Friday Fragments: Creative Thinking

Slow Writing

Via Radish Reviews’ always great Friday Linkspam, I discovered this amazing post by Kristin Cashore documenting (including with photos) the long, painful process of drafting–and then more or less completely rewriting–her YA novel Bitterblue (which made the New York Times’ and several of my reader-friends’ lists of notable books of the year). I loved this because:

  1. The pictures show so clearly that writing is hard, even if you are good at it. I always tell my students that crying is part of my writing process. Many of them give up on their writing too soon, assuming that because they find it difficult, they will never produce something good.
  2. Seeing a writer’s mind at work is fascinating. So few people write by hand anymore. We have manuscripts like this for many 19th and even 20th-century writers, but how many today are leaving such a record of their creative process? (Not that I’d want to give up drafting on the computer myself). The same goes for letters and other records. What will literary biographers of the future have to work from? Storified Tweets?
  3. It’s connected to my thoughts about the pressure to write fast. What if Cashore’s editor had tweaked that first manuscript and published it, rather than suggesting Cashore start over and find the much better book that lurked in her draft? I’m not saying good books can only be written this way, or that a five-year struggle necessarily makes a good book. But if Cashore had been under pressure to be on even a one-book-a-year schedule, this book would never have been written.

Creative–and Not So Creative–Notebooks

Brainpickings has images from “Moleskine: The Detour Book, based on [the] Detour Booklegendary notebook’s global Detour Project — a traveling exhibition that began in 2006 and has since collected more than 250 notebooks, including ones by beloved artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and designers.”

I thought it was interesting that even the musicians and writers “think” in images and sketch as well as write in their notebooks.

This is my Moleskine. No Moleskineimages. There are notes for implementation of curriculum management software (that is not even English) and comparing the provincial legislation governing university senates and college education councils. Woo hoo. Looking at my notebook I suddenly understood my Twitter/online addiction, which I am trying to curb, much better. Teaching can be isolating (you don’t get a lot of time to talk to peers about your work) but it’s often creative and intellectually stimulating work. I get to think about books and writing and figure out how to make a class engaging. When I do talk to peers about teaching, I often come away all bouncy and excited: “Ooh, I want to try that in my class!”

The governance and policy work that is my whole job right now is important, and I care about it. But writing policy is not really creative and often not intellectually engaging. It’s a slog. And I mostly do it by myself. Right now, Twitter is one of the few places I get to have “Ooh, bounce, bounce” conversations that spark new ideas. So if I want to cut back because it’s distracting me from work, I need to find other ways to get what it’s giving me: to include others more in my work so I have people to kick ideas around with, and to make more time in my personal life for inspiring conversations. Hmm, it took pictures of notebooks to give me that insight. I guess my Moleskine is doing something for creative thinking after all.

Wish Lists: Creative Thinking for Romance

There have been some great “wishlists for genre romance” in the last week or so: Cara McKenna kicked it off at Wonk-o-Mance, inspiring Natalie and Brie (they all have fantastic comments, too). These aren’t “instead of” wishlists but “more of” wishlists. Romance is such a diverse genre that there are examples of all the things people are wishing for. Sometimes, though, they’re hard to find, especially when the trend of the moment is for quite different things (how do we discover the working-class beta hero among a sea of dominant billionaires?).

Most of what I’d wish for has been covered by others, but here’s something I’d add: I wish it were easier to identify hybrid novels that don’t fit the conventions of genre romance but offer a satisfying (happy ending) romantic storyline. That’s why I’m particularly sad that RWA is doing away with its RITA award for Novel With Strong Romantic Elements. I don’t always need romance in my books, certainly, but I like it. Even when I read mystery, literary fiction, or (more rarely) speculative fiction, books with a romance thread are often those I love best.

Back in my day (by which I mean the Victorian novel) authors had no problem including romance with happy endings in novels dealing with serious social themes. That’s much less likely to be true today, but I’m sure they’re out there. However, because there’s no label for “X + romance,” trial and error is the only way to find them.

Take “New Adult” fiction, for instance. I’m not very interested in the contemporary romance iteration of this emerging genre: it seems to be mostly “crackalicious” emo books about people 18-24 having hot sex and obsessive relationships. Yes, finding love can be a big focus of many people’s lives at that age. It was for me (and I met my husband during those years), but I was also enmeshed in friendships, studying, figuring out who I was and what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had lots of passions. That kind of book, I’d like read. Where is the 21st-century equivalent of Dorothea’s story in Middlemarch, or Margaret Hale in North and South, Mary Ward’s Marcella, or heck, the older Anne of Green Gables or Jo March? They all have happy-ending love stories (well, we can argue about some), but there are other things going on in those books. I want stories like that, and other genre-crossing love stories as well. I guess I’ll have to peek at the end to find them.

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4 Responses to Friday Fragments: Creative Thinking

  1. If twitter-friends’ recommendations didn’t already sell me on Bitterblue, that post sure did.

  2. Erin Satie says:

    I loved Bitterblue, and I love the story of how it was written. I’d heard it before but the pictures really add something (something equally terrifying & inspiring). My favorite is the story at the end, about her fear as a man who sits beside her as she writes. Thanks for highlighting the post.

  3. I loved that Cashore post too. Erin, I think someone else on Twitter commented that it was scary. To me it was actually quite freeing to see an author I admire talk so openly about her struggle with her book. I felt very thankful to Natalie for tweeting that link. And I was so glad to see Bitterblue on the NYT’s list of notable children’s books. Such a wonderful book.

  4. helenajustina says:

    I’ve thought before that the use of computers for writing will mean little opportunity for academics of the future to examine the writing processes of authors – no handwritten amendments to analyse. Although I’m not an author, I used to write long documents at work. I always kept carefully named different documents for each version; some showing the changes with revision marking (when I wanted to see and check them quickly), some not (but the changes could be revealed by using document compare in the software). I would have thought that this would be good practise for authors too, so that they can go back to an earlier version if they decide they prefer it – either for a sentence, a paragraph, or the whole chapter. And I understand that modern editing is done using software i.e. producing yet further versions which could be carefully named and kept.

    If an author worked in a similar manner, all these process would provide the material for future academics to pore over the evolution of a classic – assuming that they could still access and work with the documents in electronic form!

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