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31 Mar

Notes on the creative process – I really enjoyed writing my last entry, so I thought I’d stick with the whole idea of writing for a while. Pretty much everything I do these days involves creative writing in one form or another, so I might as well dwell on that for a bit and flex some of those old CW muscles.

“I picture memory as the starting point, and imagination as the domain beyond that starting point.”

My original intention for today’s entry was to actually post a bit of creative writing. David commented on my CW 101 anecdote in my last entry and said he’d like to see that story-telling ability applied to longer, fictional works. I was inspired and immediately began thinking of what I could write about. I have lots of anecdotes, of course, but I wanted to choose a subject that I could cover at greater length. Eventually I decided to start writing about my experiences working at the golf club in my hometown.

What I planned to do was take the first draft of this project and post it as my next journal entry (this entry), and hopefully get some feedback on it to use in writing the second draft. After I had been writing for a while, though, I realized two things. For one, I was only about halfway into the story and I had already exceeded what I consider to be a comfortable length for a journal entry. I thought of posting only the first part and saving the second part for the next entry, but I didn’t like the idea of breaking it up.

I also realized as I was writing that all I was doing was pulling out a bunch of separate anecdotes from my golf club days and stringing them together—in essence, I was taking things that happened over the course of many months and cramming them into a fictional day. It quickly became apparent that my story had no focus, resembling a fruit salad of creative writing—tasty and lively, and fun to pick at, but likely to leave you feeling unsatisfied. In addition, the fiction element was very weak. I was basically just telling things as they happened, and the only difference was that I had changed the names.

After coming to these realizations, I decided a number of things, first and foremost being that I was not going to post this as my next journal entry. More importantly, I decided that no one was going to see this first draft but me. I thought back to something David had once mentioned about not showing your first draft to anyone, something he had picked up from Stephen King. I remember thinking at the time that this rule didn’t apply to me, that I was open about my writing and didn’t need to worry about censoring myself out of concern for an audience. Now, however, I understand that this rule does indeed have merit (interestingly enough, at just about the same time David arrived at the opposite conclusion). So this draft is staying private.

I also resisted the urge to scrap what I had and begin writing the piece over again immediately. I decided that I would write this draft through to the end to see how it turns out. This may sound a bit odd to those who do not write creatively, but writers generally do not know how a story is going to turn out. Even if they have a plan, at the very least some of the details will change, and often they will discover that the story is going in an entirely different direction than the one they had planned. At least, that’s the way it’s always been with me.

One of the things I always enjoyed about Tolkien was his attitude toward his writing. In the introductions to his fiction (as well as in his correspondence) he spoke as if he were merely a chronicler of events and not a creator of them. He was the creator, of course, but he recognized that his imagination was powerful and he gave it free reign to go where it wished. I can relate to this. There are times when inspiration strikes and I feel like I am just hanging on for the ride. (Well, there used to be times like that. Let’s hope there are more in the future.)

In the present case, I have a pretty good idea of how the story is going to go, but I still find myself discovering new things along the way. This is why I want to finish writing this draft, even if I make drastic changes (such as rewriting the whole thing) later—because I don’t want to miss anything. Also, I think finishing what I start is a good habit. If I make a habit of finishing every draft I start, I will be less likely to abandon projects later on.

In addition to keeping the draft private and completing it, I made some mental notes about things I wanted to do in the next draft. I am not applying these to this draft, but I am keeping them in mind. First of all, I realized as I wrote that the real story was the narrator’s relationship with a character named Ronald, a Vietnam veteran with Tourette Syndrome. This relationship, of course, is based very heavily on a relationship I had with Ronald’s real-life inspiration. I had interesting relationships with every member of the grounds crew, of course, but no one affected me as much as this particular person, probably because we worked together a lot. I realized that this was the story I really wanted to tell, and that I will need to really focus my storytelling in the next draft.

The other mental notes I made are somewhat related, in that they both involve distancing myself from the story. I know that sounds strange, but I think it is important. As I mentioned above, in this first draft I am basically recounting real events that I experienced while working at the golf club. However, I did not set out to write a reminiscence or collection of anecdotes. If I were doing that, I would just post it here, as I have done in the past. No, this is fiction. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be false. It could be completely true (I draw a distinction between “true” and “factual”) yet still be fiction.

What I am writing now, though, is not fiction because I am relying more on memory than I am on imagination. The two are not mutually exclusive—rather, I picture memory as the starting point, and imagination as the domain beyond that starting point. Right now, though, I am shackled by my memories, unable to break free into the realm of imagination. I haven’t even left the starting gate, so to speak. In my second draft, I want to cast off these shackles and allow my imagination to make the story more vivid and interesting. I’m not sure what I will end up with, but I want to allow my imagination to take me where it will.

Along the same lines, another thing I decided is that the next draft will be written in the third person. This was a lesson that was pounded into my head way back in CW 101—if you’re going to write about a personal experience, write in the third person. This is, of course, a very general guideline, like “write what you know.” I don’t believe that it must be adhered to at all times, but here I see its merit. Writing in the third person forces me to look at my source material (my memories) in a different way, and it forces me to tell the story in a different way. I may pick up details that I would have passed over writing in the first person. Of the two types of third person point of view, limited and omniscient, I think it’s fairly obvious that limited is the way to go here—it gives me some of the objectivity of third person, yet it also keeps me close to the protagonist.

So that’s where I am right now. I’ve never actually done this before—taken time out in the middle of writing something to put my thought process down in tangible form. In a way, it strikes me as somewhat counterproductive. After all, I am not writing—I am writing about writing. I suppose the nature of blogging requires writing about something, but writing about writing (rather than just getting on with the writing itself) seems rather ironic. On the positive side, though, it gives me the opportunity to compose my thoughts, and it also leaves me with a record of the process I went through to get where I am. If I had not written this down, I would likely only remember the results and forget the process later on.

And now here I am—writing about writing about writing. I think I’d better stop before things get out of hand. It’s time to get back to the actual writing itself.

I will not be posting any drafts here—the first draft will be private, and the second draft will be sent to select individuals. If you’d really like to read a second draft, drop me a line, but understand that I will expect fairly detailed criticism in return. If you’re just interested in reading the story, I would recommend you wait until I’m finished, at which time I will post the final version in the Writings section. And then, when I’m done with that, maybe I’ll be inspired enough to go back and finish the original story I promised here some time back. Wish me luck.

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