Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Creative Process, Exhibit A: Heraclix & Pomp

Writing is a joy. This is especially true when you have created characters that you love in a setting that fascinates you with ideas that challenge you. This is how I feel about my novel Heraclix & Pomp.

On the other hand, writing is a lot like real work. I wanted to show you what that work looks like to me, at least in the creation of Heraclix & Pomp. For those of you who either want to know what it's like to write a novel out of sheer curiosity or because you have a similar project planned, here is a 30,000 foot view of the process. You won't get any scholarly wisdom on how to write - for that I'd recommend Michael Moorcock's excellent book Death is No Obstacle and Stanley Fish's How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. These two books have helped me in my writing pursuits more than any others I've read. So this blog post isn't a "how to," it's more of a peek around the curtain.

I'll start . . . where I always start. By generating ideas. I've found that hindsight is anything but 20/20 when it comes to finishing a novel. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of threads that go into your novel, some picked up with intentional research, some subconscious, some gathered in a relaxed dinner conversation, some from listening to the radio . . . you get the point. But I cannot over-emphasize the need to read and read a LOT! I recommend reading primarily outside of your genre while you are writing, so you don't taint your ideas or inadvertently plagiarize someone else's work, thinking it was your own. Before or after writing the novel, go for it! I have a stack of fantasy novels that I need to read once this novel has gone out to the masses. So I'm reading primarily non-fiction and science fiction, for the time being.

For Heraclix & Pomp, I've looked back and seen, in the rear-view mirror, at least 20 books that inspired me before and while writing the novel. But three of them really stand out. Here they are:

These are the three that really got my thoughts going and planted the seeds in my brain for Heraclix & Pomp. The top two are pretty obvious, even with my poor camera work: Meyrink's The Golem and Schacter's Searching for Memory. I'm not telling what the third one is, the one that is opened up on top. Many of you will recognize it immediately, some of you won't have a clue. For those who don't know, start asking true geeks - it won't take long before you find One Who Knows! In fact, it this exercise should calibrate your geekometer's precision by a factor of 10.

After the rush of inspiration and pondering for a while, it's time to start writing.

Many of the younger generation will have forgotten about this very cool invention called "the pen". When a pen is applied to paper, ink comes out, allowing you to write words. There is no auto-correct feature. Sorry.

Seriously, I have to handwrite to get the creative juices flowing. I'm a kinesthetic and visual learner, so I really have to feel the story as I write it. In fact, I keep different sizes and weights of pens around so I can force myself to write faster or slower, more carefully or carefree, depending on the writing tool. I am a pen whore, I admit it. Keyboards are more for editing, in my view. Your mileage may vary. So, yes, I hand-wrote Heraclix & Pomp. The whole thing, start to finish. Here are a couple of pages, randomly selected from my notebooks, to prove it:

Now, I understand that my cell phone camera is not the best for taking pictures, but if I had used a high-resolution camera, it wouldn't have mattered. That's my handwriting. I'm one of the few people who can actually read it. Maybe I should have been a doctor.

After many months of writing at night or on lunch break at the day job or on my days off, I had my first completed draft of the novel. This is the result:

That's four notebooks worth. Truth be told, there are probably little snippets of stuff - character sketches and such - on any manner of note cards or post-it notes, too. Oh, and there's a map I drew in my drawing notebook of the Shadow Divan's sanctuary/laboratory/library. But that's something for a different day.

After handwriting the novel, I type. This allows me to edit and correct as I go. I usually do this a chapter at a time, rather than waiting for the entire novel to be done, so my process is: hand write chapter 1, enter chapter 1 in computer and edit as I go, hand write chapter 2, enter chapter 2 in computer and edit as I go, etc. ad nauseum.

When all my typing was done, I printed up the novel. Yes, the entire thing. Here's what it looks like:

That's a hardcover Roget's Thesaurus next to the stack, just to give some perspective on how many pages are there. It's a chore to carry that anywhere, so it usually stays in my writing area, unless I feel like I'm needing exercise. I actually took this stack to Mexico with me, when I went down there for The Day Job and tried to do some editing over dinner. Not the wisest choice. I'm still not sure it that's enchilada sauce or flan that made its way into the first page. Either way, it was delicious:

Now that I've printed the monstrosity, I go through the printed pages and do another editorial run-through. In fact, I just completed that last night. Here's an example of corrections made to the printed manuscript:

Hey, look at that! You can almost read it! Heh. I don't think the NSA could crack the code of my handwriting. Even though it's not a code . . . on purpose.

After making these corrections, I go back through, page by page, and make corrections in my electronic copy. This is a good time for me to make meaningful sentence and paragraph-level revisions, which I have done.

Now, I wait for my editor to get me the editorial letter outlining the issues he sees and how the book can be even better than it is. It's good to have an editor that you trust to tell you where you've done well and where you need to change things to improve the novel. I'm sure I'll have more on that in future days, but for now, there you have it. How I write a novel, in one neat little blog post. Keep in mind that my methods might not work for you. Each writer is different, which is pretty cool. Just remember: Your mileage may vary!
Addendum: The editorial letter has arrived! And now, the real work begins!

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