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Archive for the ‘Creative process’ Category

Update: Creative Process (How I Found Mine, Again)

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Have you ever put aside a creative project somewhere in the middle of it? Some people call it writer’s block. For some, it may be brought about by having a lack of parameters… it’s not that they don’t have ideas; they have too many ideas. And, there’s nothing funneling them down to the ones they can actually use. For others, it gets brought about by the realization of what they don’t actually know. That’s what happened to me.

2016-12-08 14.47.16 Sib's Writing Space at Meredith's

My friend Meredith gave me a week’s retreat in her getaway. I brought my computer, desk chair, and a flip chart. It was about as idyllic as it gets. Wrote seven chapters and am eternally grateful.

I’m writing a thriller. Classic themes. All the tasty morsels readers of thrillers expect when they pick up the next potboiler. In January of 2017, I ran into a snag. My character needed to spend time in a place I’d never been. Part of this novel’s style is to imbue location into the story as a kind of background character. That worked great for part one of the novel (or roughly what I see being the first third). But, now my character was going to a location and a culture I had never visited and was unlikely to before the novel was finished. So, I stopped my process. That was my first problem.

Fall of 2016, I spent my Saturdays writing. I had used a straightforward process. Early on, I made a mind-map (bubble-map) of the major plot points of the entire novel. So, when it came to my writing day, the first couple hours, I would take the plot point or two I was planning to cover, and mind-map all the major points I wanted to hit in the chapter. This would function as a loose flowchart (with many side trips) to follow the action (or some piece of character development). This process saw me through the first eighteen chapters (roughly 40,000 words).

Hale Novel 1 Plot Mind-map (Blurred) 2018-07-23 17.46.59

A blurred capture of my very first mind-map of the novel. I made one of these for each chapter and have made newer versions as the story has grown.

That’s when I ran into the What-Do-I-Do-Next syndrome. I was unsure. I knew I needed to do a few things:

  1. Figure out where in a particular country / culture my character was headed
  2. Learn about that place and the people who live there (not to mention a little history)
  3. See a lot of photos and videos
  4. Develop an attitude toward the place (this would help give the place a sense of character in my story)

Something else happened. I travel for work, but the amount of travel increased so that I was gone almost every week. I was exhausted and didn’t feel like thinking hard on Saturdays. So, I let my exhaustion, and moreover, lack of adherence to my process keep me from getting there quickly. By mid-summer, I was only thinking about my main character and the story for five to ten minute intervals only a few times a week. The plot was not progressing.


I love haiku as a form. This one captures a bit of what life had been like…

In September, it dawned on me that I actually knew someone from the culture I needed to understand. I could take action! Within a week, we had a lunch appointment. By the end of lunch, I had a location. We set up a time for me to interview her. I did and learned a great deal. Then, she connected me with her parents who had lived in the town as adults. I spent a couple of days in town as a tourist (inside Google Maps) prior to interviewing them. I walked from place to place (clicking my way from one location to another). I saw the historical things. Monuments to literary figures. Beautiful places. Trashy and muddy places. My virtual trip gave me enough questions that at the end of three hours interviewing this lovely couple, we could have spent many more hours talking.

I was excited about the story again. But, two things were true. I was exhausted from all the travel and I had completely lost any rhythm or momentum by losing my Saturday process.  It was now December and I gave it another go. I took a Saturday, in my office which had been unintentionally converted into a closet. At the end of that painful day, I had written the most fantastical and whimsical beginning to Part Two.

It was now Christmastime, and we were invited to a Holiday party. We like to get to Lucy and Mark’s party early (or very late when it’s winding down) so we get to talk with the hosts. Lucy is an author and always has good questions when it comes to story. So, I recounted the story captured above and then told her about the new chapter. She gave me this look as if she felt so bad to have to tell me the following, “Sib, that sounds like a completely different book.” And, she was right.

It took me a month to fully commit to scrapping the direction it was headed. I spent a couple of Saturdays reading it and thinking, then thinking some more. I had to go back to the drawing board to get part two started again.

Over the course of the spring, I realized that I had gotten so focused on trying to know what I did not know, that I lost all confidence. I was focused on the tiny details. But, I knew this story. In the world of my characters, I am omniscient (at least most of the time). I know how this story ends. I get to make up the fun-and-games that happen along the way.

Then, I was reminded of something one of my dearest friends Richard Geller (who also happens to be one of my favorite writers) says, and I’m paraphrasing, “Sometimes the best thing you can do is show up!” Not only had I given up my Saturday process, I had allowed my office to become a closet. It was not a place I wanted to work. So, I hadn’t.

Spring cleaning completed, in early June I finished a solid draft of the first chapter in part two. I’ve been keeping my Saturday’s sacred for five weeks and now have five more chapters completed. Furthermore, I’m back to my process, the process I know works for this book (perhaps a different process for a different book).

Google Maps Image of Sib's Book opening

My novel opens here. I have spent countless hours studying the details in GoogleMaps.


What are my take aways? I have three, with a kicker:

  1. KEEP SHOWING UP! – I had a process that worked for this novel. I gave up on it.
  2. YOU HAVE EVERY REASON TO BE CONFIDENT! – Don’t lose sight of the fact that in the world of the characters, you are omniscient (mostly). Take charge…
  3. REFRAME THE PROBLEMS (BLOCKS) AS OPPORTUNITIES! – I don’t like the term “writer’s block” because it suggests some outside force. Rather, these stoppages can be opportunities to solve problems for your character or story. Answer the questions: What is the problem? Why does it exist? How can it be overcome (all the options)? And, what steps am I going to take toward one of them?
  4. Start the process over… keep showing up!

P.S. Great resources for writers: Google Earth & Google Maps, TripAdvisor reviews (and photos)… or any review site you can read or translate (Google Translate).

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