On Writing, Ranée

Disorder

Creativity requires a certain amount of disorder—a good kind of chaos, if you will, and I fully admit to being a bit Scarlet-Witchy (OK, more than a bit). However, in this post, I’m talking about the bad kind of disorder, the sort that comes from a lack of clarity and has nothing to do with creative spirit.

I’ve spent some time this week migrating content that I’ve written for my current story from my notebooks into Scrivener and, in the process, I’ve come to an important realization—I should not be writing when I’m depressed or stressed out unless I’m just writing about how I’m feeling. I haven’t got much of substance to show for the months when I’ve been trying to write while feeling bad; the little that I do have is a jumbled mess. All of the more organized threads that flow into actual chapters were written prior to depression and anxiety setting in. It is exceptionally difficult for me to maintain a decent level of concentration and to organize myself when I am depressed or anxious; that’s always been true. The difference now is, I’m aware of it. I know now that this was the real reason I could never finish a book let alone really get one started—my emotional struggles caused me to lose focus to the point that I just couldn’t get it together.

The other lesson I’ve learned is that I need to follow my own advice and when nothing good is coming or I’m just not feeling like working on a particular project, then I need to write something else, whether that something is journaling, writing a blog post, or working on another creative project. With regard to the latter, I’ve been forcing myself to stick with one creative writing project at a time out of fear I’ll never finish anything if I don’t make myself plow through, but I’ve realized that, by doing this, I’ve been hampering my own creativity (and as I noted above, the real problem for all those years was depression, not my tendency toward chaos-witchiness). I hate doing the same thing all the time; I get extremely bored and end up feeling constrained. I certainly need some structure to keep me on track, but instead of forcing myself to push on when my heart’s not really in it, I should instead embrace my own dynamic nature, be flexible, and work on whatever project I feel like on a given day (employ an organized chaos, so to speak). My hope is that by changing things up, I’ll avoid stagnating and will instead keep the embers of my creative fire burning.

Along the same lines, while my story ideas tend to be nonlinear, with scenes/flashes coming at random, I need to write in chapters. If I have a scene in my head, then I will write it but I also need to write what goes around or with it, connecting the dots. This will save me having to go back and fill in loads of blanks later and will help to keep me organized. I mean, even when Wanda was completely disrupting people’s lives, she still provided a substantial amount of structure. The least I can do is turn random scenes into full-fledged chapters (the fact that I have already done it is proof I can do it again).

So this will be my new process once I’ve moved over the stuff I’ve got in my notebooks. Maybe I’ll even consider going back to writing on the computer. Ha! Sorry, but computer writing for creative projects is reserved for revising . . . unless I find a good electronic approximation for a pen and notebook that can be transferred straight into the computer and integrate with Scrivener, but that’s another topic for another day.

On Writing

Simplify

I’m super old-school when it comes to writing.  I write in a notebook with an Art of Ophelia pen while drafting (by this I mean during the initial writing phase; I migrate everything to the computer for revising and editing).  There are several reasons why I’ve chosen to do this and why I prefer it to writing digitally.  First and foremost is because when I wrote everything electronically, it was too easy for me to hit the delete key and constantly revise/rework text that I wasn’t happy with instead of pressing on with the story.  I kept getting in my own way by doing that. Suffice it to say, I accumulated loads of unfinished stories in the process. You might be saying, yeah, Jamie, but you can just scribble over stuff with your pen, too.  I totally can, but the difference is that it’s still there and can still be read/deciphered as long as I don’t tear out the pages, crumple them up, and throw them in the trash.  I used to trash entire chapters when I wrote electronically but for whatever reason, I haven’t torn out any notebook pages thus far.  I admit that I’ve done a fair amount of scribbling over text, but it’s nothing compared to the editing I did while I was supposed to be writing in electronic format; by making this switch, I’ve successfully managed to turn off my inner critic/editor for the most part.

I also write with a pen and notebook for comfort. I don’t like sitting at a computer or staring at a screen for lengths of time. When I spend most of my day at the computer working, it’s hard on my eyes and causes tension and muscle soreness in my neck and shoulders. I don’t want that experience while I’m writing. I’m much more comfortable curling up on the couch with my notebook and pen (sometimes with a blanket and cup of tea) and my headphones (everything I write has its own soundtrack). My new method feels natural, organic, to me.

I’ve also been unplugging from digital devices in general. I don’t watch a lot of TV, I quit wearing a fitness tracker watch a long time ago, and I keep my phone on silent most of the time (Do Not Disturb Mode is fantastic). I don’t like the distractions of these devices and the constant alerts, noise, and glare. This is a personal preference.

All that being said, I’ve found that with my current project (the first since my move away from electronic writing), I need some form of organization to help me keep focused on where I am with things. I’ve been periodically moving content over to the iPad to get a sense of structure/overall picture, but the time that I spend migrating text over is valuable writing time lost; once again, I’m getting in my own way. I also run the risk of editing text as I move it over, which I don’t want to get caught up in doing—that’s for later.

Thus, I sought an alternative to simplify the process. I considered a system of sticky flags in different colors to indicate sections about particular characters and a beginning note to summarize each scene I write, but ultimately, I decided a storyboard will work best for me. I’m a tactile person, so the idea of using an actual cork board with colored note cards appeals me. Different colors can indicate characters or events and each card will summarize a chapter or scene. I can move the cards around on the board to group them and to keep an eye on where I am (in other words, what gaps I still need to fill in). My husband made the suggestion that I not actually put this up on the wall as I might become overly focused on the structure/organization when that’s not super relevant during drafting (a wise suggestion!). Instead, I’ll stash it away so that I can take it out as needed and it will be a useful tool for when I’m done with the draft and begin revising and thinking more about structure. This will be an easy transition to migrating the content to Scrivener (my writing software on the computer) once I’m ready; my physical cards will become digital ones in that environment. I love it when a plan comes together! All I need to execute this simple plan of simplification is a cork board and colored some note cards.

I currently have a cork board on the wall of my office, but it’s full of my son’s artwork and things like a DC Comics collector card of Raven, my Potential Slayer button, a vinyl-lover sticker, and pics of my favorite Star Wars characters. So now comes the dilemma . . . Do I keep this board as is and find another to function as my storyboard or do I find a new home for all of these mementos and such and convert this board into my storyboard? It’s a tough decision, man.

While I mull it over, drop me a line to tell me what tools you’re a fan of and why, how you keep an overall view of your story arc, what you use to outline/organize, etc.

Update: I did away with the notecards and corkboard and ultimately decided to go with three separate notebooks since my story takes place in three parts (I’m going to be interweaving three threads here). I copied down the sections that I’d already written and have been filling in the blanks in between so as to get a more linear story and see the bigger picture of where I am. I think this is the best way forward for me, so from now on, I’ll jot down notes or sketch out particular scenes when they come, but I will also work on filling in the blanks to get to those given points so that I don’t end up with a disorganized mess that I can’t sort out.