Changing Gear



The next point in the creation process has arrived. From the stage of Wonder, where a story swims through the ether hand in hand with my muse, until it bangs a swollen fist on the trap door of my consciousness. At this point a tidal wave of ideas flood out, each demanding the attention of my pudgy ten digits, but I don’t get to the next phase (affectionately called Forging) until an idea sticks. With the current novel my forging process has been a long time coming, two years to be exact. The original muse for this idea came about when I was working for my previous employer, only becoming a muddy reality when I left the job, and after time and hard work became something which consumes me. Pounding away at the forge takes time. That investment could be all for naught if I don’t take each swing of my fingers as something important.

Even as the ring of my finger hammer blows fall silent, I prepare to change gear. This step in the process means calling back to my first muses about what this story is, and where it is supposed to go. There are no stories that don’t go anywhere or do anything, those are technical manuals. A story has to move and swim, spark the mind in others about what could be, but at the same time it must have order, or at least must have a writer at the helm willing to brave the choppy seas and bracing wind. The next phase is nigh, that of shaping. I’m sure you’ll hear this called editing, but for a young writer who learned to fear the red slash across a crisp piece of white paper, I prefer shaping. Doesn’t it sound much more pleasant? When you shape something, you pay attention to the curves, like a race car driver would. You look for the apex of every turn, judge the right angle to take your turn at, then hammer the throttle till your car lunges through the turn. That’s the editing process to a fine point. All the words I’ve written up until this point are word vomit on a page. A bucket of sick cleaned up by a janitor in school, leaving that strange chemical orange smell afterward. This part of the process is where I get the mop out and determine what is useful to the story. I hone each curve until the feel is just right. I lose words – preferably all the wrong ones. To do this effectively I must give the piece time to breathe. I have to approach it with the cold stare of an emotionless Vulcan. At that point it is about what works and what doesn’t, and the best part about this – the part that lifts my spirits now – is that once I have changed to this gear, I have determined that there is a story worth being read. I realize that’s pompous and arrogant of me, but if I’ve gotten this far it’s because there’s something I feel you need to read.

And so out come the ones and zeros, process analysis sheets, and the developed character arcs. All of it. Now we determine what stays and what goes. The cuts will be sharp and meaningful, because no amount of inspired editing goes on without wishing something that was cut got to stay in. In this part we draw the long knives and kill the darlings as the saying goes. We must make the critical choices about what the reader will read. We draw away from the furnace of emotion and quench ourselves in logic and order, all in an attempt to harden our literary weapon. If we’ve done it right, you’ll read a wonderful story that will swim through space, enjoying each tiny curve and movement. If we’ve failed, the piece will break apart and two plus years of musing, writing, and editing will end up on the shop floor.

No pressure, right?


Addendum: Today is the Superbowl, or as of late, Tom Brady Day. Putting aside the rift that exists between creatives and sports enthusiasts I’ve wondered recently if it’s worth my time to watch the game at all – I mean someone this week had Brady’s Super Bowl MVP speech written already! That being said, I will be taking in some of the event, then staying up to watch This Is Us. Em and I have watched it for the past few seasons wondering how they would deal with the death of Jack Person (spoiler – we knew Jack was going to die because of the back and forth timeline writing style – but now we’ll see how it happens)  

Last night we had the pleasure of a date night including Guillermo del Toro’s new film, The Shape of Water. Such an amazing film. I cannot say enough good things about it, but I’ll try. Set in the early 60s in Baltimore, the movie surrounds the tale of a government project gone awry and the mute woman who becomes involved with a creature plumbed up from South America. Toro gives the viewer so much to digest I felt like I’d had a first rate five course meal afterward. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I’ve just started a new book in my rading the craft series – Steering the Craft by Ursula K Le Guin. As many of you know she passed away recently and having read The Left Hand of Darkness years ago, I felt it was a good time to revisit what she’d said about The Craft. I’m also listening to Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, which is superb.