Craft: A December Discussion on Process

IT’S BEEN SIX MONTHS SINCE THE FOUR OF US STARTCraftandWritingED CONTRIBUTING REGULARLY TO CIMMERIAN TALES. THIS IS OUR THIRD PROCESS CHAT — WE TALK ABOUT WHAT WE DO DIFFERENTLY WHEN WE WRITE LONG, RETURNING TO CHARACTERS WE HAVEN’T SEEN IN MONTHS, AND HOW THE SEASONS PLAY INTO OUR PROMPTS. ENJOY!

Who are a few of your favorite writers, or writers after whom you model your work?

Jen: Everyone is going to get tired of listening to me talking about Maggie Stiefvater, so I’m just going to say Maggie Stiefvater, and that’s it.

Julie: I still need to read her. I could name a million people.

Jen: I think I could, too.

Audrey: I don’t know that I model my work on anyone (mostly because I’m not that talented), but I love Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Gail Carson Levine, Maria V. Snyder, Phillipa Gregory. I could go on and on, too.

Julie: I’d say top of my favorites list would be Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin. I always feel inspired when I read Kelly Link’s short stories, and my hands-down favorite books as a kid were the His Dark Materials trilogy.

Anne: The authors that influenced me when I was younger were: Stephen King, Anne Rice, Peter Beagle, Gaston Leroux, and Emily Brontë. Authors that influence me now are: Holly Black, Kristin Cashore, Neil Gaiman, and about a dozen more.

Jen: Holly Black is a genius

Audrey: I still need to read her. Anne gave me a book.

Anne: Her writing is sparse, but it’s so rich and deep.

Julie: I should pick her up, too.

Did any of you have beginnings in fanfiction or other imitative work?

Jen: I used to write fiction for my friends that involved their favorite celebrities … .

Julie: Uh oh.

Audrey: No.

Anne: My writing in high school was very influenced by comics and Anne Rice. It wasn’t until university that I started writing fanfiction. I stopped after a few stories because I wanted to invent my own sandboxes to play in. Lately, I’ve wanted to write Supernatural fanfiction. I blame Audrey.

Julie: I wrote my own wolf pack story after reading Julie of the Wolves. And I was doing Redwall (the Brian Jacques’ series) variants.

Anne: But, I do think it’s important for young writers to imitate their author heroes. It helps you grow and learn and, I think, find your own voice.

Julie: Yeah. Well, I realized that I didn’t want all the girl animals to work in the kitchen.

Audrey: My sister was always on our computer, so I didn’t know about the immense world of fanfiction for a really long time. It never occurred to me to write anything but the things that were in my head, but I’m totally jealous of some of the worlds that others have created.

A couple of you did NaNo this year or are working on longer projects. We’ve talked about process for CT prompts before — how does your process differ when you’re working longer?

Audrey: I fail at longer. I’m working on a process, though.

Julie: Good. I’ve never “succeeded” at longer, as in finished a draft. But I guess the first obvious answer is that I spend a lot more time researching and developing my world and my characters. Especially world. World-building is a killer for me.

Jen: There’s so much less preparation for a Cimmerian short than for a longer project. I have the attention span of a gnat, so I really have to focus. I’m a total pantser, so outlining isn’t my thing (yet), so I usually just try to get somewhere and hope it’s where I’m supposed to be.

Anne: For me, it’s the same process on a much larger scale. Each chapter/scene is like a CT prompt, but I have to string them all together into a cohesive whole. And for longer projects, I usually have a loose outline, so I know where I’m headed and when I veer wildly off course.

Jen: I absolutely love world building. I’m not much of a researcher. I’m looking to create more than consume, so I haven’t run into much that needs research with my specific projects.

Audrey: I research as I go, which is ok for a short piece but not for a novel-length project. I get ideas from researching, too.

Anne: World-building, in my opinion, like setting, is a character. It’s as important to build your world as it is to make a 3D character.

Julie: I agree. World building can totally stymie me, though. I can get so bogged down in the research and setup that I don’t get to the writing.

Jen: I agree, Anne, it’s the most fun. I just…go. Which probably isn’t the best thing.

Audrey: I go, stop, go, stop, go … . It does not result in novels.

Anne: Research is a tricky one, I agree. It can consume your time, or you can own it. I haven’t quite figured out yet how to own it. I’ll start looking something up, and before I know it, four hours are gone.

Julie: The internet swallows you whole sometimes.

If you did NaNo, or if you’re working on a longer piece right now, have you learned anything valuable about process recently?

Audrey: It’s really important for me to manage my time. With work, my husband, and my child, I need to set aside writing time and use it well (a.k.a. not messing around on the internet).

Julie: I think everyone needs to learn that.

Audrey: It’s a skill.

Jen: I’ve learned not to get frustrated if it’s not flowing like I want it to. I used to force the words, and it would be messy and stilted. I’ve learned what music gets me in the right frame of mind so that I can really concentrate and get stuff done.

Audrey: You have great music suggestions, Jen.

Anne: Ditto what Audrey said, JenJen. NaNo, in theory, is a great way to bash out a first draft; however, my drafts might as well be used to warm the house in winter. I need more than 30 days to complete a useful first draft. My “finished” novels run about 76-80,000 words and take about six months to complete. I can’t do them justice in 30 days.

Julie: I haven’t picked back up one of my longer works, but I think I need to learn to stick to one project for however many months it takes. I’m fickle, too, so I’ll start working on one and then jump to another.

Audrey: That is also a good one, Julie. I am a total project jumper.

Anne: That is definitely a key component, Julie. As creative people, it’s too easy to be lured away by a shiny new idea. Write that idea down somewhere and keep on dating your current project.

Jen: I definitely can’t do more than one long project at a time yet.

Julie: I always want to do all the projects. >< It’s the curse of being mainly a short story writer — those you can juggle.

Jen: That’s what Cimmerian helps with, I think; it lets me play with other worlds without getting too distracted from my big project.

Julie: Yay for CT!

So we’ve talked about music and snacks before — are there any other physical elements you prefer or even require when writing?

Anne: I must have a computer. I tried to write on my phone. Just, no. I’ve always been a nighttime writer, even though I tried to write every morning for a week. Respect your process. Respect it!

Julie: In the cold months, I wear knitted, fingerless hand warmers. I can write at just about any time, but my schedule makes evenings easier. I also usually have to sit at a desk. Writing in bed turns into sleeping. I have to put away my phone. When I’m in a flow, a text message is the worst.

Audrey: Uh oh. We text like crazy. Yes yes, Anne. Nighttime. Computer. I also need to not be thinking about work or family stuff. It distracts me from creating.

Anne: Distractions are the devil of creation. As an aside: It’s been amazing to me to find how many worlds and characters are inside all of our brains. Jen and I have ~26 short stories on CT. I have another 30 on various blogs of mine. Sometimes I’m terrified the well will dry up.

Jen: It won’t dry up. That’s like saying a painter will run out of subjects. I don’t think it can happen.

Audrey: If you lived long enough, you could probably paint everything.

Do any of you have other creative outlets in which you’ve explored elements from your stories, i.e. painting a scene or writing a song from a character’s point of view?

Julie: I’ve drawn a few of my characters from longer projects, which in some cases has added depth (it made one cast more racially diverse, for example).

Audrey: Huh. That’s a great idea. I really like painting, but I’ve never done that for a story. Sometimes I write poems to help me understand my character’s emotions. Sometimes I take composition notebooks and glue in images of stuff I cut from magazines and write in quotes and create an inspiration book for a story.

Jen: I do paint, but it’s never related to my worlds. It would be cool to try it.

Anne: This question is hard! No, but only because I can’t draw or paint, write good poetry or songs. Inside my head, the images are perfect. Somehow they get lost in translation from my brain meats to my fingers. I do like to take photographs, but those usually inspire a new story, not be inspired by a story. This is an interesting outlet to explore.

Do you have a favorite character or scene from any of the prompts in the last six months? Anyone we might see again?

Audrey: Well, I tend to kill a lot of my characters, so we probably won’t see any of them again, but the world I wrote for the “Loud Without the Wind was Roaring” prompt was a world I had previously written a story in. I might visit there again.

Anne: Sometimes I want to visit other CT members’ worlds and characters, but I wouldn’t do them justice. It depends on the prompts in the future, I think, and which character might fit into that art realm. Since I’m kind of the champion of the “to be continued” short, I guarantee that I’ll revisit characters at some point.

Jen: I do get really attached to the kids in Cimmerian, and I want to keep them for later because I see so much potential in them. I got really hooked on Julie’s “Future” world, and I was super excited for more of that.

Anne: Agreed.

Julie: A lot of these I think of as one-offs, so I haven’t really planned to bring back any characters (unless I “to be continued” them). I’d like to know the end of Jen’s story with the trans character.

Audrey: I think because they are short stories, I try to keep some emotional distance when I’m reading so I don’t get disappointed that the stories don’t continue.

Anne: But that’s the thing about these worlds, we can revisit them at the right moment. Unless you killed off a character (ahem, Audrey), then they’re in a kind of stasis until you need them again. Or, you might never use them again. I feel like I’m building an army of people in my head for later, or never, or novel-length. It’s strange and wonderful.

Jen: I was sad when I got to the end of Anne’s “Loud Without” story, and I want to know what happens to Tavi.

Audrey: Me, too. I can see that turning into a novel, actually.

Anne: Ha ha! I’d forgotten about him. Discarded! Speaking of bringing characters back, I was surprised that Jen’s motorcycle / key kids didn’t reappear for the “Future” prompt. Kida needs some more page time. (Hint, hint. Wink, wink.) And if Audrey doesn’t write some more Greek tragedy, I might have to play in her sandbox. And I probably needed more from Julie’s “Future” prompt, because it’s really different from the stories we’ve written so far, and that’s exciting.

Julie: I think it could be fun to work in each other’s worlds if there’s permission.

Audrey: I don’t share well. Get your own sandbox.

Jen: The future prompt couldn’t have been more appropriate to my life when it came around, so although Ryker and Kida would have been perfect, I just had to get out what I did. I definitely want to come back to them. Yes, Julie’s “Future” was really clean and sharp, I’m really digging it.

Julie: I think I came at it differently than I often do CT. I was thinking more like I do when I write literary stuff.

Anne: Esplain! This is good stuff!

Julie: Well, this doesn’t answer to the literary, but something about the stream of consciousness was pretty liberating. It’s a little more set in the real, modern world than some of my works, and I didn’t have to build a speculative world.

Jen: I love that type of writing. As close as you can get.

Audrey: I think the instrumental parts of the song gave you lots of time to slip into your thoughts.

Anne: I listened to “Future” by Paramore fifty times — no lie! — and the second guitar part made me jump probably forty times.

Jen: That song makes me fall in love and die.

Julie: There has been a lot of implied death or ending in my prompts… I think because of real life circumstances.

Jen: Oh, life.

Julie: Yeah, CT is great for getting it out.

Anne: You’d be good to write the season finales for TV shows. Leave them wanting more, but destroying on your way out. >:D

Julie: Maybe that’s why Audrey kills off so many characters.

Audrey: That’s because it’s my solution when I don’t know how to end a story

Jen: Oh, DreyDrey’s got the axe ready always.

Anne: Always. It’s expected, so when she doesn’t kill them, I kind of wonder why.

Do the seasons affect how you write your prompt or what you write about?

Audrey: Well I’m going to try and keep my abundance of Christmas cheer out of my December stuff.

Julie: My December prompt didn’t have anything to do with Christmas. I definitely capitalized on autumn feelings when I wrote to the Brontë prompt.

Jen: I think that winter can make me more contemplative, and that probably comes across in my writing.

Anne: YES! My last few prompts have been firmly set in autumn. And, of course, we did a Halloween-inspired day of prompts. I have a feeling that the next set will be in winter. I’m tied to the Earth. There’s definitely a seasonal trend in my stories.

Audrey: I definitely was feeling autumn for Cimmerween!

Jen: I suppose a couple of my stories have been cold-climated, too.

Julie: I felt July in Jen’s August prompt.

Jen: hehehe

Julie: Winter might creep into my pieces in the next few months, as it gets really deeply in.

Thanks for reading! Tune in later this week for our New Year’s resolution posts, and join us on Monday for Jen’s response to a new prompt.

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