Thursday, March 25, 2010

Elephants and the Creative Process

Thanks and Welcome! to my new followers. So glad you're joining us here at Terry's Place. And thanks from my parents for all the good anniversary wishes.

Frequent visitor to this site, Elizabeth Spann Craig, spends some time each day on Twitter, giving references to blogs about the writing craft. I followed one of her links to this site about writing a first draft.

There's some good advice here, as long as you don't feel too restricted and regard them as hard and fast "rules." Anyone who's followed this blog for any length of time knows I don't like rigid rules.

The other night, our landlords invited us up for a glass of wine and some conversation. As I mentioned a while back, she is a sculptor who works primarily in stone. She mentioned that it was interesting that we were both artists.

Frankly, I'd never considered myself an artist, but we discussed our creative processes. There's an old saying that in order to carve a block of stone into an elephant, you simply chip away everything that doesn't look like an elephant. In writing, you keep adding until you get the elephant.

When she asked how I created a book, what my preparation process was, did I outline the plot, or develop the characters, I answered that I knew very little when I first started writing.

She said she worked the same way. She might have a very simple sketch—no more than a line drawing, when she started, and a vague idea of the finished product, but the actual sculpture was dictated by the stone. She starts working and lets the stone show her the way.

I joked about how my characters were always surprising me, and that the discovery was as much fun as the final product. On that, we were in total agreement.

But imagine if you started writing your book and couldn't go back to fix things. Once you chip away that piece of marble, it's gone and you can't reattach it to the sculpture. I don't think there is such a thing as a 'first draft' for her. Some artists might make models first, using a different, "less valuable" kind of medium, but she likes to get right to it.

In writing, it would be like being able to change what comes next, but not what came before. Scary. Really scary. I mean, I know authors who sell on synopsis, but when they write the book, it's all different. As long as it's good, there's usually no problem. But how much can you change your mind when you're working in stone?

As for life here. We've had weather shock, but I had no problem staying inside yesterday. Our landlord used his snowblower on the driveway, and the hubster's got a 4WD pickup. It wasn't snowing hard during the day, so if we'd had to leave, we could have. But I enjoyed that "vacation" day and didn't worry about writing anything other than this blog.

What I wasn't prepared for, however, was the culture shock of moving to a small town with an ethnic configuration much different from where we lived before. Monday night is the first night of Passover. With 2 of our 3 kids in town, having everyone together for the ritual Seder dinner would be a first in many years. Our daughter volunteered her house, since it has the most room, and since I have no kitchen, the plan was that I'd go to her place on Sunday and we could shop (if we hadn't already done so), and do some preliminary prep work. We'd come up with a blended menu, since by now, each of us has favorite recipes, and a grand time would be had by all. (Passover is one of my favorite holidays because of all the food. OK, there's mandatory wine-drinking, but I'm such a lightweight that it's all about the food.)

The hubster and I were out shopping at the local supermarket and I looked for the Passover foods section. Nope. Not in Monument. They had ethnic foods, but nothing devoted to all the restrictions of the Passover holiday. When I asked the customer service lady about it, she had no idea what I was talking about. All those foods were in Aisle 19, she said.

There's one other market in town, but my kids say the best bet is Colorado Springs, about 25 minutes away, and even that's limited. Today, we're meeting our Realtor to look at a house in Divide, which is barely a dot on the map. Should we end up there, I can imagine that holiday supplies for any of our celebrations will require a trip down the mountain. Way down.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Ohh...small towns. :) Yes, I've lived in small towns before. You'll have lots of material for your next book! :) Sorry you had a tough time finding Passover foods...that would make life difficult, especially since the weather is limiting your driving.

Thanks for the plug re Twitter. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Mason Canyon said...

Having grown up in a small town, they do have their limits and drawbacks. However, in their favor it use to be you knew your neighbor and everyone looked out for each other. Nowdays even that is mostly gone from small towns. Good luck with finding a store that carries all the food you're looking for.

Terry Odell said...

I think of my daughter in Northern Ireland who is in a similar situation. She's got the "Braves" as one of my characters would say, to make her own. I might tackle macaroons but I think I draw the line at gefillte fish (which isn't a requisite ceremonial food anyway).

And almost all my books take place in small towns. I've been drawn to them for a long time.

Debra St. John said...

Great post. I guess writing can be a lot like sculpting. It takes a lot of careful tweaking here and there - not too much, not too little - to get it just right.

Jess said...

Yeah...I have to go across the Irish Sea to get Passover food. Many thanks to a friend in Wales who got me matzoh, matzoh meal and matzoh ball mix! And kosher gummi worms! I think there are macaroons in C.Springs, but I'll send along the recipe I found a few years back that seems to work well. :)

Terry Odell said...

Debra - I think all creativity requires those refinements, unless perhaps, you're a genius.

Jess - Next year, I'll be better prepared. I kept thinking there was another month before the holiday, so everything is last-minute this time.

Marvin D Wilson said...

Good analogy - well good reversal of an old analogy/imagery example, Terry.

The Old Silly

Elena said...

I too have discovered that creativity crosses over lines quite nicely. After a lifetime of creating visual art and writing, I suddenly discovered this past December that I have a serious talent for composing. Amazing - I didn't even notice winter, I was way too busy.

My composition teacher is blown away by how "easy" it is for me. I got him to sit down (I'm older than his mother) and tell me what exactly he was talking about. In a nutshell, the creative process - he's a fine composer, he doesn't have enough experience to understand his creative process. Everything, I have learned about writing and painting has applied 100+% to composing.

Jess, how about sending that macaroon recipie to the blog. Seven years ago shopping for Pesach was easy here, no longer.

Terry Odell said...

Elena, how wonderful to discover a new talent. I feel that way about my writing; I certainly never dreamed that I could write a book, much less have them published.

And if Jess sends me the recipe, I promise to post it on the blog so it won't get lost in the comments.

Terry Odell said...

Marvin - thanks. I wish I could come up with those 'good' analogies when I'm writing! I think when I have a story going, I just want to get there, and stopping to compare something to something else just seems to slow the process ... hmmm... another blog topic, perhaps?

Carol Kilgore said...

Look at all you're learning. By this time next year, you'll be ready to rock n' roll. This will be a fun year for you.

Katie Reus said...

Maybe once you've lived there longer you can request they order certain items for you. At least in the winter so you won't have to drive so far in the snow! :)

Terry Stonecrop said...

Florida was the first time I've lived in a fairly small town. But Florida, as you know, has so many ethnic groups, Publix, in particular, caters to them. There's always online shopping, in a pinch.

Like the sculpting analobgy.

Terry Odell said...

Carol - New stuff is always exciting.

Katie - Hubby is in charge of snow driving!

Terry Odell said...

Terry - Yes, we did most of our shopping at Publix while we lived in Florida. Moving from Miami to Orlando was an eye-opener, though. Very different mix at the time we lived there. It's all changing so fast now.

Maryann Miller said...

What fun to spend an evening discussing creativity with another artist. I learned some time ago that hanging with artists, actors, musicians, etc, really stimulates my creativity. Then another writer said that he believes there is one giant creative spirit out there that we are all connected to and we feed each other. There is some truth to that, I think.

Terry Odell said...

Maryann, I totally agree. At the very least, they "get it", unlike my scientist hubby. He's supportive, but doesn't understand some of the nuances.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love that elephant! Love the analogy too :) said...

I'm aghast at the idea of not being able to go back and fix things, and hope no one looks at comments this late in the day. Because here's a confession: after a solid year of work, I finally have a handle on the wip. It's glorious/painful, and only happened when I surgically removed about 6 scenes and will seriously revise the rest. How DOES your sculptor landlady stand to do it with every project?

Elena said...

Thank you Terry. Composing music has become the focus of my life. I keep looking in the mirror wondering where this person came from.

This has been interesting reading the thoughts of people on creativity. Having studied sculpture for many years I was a little startled, but then I realized that sculpture is essentially a subtractive process, while writing is additive. While the process of composing looks additive - I suspect the process of knowing what to write is more subtractive in nature since I 'just know' in my head what I want my music to say.

Terry Odell said...

Jemi - thanks

Jenny - well, subtracting is like sculpting, but the adding new stuff--that's writing. Elena has good comments above.

Elena - interesting to get another artist's take.

Lee said...

I am a graphic & web designer by day and a technical writer and artist (painting) by night. I agree that my favorite part of creating is the process. And I have tons of sketches that will never see the light. Now I know other artists and designers who have clear pictures of the end result in their heads, but that usually isn't my approach when I am working for myself. I may do sketches and have an idea of the feeling or response I want, but I have no idea how it is really going to look when I'm done and that to me is what makes it exciting.