The other day, I was asked, "What is your creative process as an artist?"
My answer immediately trip-switched into how my creative process relates back to my teaching. I brought up the fortress walls and made it a reliable answer that had to do with my students and my education and the gradual release of scaffolding.
"Well, like my teaching philosophy, I think that it needs to come from the heart," I said. "I say to my students ..." et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
I was then told that while all of that is very interesting, they wanted to know about my creative process. Not my teaching philosophy.
So here is my creative process. Teaching philosophy aside.
1. I find something that interests me. It not enough to be something that I care about or something that has a cool thing about it. It has to be both. It has to be a project that I can connect to in some way, be it theme or character or issue involved in the world, and it also has to have some sort of hook to it that will keep my interest for a year. Because that's how long you usually work on things. If it doesn't have either of these things, then I won't work on it.
2. I write a little of it. I test out the waters, try out some background music, meet the characters. It's usually about two or three pages, and I back off and decide if I see any potential. If I can find some nugget in there, I keep the idea.
3. I decide what the form is going to be. Is this better suited as a short story? A novella? A play? A graphic novel? A screenplay? A novel? Then I decide if I can do that form right now.
4. I plot out the first half of the story and some possible endings. I don't plot out the whole story.
5. I get to know my characters. I collect music. I build the playground of the world.
6. I start writing. At the end of Act I, I stop writing. I look to see what's happening. I look at my plot again. I keep writing.
7. I finish a draft. I see how it turned out. I revise it, all pointing directly to the big crux I discovered during my exploration of Act II and Act III.
8. I revise. I revise some more. I revise focusing on one element and then another. And then I revise.
9. I send it to friends and professors and anyone willing to read it. I workshop it.
10. I lock it away in a cave for two weeks.
11. I read it from beginning to end, I read my workshop notes. I write it again.
12. Eventually it is finished, and I start working on summarizing it and querying it.
I use music. I seek out newspaper articles to find interesting things that have happened. I read a lot of gory firsthand accounts of people who have almost died or have lost someone close or who have been attacked by a shark or a terrorist or a mugger or an overzealous Trump fan. I look for weird situations that people can write about, sad situations that have been documented, and horrible things that have happened in our history that people try to forget.
I listen to musicals to study form. I watch movies to study mood. I read playscripts to study dialogue. And I talk things out a lot, usually over a table at a fast food restaurant with someone who would love it if I stopped trapping them in restaurants so I can fix my book.
Sometimes I play Tsum Tsum while I think. Other times, I listen to Hamilton. And sometimes I scour Facebook for advice.
I am plugged in. I need music. I am suffering from crushing doubt and anxiety. I need to talk walks.
I write in the mornings, and I revise at night. That is, unless I write in the afternoons and I sleep at night. Sometimes I write on road trips, other times some of my worst writing is written on hotel memo pads and I pretend I wrote nothing. But I wrote well in Ireland and London. I hate writing in Omaha.
I have a desk and I barely use it. I sit on my couch or I perch in a Panera. I never write in bed. I fall asleep.
I will write for hours. Some days I won't write at all. Other weeks I write for five days straight, especially if I've heard a good song.
I should read more. I try to read a short story every day. I would be lying if I told you I succeeded in that.
But I am an artist. I do have a process. I have a world that is inside my head and I've gotten into the habit of not sharing it. I've taught myself that it's not important. I need to not do that. Because I do know what I'm doing, and I do know how to answer the question of "What's your process?"
So there it is. My process.
What is this?
Dawson is an editor and writer and MFA student at Stonecoast. She writes stuff.