The best description of my writing process I’ve ever come up with or heard is that my brain is a cocktail shaker into which random shit I am currently obsessed with gets dumped, shaken with plot cubes,1 and voila, out pours a novel. The less flattering version of this metaphor is that my writing process is like a hairy dog in the forest picking up burrs, twigs, mud, and so on as I drag my dog on a really long walk, which I then brush off at home. The resulting mass of dirt, hair, and filth is the story. Clearly, the cocktail metaphor is better if less accurate.
I don’t know if all people are like this, but I am insanely permeable in terms of my interests and environment seeping into my stories. I know this, and yet I’m always astounded when I see it in my own work. It’s so weird to see my present time and interests carried forward on their own trajectory by other characters. And kind of cool. It makes me trust that as long as I stay engaged with the world, and keep experiencing things, there won’t be a day when I suddenly don’t have ideas. Writer’s block, for me, is an issue of perfectionism. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of story fuel.
But sometimes it’s annoying, because it’s not 100% on purpose. Right now I have been watching a ridiculous number of Thin Man movies as I race Film Struck taking them off streaming, and reading the letters of Van Gogh. And so, of course, my next novel is now littered with references to these things.
I try to compensate by creating structure for my interests, so I can sort of stick to at least a semblance of the story I set out to write. Like, this book I’m working on now is2 supposed to be about a marathon. That’s why I’m running this marathon.3 It’s not just because the experience of actually running a marathon is good research. It’s also because the process of training for it keeps me at least vaguely on task and engaged with this story.
All this to say, I’m still figuring out not only how to write, but also how to be a writer, but for now I’m going to go make some cocktails.
- There was an opportunity for a diversion into narratology and narremes here, but I’m SPARING YOU. YOU’RE WELCOME.
- Well, was. That’s changed now. Now it’s something harder. Stay tuned as I figure that out.
- The marathon itself came from some complicated combination of running that zoo 5K, randomly hearing a song from the musical legally blonde, and the lyrics “the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me and no one knows, how far it goes” from Moana, which my evil little sister made me watch and has been following me around like herpes flare ups. Damn you Disney!!! I actually am not 100% sure where this idea came from, but that’s what I remember.