How do you write?

So I ended up in an interesting conversation with Wyeth Bailey earlier this week and thought I would toss this question out to everyone because I’m curious.  How do you write?

Ok, ok, I know, you’re giving me that whole “what the hell are you talking about, Ais” look.  Lemme explain.

Wyeth and I have conversations that ramble about and we were talking about what kind of thinkers we are.  You see, Wyeth is a very visual sort of person(I’ll let her post her own explanation if she wants to).  I, however, think in words.  Like, literally, when I think of someone more often than now I’ll see their name in letters(in their handwriting if it’s someone that I’m that familiar with).  If it’s someone that I see on a regular basis I’ll see their face.  For instance, Wyeth and I were comparing how our minds reacted to Harper Eliot.  Wyeth saw images, I had Harper’s words, her old username and her new, a flicker of her old avi, and some of the tweets that stand out in my head.

That conversation then morphed.  Wyeth asked me, “So do you see the words when you write?”

My answer that day was a bit of a ramble, so I’ll make it somewhat more concise here, but what I’m really interested in is your answer.

For me writing feels like I’ve a store of words and ideas in my head all bottled up.  The act of writing or typing creates the outlet for those.  I prefer to type when I’m creating, mostly because I’m lefthanded and my handwriting is, at best, marginal.  I also type much faster than I could ever write, though at times I have retreated to a notebook and found that for some reason that works better.

Now, you would think that with all those words just waiting to come out it’s just a matter of pulling the plug.  Some days that’s all I have to do.  There are times where I feel like I’m Atlas holding up the words until I can get to my keyboard and write because they’re struggling to come flooding out.  Those are great days, when I write thousands of words all at a crazy pace and things are just there. Writing isn’t work but just riding the rush, what I imagine is like surfing or parachuting or one of those other adrenaline pumping pursuits.

But most days it’s like that sandglass is actually full of water and instead of standing up it’s lying down and I have to figure out how to get the words out.  For me, this is where music comes in.  When the words won’t flow on their own I have to find a way to guide them.

Do you remember capillary action experiments in science class?  That’s what music acts as for my writing.  The words and ideas are the source, the music is my wick, my blank page is the waiting reservoir.  I use different types of music for different stories, raise the tempos if I’m writing action, slow it down if I’m getting introspection or painful.  Usually once the words are going I don’t need the music to continue but it can keep the flow from slowing or stalling.  If I’m writing long works I rarely write to singing; I’ve enough words to deal with without adding more.  Short fiction is another matter, however, and can benefit from being written to a good soundtrack that keeps my toe tapping.

So. Will you share?  How do you write?  How do you get things started?  Do you write to music?  Does it take a run, a shower, some tunes, hot sex? ;)

14 thoughts on “How do you write?

  1. Ooof… Corker of a question.

    I guess I’m like you, Ais. But with a bit of Wyeth thrown in. I’m pretty reliant on words and scenes in my mind. But I also quickly develop an idea of the surroundings I’m writing about. Sometimes I can genuinely see the exact location.

    But I’m mostly a word girl. I can type so fast that I completely lose track of what comes out.

    Me in a nutshell there :)

    xxx Jillian/Jilly

  2. I think I’m more visual. Before I begin writing I have a very clear picture of the characters. I like to people watch. Sometimes when I hit a block I will people watch for hours whilst making up stories about them. Running also helps. It’s my way of separating the flour from the chaff. :-)

  3. (I’m also left-handed!)

    Great question, Aisling.

    All my life, I’ve seen my stories unfold before my mind’s eye like a movie scene.

    The characters are already individuals with ticks and idiosyncrasies & the stage is already complete. I usually write down what I see and hear, then trim away to make the narrative lean and mean. I very rarely need to add something, but when I feel the scene or the characters aren’t complex enough for my taste, I’ll let the narrative rest for a bit and keep imagining the characters and letting them reveal their motivations to me.

    (So to speak, of course. I’ve never shared my process, and I hope I don’t sound certifiable.)

    This only works for short stories though. I have a couple of novellas/novels in the works, and I definitely have to write down time lines, character studies, etc. for those. The thing is, they’re relatively completely people in my head. The hardest part is untangling all of it, then weaving it back together into a (hopefully) engaging narrative.

    I perceive the world in the same way. When I read “Aisling”, your Twitter avi instantly pops up in my mind, as well as what you’ve shared – taterboy, putty tat, your likes and dislikes, etc. Same goes for Wyeth and her ever-present cool sunglasses & blond hair blowing in the breeze, Ruby & the beautiful hourglass torso & the bound wrists.

    I memorize something by writing it down. If I write it, I can go back in my memory & see it written on the page – read the information again, so to speak. I remember the positions of words in books so I can flip through pages & find my place by how the words look, no bookmark.

    I even memorize my lover’s bodies as a detailed topographical map…

    – X

    1. Hello fellow lefty! :)

      I am prone to remembering what I read, but not necessarily what I write, oddly enough.

      My characters always arrive fully formed, no matter if the story is short or long. Pick a short story, even a 100 word one, and I can pretty much guarantee I can tell you quite a bit about the people involved, more than you might think.

      Ooooh. I love the idea of the topographical map….I use that imagery when I write sex scenes sometimes ;)


  4. An interesting thing to think about.

    I’d have to say for me it’s words also, but not the written variety. Spoken ones. I hear my characters’ voices in my head, as I get to know them and they tell me their stories. Or not their voices specifically, but their accents. And maybe this is a latent Brit thing, but a character’s accent leads me to their voice in the sense we usually mean when we talk about characters having voice. Once I know how they speak, I know who they are, and how they respond in certain situations.

    When I’m blocked and the words just won’t flow, a bike ride will often help uncork them. Something about the solitude, the forced exile from electronic distractions, and the physical exertion when I’m blocked on a mental task.

    1. You reminded me, CJ, that I don’t always see the words, either!
      Sometimes, especially when I know people, I hear their words. For instance I hear Ruby Kiddell’s tweets in her British accent, Remittance Girl’s in her distinct one, etc, etc. When I think of people and their words come to me if their voices are familiar those words are colored that way.
      When I write I hear my characters talk to me for certain. Yes, I know, as Xi said, sounds certifiable, but they are fully formed and distinct in my mind. I’ve had arguments with characters about what they were doing until I realized that *I* didn’t understand their motivation…and then it made perfect sense.


  5. Wonderful question! And I got a kick of delight at the mention of my name.

    First of all – and because I asked about the music thing on the Erotic Meet site – I love your description of the kind of music you use to write; sounds very similar to mine. And yes, I agree, sometimes words in songs do nothing but trip up my writing.

    So… how do I write?

    My stories tend to be sparked by one simple idea, which I then let simmer for a few days. (I’m a dedicated list maker, so under the ‘blog’ section I just jot down my idea; usually no more than a word or two. For example, before I wrote ‘The Cheshire Cat’ I simply had ‘Alice in Wonderland smut’ written on my list.)

    Then I wait for the atmosphere to present itself. I tend not to force it, just letting it come, and if it never does, I’ll just take the piece off my list: it rarely works unless I can feel the atmosphere before I start writing, but usually that sense will kick in at some point. Once I have that atmosphere, be it a sense of light and darkness, or a gritty texture, or kind of relationship, I sit down and write.

    I write on my bed, sitting up or lying on my front, on my laptop. I used to find writing by hand first allowed my writing to develop, but now my pen can’t keep up with my ideas.

    Sometimes when I sit down and write it just pours out; sometimes it’s more punctuated (and requires more thoughtful cigarette breaks); and sometimes it takes a couple of days; although I’m wary of sleep: it can mature an idea to something better, or it can cease the flow altogether as I move onto something else. I do sometimes find sleep good for stepping away from a completed draft before I come back and proofread.

    Oh, and if the atmosphere gels well with some music I’ll usually have it on to kickstart my writing. But there usually comes a time when I need silence to reflect on the writing alone. Not always though.

    Hope that answers your question!

    1. OH! And as for the visual vs. word point, you know… the main bulk of the question… haha…

      I think visually and literarily. But I mostly write from the sensations that the atmosphere demands. Quite often, the slight discomfort of feeling like I have something behind my teeth…

      Not sure if that makes sense, but there you go. I think very visually, but my love of words and etymology demands I think in words too.

    2. Most definitely, and very interestingly :)

      When an idea comes to me it’s usually with the first sentence. It’s like finding the tail of a thread. I start to pull and the story begins to emerge. I rarely know where we’re going but I’m damnably curious about discovering all the twists and turns along the way! I’ve picked stories up years later and completed them, I’ve also abandoned stories after an hour. It all depends on the muse.

      Thanks for joining in on the discussion, Harper…this is really fascinating!


  6. Hmmm, a VERY interesting question! I think I write from emotions – a particular feeling will spark a plot and characters, all on its own. Always typed, never handwritten, because, why bother, even I can’t read my writing. Never to music, I save that for editing – music tends to shift the flow otherwise. Mostly a lot of agonizing over just the ‘right’ word and staring at the page until it presents itself.

  7. This is a very thought-provoking question. I really haven’t ever thought about it before. I have yet to try my had at writing fiction. Everything I have written thus far comes from my real-life experiences. The memories are already there, just waiting to be plucked out and given words. Often I will sit down to write about one thing, but something else jumps in the way and demands attention first. I don’t think I’ll be able to write fiction until it’s a lot less crowded in my head.

    As for thinking about someone, it really becomes a combination of visual, verbal and aural. Dear Harper always comes to mind with her images and her voice. And once I’ve heard a voice, it always sticks with that person. I can never un-hear it. I really like being able to carry around a complete mental package of someone that includes a picture, his/her voice, and his/her words.

  8. That question actually made me think but then I realised I’ve answered it before. I write movie scenes happening in my head. I see it all happening. My friends started buying me portable journals for my handbag because if we went out to lunch while a scene was playing behind my eyes I always have this unfocused look, like I’m only half there with them. Basically a scene will play on repeat with all the sounds, smells, feelings of that scene fully alive in me until I can get it written down.

    My characters are all there. I don’t have to sit down and work them out. I see them clearly from word go and can hear them, even the way they roll their eyes is clear as soon as they step on screen for me. Occasionally there will be a point where a character will keep doing something and I will be sitting back asking him what his problem is? At this point I sometimes have a sit down counselling session with the character to try and workout why he’s behaving badly. (I know, certifiable)

    I do listen to music to help me write. But it’s more a soundtrack for the movie. Each book has it’s own play list and it’s the music I could see being used to suit each scene, whether it be a sex scene, and action scene, or something else, the music is the soundtrack to my minds movie and it always matches. For example a trilogy I’m working on, the first book exists entirely before modern music. Therefore the soundtrack is old medieval music (think irish wooden flutes etc) through to 18th Century classical as time passes.

    When I first started writing I wrote non-stop for nine months and then hit writers block for another six. I realised that it took a combination of things to get me past the block. Exercise, I now take long walks regularly each week during which time scenes will just unfold. Reading, I need to read lots to give my imagination a kick start sometimes. But the big thing was multiple projects. I’m a mother so I’m constantly being interrupted while I’m writing. Often when i get back to it my mind or mood won’t be in the right place to continue that love scene, but it might be in the right place for that emotional heartbreaking scene in another book. I’ve learnt to let the muse decide what project we will work on at any point in time. Sometimes, and this is the case when I’m hitting a real low in my chronic depression, I will just snuggle up in bed and stare at the mountains out my window, and before long something will start moving behind my eyes stealing me away from reality once more (this is how Halos started).

    Ok I’ll stop rambling and go stare out the window for a bit now. ;)

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