I discovered Jon after following a link from someone’s flash fiction, to the huge blog meme that is #fridayflash. Jon is the instigator of this regular writing event, and a competent ‘flasher’ in his own right. Today Jon talks about his own creative journey.
I find a seed
Give it time to grow
Then, my friend, to tell the truth
I nurture it some more
What is my creative process?
It starts with the smallest seed of an idea, which can be anything at all – a name, an image, a passing phrase. Literally, anything.
If the seed begins to germinate into something that appeals to me, I try to work out where the idea might take me, what it might become. I jot down my thoughts, even if they are but a few words, lest the notion drift away.
Then I think on it.
This is my mulling phase. It can last anywhere from ten minutes to ten years. I always hope for something closer to the ten minute end of the spectrum. Sleeping on it overnight, or taking the dog for a long walk works wonders here. I like to say my Beagle has written some of my best stuff. While he doesn’t actually put paws to keys, it is during times like dog walks and bike rides that I suss out an actual story line. Then it’s off to the races.
Once I know where the story is going I start serious writing. I do this best in isolation, often with classical music playing in the background. At this stage I like a good chunk of uninterrupted time, and I write as long as the words will flow. Just before wrapping up I jot down a few lines of where I want the story to go when I start again. It’s sort of on-the-fly outlining.
I’m sure you’ve heard the advice, don’t edit during first drafts. Well, that’s not me. I constantly edit. I may write a chapter or two, even three, but before I go on the next day I read over what I’ve written and fix the obvious errors. Not only the spelling and grammatical errors, which hardly constitutes serious editing, but I look for inconsistencies in the timeline and character traits. I feel compelled to fix these things before moving on. It’s the only way I know not to end up with a muddle at the end. It may take me longer to finish a manuscript, but the first draft will be fairly consistent in the end.
I’m not recommending this to anyone. It’s simply the way I write.
I also like to talk to people about what I am currently work on. I’ll discuss my characters and plot lines with anyone who doesn’t run away fast enough, usually my poor wife and kids. I find talking things out with them helps me solidify ideas, isolate problems, and stay on track. Many dinner time conversations revolve around story ideas. Of course that means if they make suggestions I listen to them, and act on them if it seems to make sense to me.
Once a manuscript is completed I read it over from beginning to end, looking for obvious errors. Then I print it out and ask a couple of beta readers to go over it. With luck, they will give me real feedback and not simply point out spelling and grammar errors. It is hard for a beta reader to be brutally honest—no one wants to hurt a friend’s feelings. That is a shame, really, for honest feedback is the most valuable gift any reader can give to a writer. If you find someone who will give you frank and honest feedback, cherish them forever.
I always tell my beta readers that I have the hide of a Rhino when it comes to critique, and I mean it. Writers can’t afford thin skins. We can’t be afraid of making mistakes, nor can we resent having them pointed out to us. We simply need to accept critique for what what it is, and act accordingly. That means editing, not walking off in a huff. It’s the only way we’ll grow.
I like to think there are no real mistakes in writing, only practice.
J. M. Strother writes fiction, essays, and poems from his home in St. Louis, Missouri. He experiments on his blog, Mad Utopia, with new approaches to writing. He is the creative spark behind the Twitter meme, Friday Flash (#fridayflash).
Jon enjoys gardening, cycling, chocolate, and reading. He has a Beagle affectionately known as Psycho Pup. You can follow him on Twitter.
How about you, readers? Can you relate to this need to nurture the seed of an idea?