Shotgun Creation


The thing about writing, that thing (with just one weird trick, done to death, man is that horse beaten) that nobody (everybody) tells you is that it’s simultaneously the easiest thing to do, and the hardest. Putting words on paper is easy. Crafting a story is less so. Working the kinks and bugs out of a draft less so than that. And so forth, literally ad nauseum.

And while it’s not purely internal, which is to say, each writer doesn’t necessarily have to re-invent the wheel (there are numerous guides of greater or lesser notoriety, to include our humble offerings), that sure seems to be in large part the method employed. I’d love to be able to write like certain of my friends. And, to an extent, I could. I could force myself into a specific mold such that all the correct boxes were ticked at the proper times. I’d almost certainly end up with something that could charitably be called a novel (or literary vector of choice).

It would almost certainly kill my peculiar voice, though. Or at least mute it to the point where the story would be wooden and unpleasant to read, regardless of how polished and pretty.

Much of what I do as a writer seems geared toward (slowly) chipping away at the learned behaviors and detritus of years in order to reveal the clean, streamlined process by which I best produce (and mostly easily (though I can’t for a second believe that those are necessarily conjoined (apologies for the nested parentheses (apologies for the apologies…)))) *cough*

Now, as far as your process goes, you’re likely (I hope) farther along than I am. And if you aren’t (I hope you are. I’m a pretty low bar, as standards go), there are any number of techniques available, many of which I’ve even discussed in previous posts. Some at length. Some simple ones are the Pomodoro technique, deliberately crafting a physical space conducive to creation (I’ll spare you pics of my office. Children. And toys. So. Many. Toys.) as well as the never-popular Pulling the Internet Plug, followed by the (absolutely necessary) Butt-in-Chair Time. And read. Read, read, read.

Now, understanding how your own soul shapes the words that flow out of your imagination into some semblance of order on the page, I’m going to be less helpful. Sarah claims that no genre is safe from her, and I’m inclined to believe it. I find myself ranging all over the fantasy and scifi spectrum (barring hard SF. I don’t have the background, and right now the time/energy to gain it). I know writers who’ve made their nut in a specific subgenre, and others who’ve spent years shaping a specific world before turning to something else. Or not.

Essentially, what I’m getting at is experimentation. This applies not only to process, and genre and subgenre, but also to technique. Wednesday, Sarah wrote on making your characters real. I don’t know that I can speak to that, as the people I write are people, regardless of how much or little they’ve chosen to reveal to me (ungrateful cusses. *looks around* but beloved  cusses, with many excellent qualities). World are similar. I follow my characters around with an invisible camera, relating their shenanigans to the reader.

One significant trick I learned from Dean Wesley Smith is focusing on a specific writing technique for a story. Make sure you get the sensory information into every page. Whether it’s a mention of the odors you characters smell, or the vivid colors around them (or drab, if that’s the way you roll, you dystopianist, you), or the moan of the chill wind between the weathered slats of the abandoned homestead in which your people are sheltering for the night, give the reader anchors for their imagination. And then, let the reader know the character’s reactions. That low moan, that sends a prickle up the spine of your hero, that recalls the hunting cat that terrified him as a child.

As I stated above, these things aren’t *hard* per se. Deliberate practice will teach you what you need to learn, and build upon the skills you’ve acquired to date. The hard part is something likewise peculiar to you, the individual writer. It may be that you simply don’t have the time or energy because of your stage of life. *cough* But these things change (the only true constant in the universe) and so will your process. Now go forth, and blast away until you understand how you best work. Then blast some more.


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10 responses to “Shotgun Creation

  1. airboy

    In SF/F what are the “large publishers” and what are the “mid-size” publishers?

    • By ‘large publishers’, people usually mean the Big Five and their imprints. In SF/F that means:

      Orbit (owned by Hachette)
      Tor/Forge (Macmillan)
      Ace, Roc, DAW, Del Rey, Spectra (Penguin Random House)
      HarperVoyager (HarperCollins)

      The fifth member of the Big Five, Simon & Schuster, does not have an SF/F imprint of its own at present, but acts as the distributor for Baen. Since Baen is not run by zombie vampire executroids from the pits of Malebolge, it counts as a mid-size publisher – for now.

  2. Deciding to have an office to write in was one of the better decisions I’ve made. I have a small corner desk stuck in a corner and the lack of distractions, plus the routine of only writing when sitting there has helped a lot.
    As for technique, even though I have my own style now (well, two actually, which can be a little confusing at times) I find that I am constantly learning new things. Not all of it is always useful, but it is always interesting.

  3. I have settled on a method for writing (trust me, you don’t want to know how I write; if you do, it’s all over my blog), and now my aim is to take that method and make it faster.

    Not leaner. The steps in it have been refined over the past sixteen years, and serve me well.

    I’m faster now than I was, but I still run into scenes that, for some reason, are of a kind I haven’t written before, so I need to stop and figure out exactly how I apply MY method to the new kind of scene, before I can write it.

    On the good side, I can handle an awful lot of different kinds of scenes. Each kind is a different set of constraints, and makes me wonder if there is even any way of covering all the possibilities. Some sets are closed and finite and small, others open and unquantifiable, and I don’t know what writing is going to be as a set.

    One of these days, I’ll categorize what I already have. Meanwhile, if I find myself slowing almost to the stuck point, it usually turns out to be a new kind.

    At least I’m ‘learning something new every day.’ That’s good for the ol’ brain.

  4. One of the main things I’ve found good for creativity is simple boredom. Not as in bored in real life (with two kids under two life is seldom boring these days), but bored with what you’re working on at the time. When that happens to you, it’s likely to happen to your readers as well, and the best way out is change things up and get creative.

    The second part of that is productivity. It’s very difficult to get bored writing only one kind of thing if you only write one or two of those things a year. Without productivity I think it might be hard to get into the rut that forces you to get creative.

    My favorite things to do to spur creativity is to write myself into a corner, panic is a great motivator and usually forces me to get clever. The other thing I like to do is to take on a type of story I actively dislike, examine what I dislike about it, and produce a story as a response. Not like a parody, but a story that explores that story from a different perspective. Like, I hate dystopian future stories so if I were bored I’d read some and try to formulate what I hate about them (not hard in this case, I hate the sense of hopelessness and petty evil from normal people that tend to pervade those types of stories), then write a dystopian future story in a way that works for me. Usually they end up being a lot of fun to write even if I never want to return to that kind of writing.

  5. OT, but AHA! I have finally solved the mystery of why so many curly braces are showing up in my writing lately. DF is hoarding the parentheses.

    {Well, it’s a plausible hypothesis, yes?}

  6. Mary

    I found pastiches quite useful in developing my style. Once you’ve made the words leap through the hoops for that purpose, the skill transfers. More or less.

    Of course, that was not until I had produced reams and reams of thirteenth rate Lord Dunsany stuff. . . .