Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Creative Process of Writing a Novel

By Guest Contributor Little_Karol. This piece written for a creative writing class and originally published at Writing My Heart.

Part I of III


“If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” ~Toni Morrison

The start, the beginning of a long journey. It’s initiated with a page. A blank one at that. Staring me down until I’m sitting in a corner glaring at the page.. It’s intimidating. I have a need, I fill the need suppressed by fear with the ability to cover the page with words. Stuff pages with ideas spinning around my head. Of vivid characters, living life and colorful scenes. I know imagination lets the mind expand.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” ~Albert Einstein

Developing a manuscript equals hours of editing thousands of papers with red pen marks. It rounds out to somewhere close to hours of sleep deprivation, shoulder tension, head aches from staring at the computer screen for days on end with aching fingers and hands. Take action! Get published.

If you’re turned down, keep trying. Doctor Theodore Seuss got turned down twenty-seven times until he got published by the twenty-eighth publisher. His visual art and creative writing teachers said he didn’t have it. Editors will evaluate you and catch every flaw. Every word misused, every coma misplaced. But share with agents and they will help you share with the world.

Your critique group will support you and help you refine your book. The critique group will help you to become published. How do you get there? Here is a teenager’s view of the creative process of writing a novel. From the first words to seeing your book in the local stores.

I came to the School of Arts and Academics to expand my inner artist. I took literary arts explore sixth grade year with Michael Carr. Through poetry I found more of myself than I had bothered to go searching for. I was never much of a writer before this. I loved writing assignments, but I always did the basics and never thought I went above and beyond to deserve the four out of four I received. I am now putting all my efforts into writing assignments teachers give.

My mom started writing a novel in 2007. She used me to bounce ideas. I gave her feedback that helped her start her writing. Now, 2009, two years later, she has her manuscript. She has her own world that comes with it. Where no one else is allowed to be. A world where something is always happening and no one can interrupt. This is a phase where she no longer talks to her child. Where she gets holed up in her room and only leaves to go to work and meet with her critique group.

I always wanted to know what went through her head while she was writing. This gave me the perfect opportunity. Now I had the just the right reason to ask her all the questions I wanted without her bugging me because I was interrupting her thoughts. This gave me a new insight to how my mother thinks when creating art. Wonders of her creative process aren’t wonders but rather questions answered.

All questions How do you know when your book is done? What are your judgment thoughts? What is it like to find an agent? What is it like to be published? What is your creative process? Are answered. I find questions popping into my head from books. I find myself asking about voice and style and about metaphors and ruts that you get stuck in and can’t seem to find a way out of.

“The third step is getting out of the rut. This is the hard part. Knowing and admitting a problem are not the same as solving it. But executing a solution saves you and gets you moving again.” (Tharp 189)


It started with reading Twyla Tharp’s book "The Creative Habit," and then reading some of Elizabeth Lyon’s guide, "Manuscript Makeover." I also read Lyon’s other book "A Writer’s Guide to Fiction." I expanded my searching to the internet. Usually I find something on my topic, but this was a little hard. I don’t think you can really find the creative process of doing a certain task. You may be able to find the creative process of one person. But it seems a little vague. I found little to nothing about the creative process using these resources. Little details came in handy along the way though.

What is the creative process of writing a novel? Is it each stage you go through to get to the final piece? Do the Fundamental Questions help you to answer the question, what’s next? You can ask all these questions, ask so many that their head will explode before you are finished asking; and you still might not have the answer you maybe wanted. Stopping at a stand point to find you have to go and discover those answers on your own. But where to start? I have hit a rut.

I figure this question is too… vague. It’s hard to find the answer I am looking for. No internet article seems to help; every interview seems to add to my curiosity and confusion. So, I’ll look at it this way. What is the creative process of one writer? Of just one novelist? Although I don’t think of her as a novelist, but well, let’s say a mom, she still has a lot of growth and tolerance for my never ending list of questions… sometimes.

No one can define your creative process; no one can cheat off of your work. We have techniques that many of us share when writing. It’s what we have in common, the rest is up to you. We all started with one page, we all end thinking something can be improved. We all have a reference point, when we turn to a critique group to help us get through the editing stages.

In her book, "A Writers Guide to Fiction," Lyon says “If you are new to writing fiction, you may wonder if there is a right way to ‘find’ a good story, to know how best to plan a story. The answer may not be a comfort to everyone: There is no right way; there is only your way. Anything can and has inspired writers and given them the kernel from which they’ve developed a story. No matter where you begin, you will have to fill in all the blanks.” (Lyon 11)

Don’t we all start out knowing what we want to write? Is it really that easy? Carol Doane pulled her inspiration from books and observing everyday life around her. In books you don’t hear about interracial couples very often, so she put one in her book. Hear about racism, sex, alcohol? Put it in her book as well. Her book pulls you into a fantasy world where everything is supremely real and any of these things can happen to you. Live in a life with metaphors that take time to grasp and understand? You find everyday life stories that sometimes go hidden shown to us through fiction.

We all begin somewhere. When Doane starts to draw inspiration, she pulls out her three by five cards. Scribbles of words and pictures of days long, long ago. Phrases from conversations that went through her mind everyday. As she flips each note card over and over again carefully, she begins rapid fire. Typing faster than most students… or her co-workers have ever heard. She’s on a roll and no one is getting in her way. Kind of like some demolition derby driver…

She has all her writing down and begins to transform her manuscript. Making metaphor after metaphor seamlessly flow throughout her paper. Taking sentence structures and tearing them down, just to come back to something fairly similar. Replacing words with words. Deleting sentence after sentence, just so another one could take its place.

She goes to her critique group to discover more and more revising is left to be done. Going back home, thoughts are still going through her mind. She won’t let me talk to her, scared they might escape. Every time she goes, less editing seems to need to be done. But she never stops. She adds and adds and adds, and then complains her manuscript is too long. So she goes back and decides to cut some areas, just find out later, they are replaced by new ideas.

What are some techniques for writing? Everyone has their own… but some are very similar. In Elizabeth Lyon’s book, "Manuscript Makeover," she talks about many techniques different writers use when editing their manuscript. Some examples will include: cultivating deep listening, silence critics; banish censors, practice riff-writing, revise from your truth, harvest your emotions and catch fireflies.

Each of these included a description of what they are and how to apply it to your editing stage in your manuscript. She also encourages you to: model favorite authors, revise for sentence variety and revise for impact These help with the simple revisions for style. Sections in the book help you to create similes, metaphors and a correct sentence structure.

Confined in her room another week, Doane prepares for another meeting with her critics. Revising again and again… to find yet another mistake. A vicious cycle of editing and sharing. Editing and sharing. Time after time again. After a year, less editing needs to be done. All metaphors and similes are woven throughout the book. All sentences run smoothly and all scenes make perfect sense. If you pay attention.

With each week the characters begin to develop. They gain their own colors. “To make characters live and breathe, writers must write ‘from the inside out’ to the ‘outside in’” (Lyon 19). Characters overcome problems throughout her book, adding more depth to their description. Making them seem more real with every twist and turn of an event.

Lyon says to not read to a group, but read in monotone to yourself as to not “perform” your writing (Lyon 8). Doane finds that reading to a critique group helps her catch more mistakes than she does alone. So, every method you try may not work for you, but it will work for someone. Trial and error. Find the one that works for you, the one that will help you more than frustrate you during the editing process.

How can you ask a writer about her experience with publishing a book if she is unpublished? Although Doane has queried to about half a dozen agents and a small publisher asked to see the first four chapters; she still remains unpublished, work not fully completed.

So I turned to two published writers to learn what the development stage of the creative process is when it comes to writers. Carolyn J. Rose is a fiction writer.

Here is what Rose had to say….

More tomorrow in Part II of III



Jars of Giggles said...

I love this interview from the daughter's perspective! Makes you think not only what we think but what do they!
Keep asking the questions the answers are interesting.

The First Carol said...

I'm intrigued with her pursuit to understanding writing and her growing interest in her own craft. Of course, it's also fun to watch her connect with Carolyn and Elizabeth, two strong creatives in our community. They had a great email exchange going on while she drafted her paper. Pretty soon Little_Karol will have her on "Celebrities Who've Met Me!" portfolio :-)

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