Understanding Alchemy – My Writing Process

I suspect many readers, and indeed if conference questions are anything to go by, are mystified by the process writers have of hunting down, killing and skinning an idea and presenting it as a story. It’s like the medieval alchemists who attempted to combine elements and transform it into gold.

I was reluctant to write this post, tagged by another writer, my collaborative writing partner Jodi, but realised if I believe everyone can be creative then it behooves me to explain the process and guide new writers into the mystery.

Please don your robes and grab a doughnut; the initiation is about to begin.

There are many pithy quotes by writers about how to write but they are only relevant if you have immersed yourself in the craft of writing. Experienced writers nod sagely and ironically at the pithy wit and wisdom of those they admire but it doesn’t let the novice into an understanding.

The focus of the My Writing Process tagalong was to ask writers 4 questions. Here are the 4 questions asked and my attempt at an answer. Particularly #4 where I will attempt to show how I work and see if it helps novice writers on their journey.

1. What are you working on at the moment?

Too many things. Here are the most significant projects.

a. Post Marked: Piper’s Reach is a collaborate epistolary novel written with Jodi Cleghorn. It was hand written in real time and sent through the mail.
We are now at the stage of finalising our synopsis and getting it ready to submit to a variety of avenues.

b. The Java Finch (novella – working title) This is the logline I developed in my planning:
When Jack displays his finches at a bird breeding convention he meets Takashi who is painting the birds. They form an unlikely friendship and begin to come to terms with their experiences of World War 2 that shaped their lives, discovering that the very things that trap them are the things that give them the most freedom.

c. The Broken Chord (YA verse novel – working title) The (very rough) logline: Caitlyn-Rose is a gifted musician in her final year of high school, and having lost her mother in her first year of high school, struggles with her identity and purpose on the verge of graduating, afraid of the future and who she is.

d. I am also working on Degenerate Dictionary, Post It Note Poetry and a non-fiction book on creativity.

2. How do you think your writing differs from that of other writers in your genre?

I honestly have no idea. I am a newbie author so comparisons to other writers is unfounded.I do not have a substantial body of work to hold up for scrutiny. What I do have is an interest in authors who writing I admire: Tim Winton, Marcus Zusak, Craig Silvey. It is from these writers that I take inspiration in terms of style. I like Winton’s poetic prose, Zusak’s voice and Silvey’s humour.
My own writing infuses elements of all three, but it is my voice. I do not intend to be a slavish copyist but to speak articulately in my own voice. I love how the minutiae of life is a smaller version of the bigger thematic concerns of a work.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I remember watching an indie film with an old friend when we were growing up called ‘The Saint of Fort Washington’ and it was a couple of lines of dialogue that stuck with me.
“What’s your story?”
“I haven’t got one.”
“Everybody got a story.”
At the heart of it is a desire to know people’s story; how often do you hear someone say, “My life is uninteresting” or “I’m so boring” but that is the point of intersection where I want to ask the person about his or her life and listen to the stories that are important to them (I have plans for a project to take this idea a step further).
I write what I do because it’s the little things in life that interest me. For example:
* who decided it was a good idea to share a bed with someone?
* why does it take so long to hang out socks and underpants on the washing line?
* how long should you let someone walk around with their fly unzipped?
* is falling in love better or worse than getting gravel rash when you fall off your skateboard?
I wrote a manifesto some time ago, to articulate my vision for why I write.

I am a writer.

I write because I want to tell a story, but not just any story.

I write because I want to tell the story of those who are not heard.

I write because I want to tell the story of those who cannot speak.

I write because I want to tell the story of those who are disempowered.

I write because I want to tell the story for those who cannot.

I write because I believe that telling a person’s story is integral in understanding who they are.

I create art to speak into the darkness, that I may be a light for others to ignite their own flame and walk clearly.

People’s lives are not boring; writing is an exploration of how and why the everyday variables and events impact a person.

4. What’s your writing process, and how does it work?

Process assumes a regularity of work habit. Yeah, about that. Nope. Doesn’t work for me.
I know writers who can park their backside in a seat for an entire day and churn out 2000 words, 5000 words or even 10,000 words. Others I know work in small chunks of time, half an hour or an hour while others write until they have 1000 words.
For me, I work in bite-sized portions of time, snatching words in paragraph fashion. I have, in the past, written in chunks of time and written to 1000 words. It is always dependent on the workload of my day job.
I can go days or weeks without substantial writing yet still manage to scrawl words here and there. And I write slowly.
I also don’t have a regular process because I also write poetry and short stories. What I am working towards is a more consistent pattern, say 2-3 times a week of set aside time to write.
There is no formula to writing; you simply write.

How you create stories is another matter.

When I first started writing I knew a story needed a beginning, a middle and an end; a complication, a series of events, a resolution. But how to put these into a cohesive piece was what I needed to learn. I read as many blogs as I could about the writing process and how to craft a good story. I wrote 1000 word pieces of flash fiction and posted them to my blog, linked them to others and sought feedback to improve my work.

You learn to write by writing and reading. A writer is the sum of their reading influences and their vision and perspective on the world. You tell stories for myriad reasons but at the heart of it for me is the power of story to transform the individual and also a love of words and language.

Find a pen, a piece of paper, and write a story. Find your voice.


2 responses to “Understanding Alchemy – My Writing Process

  1. Thanks for sharing Adam. One of the things I struggle with is fitting work around writing, Because my EDJ is from home, I can fall into a trap of goofing off, not writing but not quite working. Like right now, I am supposed to be invoicing, instead I’m reading your blog. For me the issue is discipline. Oh and lack of structure. I wrote about 8K over the weekend, and now I don’t want to do my “real” job.

    • Discipline is a hard one to master. I’ve been working on it for ages, unsuccessfully. As a teacher, there are times when work necessarily dominates and takes up all my free time. Even moments of minutes to write are hard to come by, and if they are available, I am often mentally exhausted.
      But words added to words eventually add up to a complete work, however long it takes.

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