Writing Process Blog Tour

My friend and colleague Mazin Saleem tagged me in the Writing Process Blog Tour, a sort of literary Ponzi Scheme where writers answer a few simple questions about their creative process.

Mazin’s post from last week is on his fine Tumblr, and you can click back from that page to see earlier stops on the tour. Its growing into a fascinating collection: Read Katriona Lewis who tagged Mazin, or Ross Hopkins, nominated by Mazin alongside yours truly.

What am I working on?

Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

That might not be literally true. I do have a couple of saved Word documents taunting me in in ‘Writing’ folder: murder mysteries, the pair. Both were good ideas when I began to write them. But both are now rapidly curdling, I fear.

This fact yields an unexpected insight that fits perfectly into a ‘writing process’ post—I work most effectively when there is a deadline looming. I suspect that is true of a lot of writers but I worry that it is symptomatic of a lack of discipline or maybe my immaturity as a writer. I also worry that the only way I would ever get an entire novel written is if someone commissioned me (unlikely, for a first time novel) or I did NaNoWriMo.

I really wish I was one of those writers (like Ross) who have characters bouncing around inside them, demanding to be written. Such authors seem to be able to just blurt out a novel. I find them infuriating! They are also a challenge to my own literary pretentions—If I do not always have a character or a plot or an idea tormenting my waking hours, am I really a writer?

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I wonder whether attempting to be different from other writers in a genre is always a helpful approach to writing. There is, I believe, a certain virtue in staying within the stylistic or formulaic walls that an established art form or literary genre sets for the artist. It not only helps the audience, but it is part of the reason why they like that kind of art in the first place. It allows the artist and the audience to begin their interaction in the most interesting place.

It should be said that writing in a particular literary style is not the same thing as deploying cliché, writing derivative plot, or outright plagiarism. So the answer to the question of how my work differs is, I hope, in the ideas. I assume every writer aspires to make the same claim.

I know my writing is quite theatrical or filmic. I like describing the way the characters move their bodies as a way of conveying the dynamic in a particular scene. The drawing of breath, a flick of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulders. I think this tendancy comes from my previous work with Fifty Nine Productions, where we were involved in plenty of film and theatre productions.

Why do I write what I do?

The reason my forthcoming novella is a novella and not a short story is because I became imbued with the sheer joy of the creative process. The emergence of clear characters, and the realisation that the initial idea was perhaps deeper than I had first assumed, was simply exhilarating. It was writing for writing’s sake. I wish I could spend more time in that particular mental zone.

For the most part, I put pen-to-paper fingers-to-keyboard to explore an idea. SF/F works for me because these ideas are almost always to do with our relationship to new technology. Nick Harkaway’s Kitschies essay is often in my thoughts:

Human-ness doesn’t happen in the dark interior of the skull; it’s not Plato’s cave. It happens at the border of self and exterior, and that means it is affected by every outer trend. A human being without external stimuli does not develop a self in the same way as the rest of us. Our humanity is contingent on the world we encounter, which means that as we change the world so, to, we are changed.

How does my writing process work?

I live a modern, busy life with very little solitude. I steal paragraphs on suburban commuter trains and in the lunch-hour, and only when I have the discipline to forsake the distractions of social media and other people’s creativity. It is hard to choose to be a creator, rather than a consumer, for a few minutes.

I do not think I could get anything written without the help of new technologies. I drop ideas from my head onto the note taking tools on my phone. And I write on my iPad on the train, to and from work (with an external bluetooth keyboard, of course).

I was fortunate enough to interview Cory Doctorow a few years ago and he offered a great piece of writing advice though his original source now escapes me from Damon Knight. Essentially, the advice was to simply write all the fun and interesting bits of the story, and don’t bother with filler that moves the character from A to B in the plot. You can join the dots later on the third or fourth pass if you really must, but mostly the thing hangs together just fine without such joinery. I now take that approach to my stories. Sometimes the most creative and liberating act is simply to finish the sentence.

I pass the Writing Process Blog Tour baton onto South African novelist Louis Greenberg. He and I have a connection, in that we have both been published by Hugo Nominated publishers Jurassic London. I will be checking out his website this time next week to read his answers to the same questions.

I am also tagging Sam Meekings.  He is the author of  Under Fishbone Clouds and The Book of Crows. His novels take readers on a magical journey through modern and historical China.  Sam and I collaborated on a little writing project this time last year.  Well… sort of.

Finally, I nominate Tamsin Growney. She is a yogi, former ministerial speech writer, and has just written the next Great British Novel. Now all she needs is an agent. Our connection? This insignificant woman.

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