How I Work
When writing a draft, I usually compose on paper. The blank page comes in the form of 8-1/2 x 11 legal pads. There is a certain seductive quality to seeing your words “in print” on the computer screen that does not permit the objectivity which a writer needs for revising and editing. I frequently must “input” thoughts, dialogue, and narration into an electronic file because the words appear with laser speed in my mind. However, I always consider those passages as works-in-progress and have even deleted major portions of some of them. A writer has to be willing to use the “Delete” button just as much as the keyboard.
Many scenes have “come to me” while I am driving, exercising, or doing errands. There is always a pad of paper and a pen in the car or in my purse. In a pinch, napkins and sales receipts have served my purpose!
During the process of inputting my hand-scrawled fiction into an electronic file, I automatically revise, edit, and sometimes decide that the material is not for this novel but for another one! At a very young age, I was trained as a typist; my typing skills allowed me to earn my way through life for many years. Thus the manual/physical process of working on a keyboard is ingrained into my creative psyche. The thought of using a touch screen to write is quite appalling to me.
In terms of development of the novels that I have written and plan to write, the seeds of germination were planted long ago. Some images were saved in my mind for over thirty years before being rendered into word pictures in a novel; other elements in scenes come directly from that day or week in my life during composition. For decades, I wrote the following in chartreuse green cloth-bound journals: myriad thoughts; impressions; passages of dialogue and narration; factoids; ideas for names; personal essays; and research information. Those writings were later used to compile the draft of a novel. The cloth-bound journals were then expunged.
I recall several lines that I wrote into a gray hard-bound journal sometime during the spring of 1983 while I was waiting at a bus stop. I saved this passage from this journal and kept it in a file. That piece of writing, which I still recall vividly, was used for the love story of Arthur and Camille in THE DAWN. I believe that the glimmer, the seed crystal of that opus formed within that passage.
My method is understood by me; I don’t expect much more comprehension that that one. I must state that home-schooling my children solidified, augmented, and enhanced not only their knowledge but mine as well. I would not be the writer or the woman that I am today without those cherished years.
The Red Book
It is an historic day. The time has come for change. The U.S. Army green blank journals of yore are being replaced by The Red Book, a signal toward the future, perhaps of a more passionate form of writing!
My interactions with my friend and Russian artist have certainly contributed to this choice, although she would state that is mine 100%. Still, I must give credit for inspiration where credit is due, and her influences in my personal, creative, and professional lives have been and are immeasurable.
So to Svetlana, I dedicate The Red Book, blank and ready for dreams to come true!
Very often I am asked where I get the time to do all of my writing. The question is not easy for me to answer because a part of my mind is always at work on a creative project. Everyday life provides many catalysts for the ideas that a writer finds interesting, but, for me, everyday life is the ultimate source of the time for the writing.
Rarely do I get up in the morning with a schedule to write. Sometimes I need to work an hour or so on editing or on revisions but I accomplish the work in-between other tasks in the home or during other activities. I do not shoe-horn myself into a fixed routine. I value my freedom to live free from my writing, and I place a premium on my personal life, to the extent that I have often put off writing until it can no longer be put off. Ergo, a short novel will “write itself” in the space of a few weeks after it has been “cogitating” in my mind for a few years, if not longer.
This method is not typical of many writers. I think the best answer for where I get the time as a writer to write is in between the time needed for all of the other aspects of my life. Time management might be the more modern term for it, but basically, being a writer means having many irons in the fire at once. The hope is that none of them go out or burn to a crisp!
Back to the Source
Fairly recently I realized the reasoning behind my marked refusal to go back to the source of an artistic river, particularly in writing and in music. For decades, my enamoured focus upon medieval literatures blocked my pathway to the wellspring: the Classics that came before, this foundational source that made Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome the basis of Western Civilization. My daughter saw to it that I got schooled in that fount of the fountain of my own creativity.
Though I’d willfully resisted Sophocles at first, a few summers ago I came to love his plays in a way that rivaled the drama of my cherished French dramatists, Corneille, Racine, and Molière, the Big 3 of 17th-century French playwrights. I also playfully and joyously plowed my way through the poetry of Horace, garnering new-found insights into my treasured French poets of any era prior to post-WWII.
In a similar vein, once I learned of Nikolay Gogol, and I read “The Overcoat,” no longer could I appreciate, in the same way, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Turgenev, Pasternak or even Nabokov. Gogol was the creative source of so many Russian writers to come, the foundation upon which a mighty empire of Russian literature was built.
I’d heard of this Russian writer, but I’d always avoided him, quite purposefully. Once again, I’d refused to go back to the source that inspired future writers. From Gogol comes the literary template for the Russian fatalism that ensures something goes terribly wrong with human nature; and while it does, the sense of wonderment, of logic, and the energy of the description of a writer such as Gogol are mighty hard to resist. Yet resist I did, and mightily, for many years!
Speaking of mighty, The Mighty Handful, or The Five, of Russian music was also intentionally limited by me to these composers: Mily Balakirev, who was the leader, and thus the first composer to whom I listened with endearment; Alexander Borodin (“Quarter No. 2” is lovely); Modest Mussorgsky (meh); César Cui (nyet); and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, my least favorite of The Five.
These five famous Russian composers of the 19th century created a uniquely Russian classical music, but their compositions would not have aspired to the Russian heavens without the existence, the genius existence, of Mikhail Glinka. He lived from 1801-1857 and during that brief, turbulent life this Russian produced a small amount of classical music that has echoed large down the centuries.
The turbulence of his life was part of a chronic but deep homesickness that led this man to father the ferment of a fervent form of music: Russian music. Glinka founded the nationalist school of Russian symphonic sound, an auditory celebration of all things Russian. He is the mighty oak from which the mighty oak trees of The Mighty Five grew. Those later composers largely based their lyrical melodies and vivid orchestrations upon the music of this Russian who grew from a spoiled child to an artistic fountainhead.
What is it with my aversion to going back to the Source of the Creative Greats? It’s quite a pattern! I now have to backfill some of the classical music education I’d given to my son! Oh, well, life is a continuing education!
There are exceptions, of course to my self-blinkered artistic vision. I discovered at an early age the composing genius of exquisite originality named Frédéric Chopin, who is an example of a source of 1. There were also Blaise Pascal and F. Scott Fitzgerald to light my pathway to inspiration.
I think that my creative process, or my Muse, has demanded that I first learn all that I can from the musicians and writers who were inspired by the wellspring. I’ve intuitively and instinctively chosen to glean my lessons from the artists who came AFTER the Original Artist, the Source. Only then can I feel free to appreciate and analyze the Fountainhead, to indulge in the art of the Lone Self, be it a himself, or, in the case of Emily Dickinson or Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a herself.
rigorous, if not extreme, self-discipline, has necessitated a lot of self-limiting
and turning of my head — eyes and ears — away from magnificent music and
profound poets and unrivaled writers. There is,
nonetheless, a method to my tenacious madness:
Sometimes it is best to save the best for last!
The Last . . .
Sometimes it is best to save the best for last!
That statement ended my previous post for How I Work. And it sounded so final!
“The last” of anything endures forever if the spirit of the thing, even a person, is kept alive through love and patience and dedication to the thing-in-itself.
For me, coming to the end of creating THE DAWN in November 2011 coincided with reaching the final steps of a friendship here-on-earth. That friendship endures for me because of all that went before. Like the creation of any work of art, there is a beginning in every ending.
How I work is to labour through many emotions but, most of all, through love. There is a love of my subjects, a love of the objects of my subject matter, and a love of life. How I work is ensuring that the best-for-last — lasts forever.