Monday, June 2, 2014

Process (Blog Tour)

Writers all around the blogosphere lately have been sharing their insights on their personal writing processes.  Reading a few of their posts, it's fascinating to see how differently everyone approaches their writing: what inspires them, why they write what they write, how they get their words on the page.  Fellow writer and personal friend Rachel Frost extended the invitation to me to share my own writing process with the world, and I'm excited to give you all a little glimpse into my methods.


What am I working on?

University writing classes have kept me working on short stories the past few months, and it's been a fantastic laboratory for testing all sorts of writing techniques.  One story, "Murray's Diner," brings a truck driver and a highway chef together who are both nursing wounds of disappointment.  The two become fast friends, but soon a dark secret is revealed that turns everything upside down.  There's a spaceship, cops, and a really delicious hamburger, and I'm probing around various literary magazines right now to get the story published later this year.

My current project is another short story called "The Fairy Godfather."  A high school senior discovers he has a fairy godfather when he asks a jock's girlfriend to prom.  The cultural connotations to "godfather" apply here, with a healthy dose of magic and organized crime.  I've completed one draft of the story, which is so terrible I'm ashamed to own it.  But it's in the editing process now and getting better.  My greatest challenge with "The Fairy Godfather" is that I have so many ideas that can't possibly fit into the short space required by my writing instructor, but after I've finished a few other projects I hope to come back and expand it into a YA novel.

My biggest project, and definitely my favorite, is a science fiction novel.  The current working title is Exodus, recently changed and likely to change again.  A global nuclear crisis has forced mankind into permanent orbit around its home world.  But there is more to the exodus than what the government has let on.  When police agent Roy Barrows discovers these disturbing secrets for himself, he joins an eclectic group of revolutionaries--which include a gambler, a singer, a thief, and a journalist--to expose the government and restore humanity to its terrestrial home.  With so much to gain, however, there is just as much to lose.  I've been working on Exodus off and on since I was eleven or twelve, but now I'm pushing to finally get it finished.  If I only ever publish one story, I want it to be this one!

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

What makes Exodus different from other sci-fi is that I'm really not into technology--at all--and that's reflected in my writing (my characters don't even have cell phones).  A lot of sci-fi tends to be about the technology; the story is merely a means for demonstrating things like a time machine, or a spaceship, or artificial intelligence.  This isn't true of all sci-fi, but we've all seen it.

In Exodus, civilization has moved into orbiting cities.  But that's just a backdrop; it's not what the story's actually about.  Exodus is really about how long Roy can stand against forces more powerful than he is.  It's about whether Em's gentle nature can win out over repeated heartbreaks.  It's about whether Roulette can learn to make her own decisions, and whether Lars can make peace with his.  It's about whether Wallace and Finch can put aside their game of cat and mouse and work together toward a greater good.  All the sci-fi element does is introduce these characters to each other.

Why do I write what I do?

My answer to this question is constantly evolving.  Exodus actually started out as a movie, simply inspired by things I had built with Lego.  I put in months and months of work building scenes, storyboarding, and animating.  I learned a lot about film making, but it was so much work for one twelve-year-old kid to do that eventually I figured I should just write my movie as a book.

So, originally, I was writing this story just because it was fun.  My ideas weren't very deep; I was just playing with Lego, and I wanted to share the adventure with the rest of the world.  As the story has changed over the years, so have my reasons for writing it, but fundamentally I just have a story to tell that I hope will leave a lasting impression on whoever will read it.  In general I write to inspire feeling, and if I leave even just one reader feeling something at the end of a story or a chapter, or even a paragraph, I believe I have succeeded as a writer.

How does my writing process work?

I would describe my writing process as less writing and more living.  You don't have to limit yourself to writing what you know, but the more you know, the better.  Getting away from the notebook and the computer screen is one of the very best things you can do for your writing.  I've found inspiration and observed details everywhere, but here are a few of the writing tools I've used the most frequently:

  • Reading--A great way to learn how to write is by observation.  Reading in the genre you're writing is great advice, but in addition I would just as strongly recommend reading nonfiction.  There is so much to be learned from reality.  History is full of deep, well-rounded characters that actually lived.  The world is full of interesting, unique places.  And knowing how things really work can add so much depth to any work of fiction.  Don't know where to start?  I recommend Candice Millard's The River of Doubt, an account of Theodore Roosevelt's Amazon adventure. 
  • Music--Music fuels my writing.  I use it in two ways: either I seek to write the scene that I see when a particular song is playing, or I seek to write a scene that makes me feel the same way a particular song makes me feel.  It would be difficult to identify any part of Exodus that wasn't associated with at least one specific song on my iPod.  
  • Lego--I've already mentioned how Lego inspired Exodus, but it actually comes in handy quite often.  Over the years I've amassed such a Lego collection that I have well over a thousand minifigures (conservative estimate).  With all the options available to me to mix and match, sometimes I use that to create my characters.  Or, if I've already come up with a certain character, building that person in Lego has helped me know how to describe him or her.  
Roulette Fortuna and her father Lars, from Exodus
When it comes to actually writing, I prefer a computer for speed and ease of editing.  I'm most comfortable sitting on the living room couch with my laptop.  I don't give myself a time limit; rather, I make content-based goals.  Usually I aim to write a page a day, and I edit as I go.  I write with a basic outline, but I let the story go where it wants to.  For example, I wrote a scene in Exodus where Roy is shocked to discover slaves in a government facility.  I was surprised, too.  Okay, so the story has slavery now, I said to myself.  I can work with that.  My advice to any writer is to trust your story; it knows what it needs to be.  

When I feel like my work is ready to be workshopped, I take it to my writing group for feedback, then go over it again.  Writing is a lot like washing your hair: lather, rinse, and repeat.  There should be no rush to get to a final draft.  

Next on the tour. . . .

Well, this has been fun.  I don't know who else to invite, but go read Rachel's post!  And if you're a writer, too, tell me a little about your process in the comments!

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