Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for May 11th, 2011

Why I Write (And How, too)

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Tonight’s blog post topic is deceptively simple: why I write.  I say this topic is “deceptively simple” for a reason.  That’s because why I do something is often the hardest thing to explain. 

I just know that I must do something — I must create, even though many times it’s a major struggle to come up with something new that I like, that I think others might like, also, and that holds together in the form of a story — or I am not being my best self.

I am a musician, but I can’t always play — in fact, in recent years I have hardly been able to play at all due to carpal tunnel syndrome (fortunately I can still type, and most nights type easily; many people with CTS cannot) — so that area of creativity has been denied me even though the music is still there.  Often, I’m able to express a little of it through composing it, though sometimes I don’t have enough of an idea to do anything aside from hum it or whistle it (which can startle passers-by, but it’s an unconscious thing most of the time).   And if I do that for long enough, I’ll end up with a compositional idea that I can write a piece around.

It’s a similar thing for writing, whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction.  You get an idea, which may or may not work.  You need to be able to give it time in order to develop the story better.  Along the way, you realize you need to research many, many things (it depends on the story you want to tell, but usually there’s anywhere from a small amount of research to a significant amount of research involved), and you do so in order to better deepen and broaden your story.  (Note this isn’t done just to show off the fact that you actually did your homework; that’s pointless and absurd.)   You need to  understand your character as much as you possibly can in order to write a better story that readers not only understand, but feel in their hearts as something that could, possibly, be real no matter how much magic or hard speculative science that sounds like magic might be present within your story. 

Then, you work on this idea as you’re able — in many cases, I’m working on a number of ideas all at the same time and whatever one is strongest, that’s the one I develop (though other writers will tell you what I’m about to say, too; sometimes the story just will not let you go and you write that because it’s there and is quite “loud” so you want to shut it up — those are the easiest times, by far, to be a writer or composer, as the same thing happens with music for me from time to time) — and development takes place along the way. 

Unfortunately you cannot often rush this development, and some stories develop much faster than others.  If you’re on a deadline, yes, this focuses your attention nicely — but it still may not help you figure out what the story is.

The only way to do that — know what the story is about from beginning to end —  is to get the right amount of inspiration working with your high amount of perspiration (in other words, how much energy you are putting into the act of writing or creating this story), then listen to your intuition.  Your intuition will tell you when, deep in your heart or mind, that you finally have enough of your story and can write it even if you’re not sure exactly what it is that you’re going to end up with.

Because of this process, sometimes a story will seem to have no action (internal or external) until you have the entire thing on paper; then you can figure out what’s missing and add it, or perhaps you’ll get a good lead from a friend who writes or one of your first-readers who loves to read your stuff and knows what you’re good at that isn’t in this particular manuscript . . . at any rate, along the way you figure out what you need with any given story, and you add it.  (With or without help.)  Or you end up putting this story on the back burner until you figure it out.

That’s why I say you must be persistent, as well as be hard-working, and that you must trust your creative impulses.  If you don’t do all of these things, whatever you end up with will not be something anyone else wants to read — and even if you do all those things, it still might not be what anyone else wants to read.  But in that case, at least you know you’ve done your best, and have at bare minimum written some more of the putative “million words of trash” you need to get out of your system before you can finally start writing quality stuff.

So, what is the short answer as to why I write?  Simple.  Because I can’t stop writing.  And I hope that along the way, you, the reader, will enjoy reading what I write because truly, I can’t shut up anyway. 

In other words, since I’m going to keep writing no matter what, you may as well enjoy the ride (whatever ride I can take you on with my storytelling, that is) as much as you possibly can.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 11, 2011 at 11:10 pm