about my creative process as a writer, most recently over at me + richard armitage as part of an ongoing discussion on the subject.  My response has always been to recoil from the […]

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  17. […] haven’t had the desire to visit them, given my generally raw mood at the moment. Moving into the sweet spot for that stuff is hard. Strategy: tell myself that my already problematic mood means that enhancing […]

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  18. […] described my usual writing process here (which applies to blogging) and my choice of topics […]

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  19. […] though I still stand behind everything I wrote and did in December 2014 (remember what I said about not being to publish unless I think something is the best I think I can do), and everything since then. And now we get to the reason that I decided to come clean in the […]

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