The creative process is weird

Process is a strange thing to communicate. I've been asked to describe how I write, whether that's as a journalist and critic or a fiction writer, and I almost never know how to explain it.

The creative process is weird
Photo by Nick Fewings / Unsplash

I picked up writing early, like the absolute sucker that I am, so of course I learned every single bad writing habit that I could by the time I was old enough to know better. I used to fancy myself "the idea guy" – better at coming up with things to write about than doing the actual writing.

These days, I know that's the ADD and not an actual lack of followthrough.

Once upon a time, there were notebooks upon notebooks in my backpack, catching ideas and poetry and observations of the world around me. Now I have a purse that's full of Mom Things, with a single notebook that's used to house my schedule, my todos, my goals, and creative inklings. The ideas haven't run dry, per se, but someone needs to come in to adjust the water pressure, I think.

The creative process is weird.

For all the years I spent in the media, there was always the opportunity to shine up someone else's work or share someone else's story. I became accustomed to smoothing out the rough edges for someone else's diamond; so much so that I forgot how to craft my own. It wasn't until this year that I was finally able to sit down and write for myself again.

Process is a strange thing to communicate, too. I've been asked to describe how I write, whether that's as a journalist and critic or a fiction writer, and I almost never know how to explain it. The goals shift and change with each project, depending on the modality of the end product, so my process has to be flexible.

The one thing that doesn't change from project to project, story to story, is the importance of character.

Even when I was a journalist and critic, I began with the central character of the story, whomever it was. There were times that the character was a company, which meant that I had to find the humanity in the company to share that business story. Other times, I was dealing with the people behind a game or piece of entertainment. Those were my favourite stories to write, since all I had to do was create a story around who they showed me they were during our interview(s). And for products, whether that's tech products or video games, I would work to find The Thing that would make that the thing real enough for readers to interact with.

Fiction is a different beast than journalism, mind you. Sometimes, I'll start with a character's name, like I did with Poppy and Boheme. Other times, I'll begin with a setting to build my characters in, as I often try to write with an ensemble in mind. (One day, I'll write a little thing about why I prefer ensembles to individual "heroes" in my stories.) I can sometimes start with a vibe, like I've done with a number of fantasy short stories over the years, but it's often too ethereal to create anything concrete from.

In my heart, I'm still a programmer. My tendency is to start with my goal and then reverse engineer it until it becomes a starting point.

Even for my first book (coming out soon), a nonfiction book series about parenting and video games, my writing partner and I started with the end in mind. We had a question to answer, "how can we best help parents to understand video games so they can keep their kids safe in digital playgrounds?" With that question in mind, we outlined our books so that we could best answer from a multitude of angles. We set out to tackle as much resistance as we could without losing track of the problem we were out to solve.

The creative process is always weird, no matter what you're making. Writing is its own slippery creature, an eel with twelve heads and one eye just to ensure that you can experience everything but only be able to see what's in front of you. That's part of why I love working with partners and collaborators: more eyes.

Whatever your process is, embrace it. It's weird, but it works for you. Just like bulletproof coffee or keeping an analog schedule in a pretty planner – it may not make sense to anyone else, but it's yours. That's enough.