Here is a brief look at the creative process of writer Jeffrey Heid. He is currently an MFA candidate in San Jose State University’s graduate Creative Writing program.
When setting out to begin a new story, I start with a seed. Some idea has struck me as an intriguing possibility, one that sticks in my brain and won’t pass until I write it down. I try to keep a notebook on me at all times for such moments, such as the Field Notes notebooks. In a pinch the notes app on my phone works perfectly.
Once I write the idea down, I keep it near the forefront of my mind and spend dedicated time exploring different facets and paths I might take. To help with this, I listen to music and create playlists to match the mood of a story. The purpose of this is twofold: art begets art, meaning that we can often find inspiration in other art forms; and for me, the feeling of headphones narrows my focus to what is in front of me rather than the distractions around.
Unlike John Cheever in the “Location, Location, Location” post, I do not write in my underwear, nor do I invoke any creative muses before I begin (except, maybe coffee). Instead, I like to clean the space where I write. This helps to clear the clutter from both the physical space and my mind, so that nothing is calling my attention in my peripheral view. However, don’t feel locked in to anything I might do; try different things until you find what works best for you. It may be that you are most creative at one in the morning with a pot of black coffee. People do have different habits and environments that are more conducive to their creativity.
Then, finally, it’s time to actually sit down and write. This is the most important step, just as with any creative undertaking. Sit and DO. If practice is the path to mastery, plant yourself in front of that keyboard or notebook or canvas and get creating. Stories are written one word at a time - a slow burn instead of a firestorm of inspiration.
On days where I am struggling with writer’s block, I power through even if I know that what I am writing is garbage. When I need a break, I pursue other creative acts. I have a guitar near my desk (that I play poorly) and a piano (which I play somewhat better). Stephen King regularly performs in the rock band The Rock Bottom Remainders with other writers to continue acting creatively and for the companionship of like-minded artists.
When I have finished a draft or am feeling especially stuck, I will shelve a story and allow it further time to germinate and grow in my mind. Sometimes this will be for a few weeks, other times several months. There is no determining factor for any particular piece of writing, though deadlines are a great motivator.
Don’t ask me where specific ideas for characters and plot devices come from; like all writers, I can’t answer that. However, recalling our “Learning to Solve” post, Einstein said that “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.” I prefer to “waste” my time by reading other works of fiction (at the moment, Haruki Murakami’s story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman); Wikipedia-binging on art styles, the Chernobyl disaster, and the history of Portugal (often in the same binge); and drooling over pictures of cabins I’d love to own [cabinporn.com].
Find ways to “waste” your time and collect your residue. Explore what environments and rituals work best for you. But above all, sit and DO.