I don’t ever want to stop learning. So I still attend workshops on writing whenever I can. It’s a great way to learn new perspectives, like a few I encountered at a recent workshop given to my local writers’ group by a long-time university English professor and small press publisher named Laurence Steven.
Laurence believes that, as writers create our fiction, we are also created by it. Think about that. Unless you’re the world’s most formulaic hack, there will be many elements of your fictional universe that appear from somewhere you can’t explain or control. Call it inspiration, or the Muse—it doesn’t matter—the result will surprise you, in ways big and small. And in doing so, it will change you, too. You aren’t the same person at the end of a project that you were when you began it.
We always want our writing to affect readers that way—why should it surprise us that a creation of imagination will also reshape its creator? I say, “Bring it on!” (Just as long as it makes me a better writer.)
Related to that, Laurence feels there are two main approaches to fiction writing. Aesthetic writers are those of us who work in a very structured way: modeling characters and situations and working out detailed plots before ever starting the prose process, using discipline to marshal our resources and capture a vision. Inspirational writers essentially wait for inspiration to strike, and hurry to get it all down while the spark is hot, believing that good writing can’t be forced. Aesthetics seek to capture; inspirationalists wait to be possessed. You may see yourself in one of those categories. Or you may see yourself in both, because the truth is, both approaches are present in all writing processes to varying degrees. Something has to happen to grab the writer’s attention before the process can even begin. No matter how disciplined you are, you have to depend on ideas coming to you all along the way. And no matter how much you depend on inspiration, you have to exercise discipline or you’ll never get anything done. Too much rigid adherence to structure can lead to formulaic writing and even copying others. Too much dependence on inspiration can lead to sloppy writing, and ignoring the culture of the genre you’re writing in.
Both approaches are necessary for significant writing to happen. It’s ultimately our interaction with something (Inspiration? Possession?) that results in the story.
And that’s how our work creates us.
Cancel the exorcist. Fire the life-coach. The keyboard’s really in control.