The Creative Process  

Rhett once told me he wrote better with his cat nearby.

Rhett claimed he wrote better with his cat nearby.

Sitting shoulder to shoulder with Rhett, a freshman teetering on the edge of both manhood and writing excellence, we examined his response to the latest writing assignment: a one-paragraph description of a vivid moment experienced in the past month. He’d chosen to write about the final seconds before he pushed off for his first run on a black-diamond ski trail. As I read his words, I wished he’d written more —an unusual experience for an English teacher correcting papers.

As we finished talking about his piece, Rhett said, “Mrs. Bohart, how important is the stuff you teach us about how to get an idea to write about and develop it? I don’t do any of those things. I just decide what to write about and then write and rewrite until I think it’s good.”

Well, that was an eye-opener.

Rhett’s words motivated me to read about the processes involved in creating — whether it’s planning a vegetable garden, tatting a lace edging, making music, taking photographs, designing buildings, drawing cartoons, or decorating a home.

As I read, I learned the creative process is unique and individual: like bikinis, one size doesn’t fit all. While it helps to learn and practice the basics of any hobby or passion, when we apply everything we’ve learned to create a product, we gradually develop a process that works for us.

I enjoy reading about the practices and techniques of other writers. But knowing an author I admire writes 1000 words a day in the nude while soaking his feet and chewing licorice root doesn’t mean I should do the same.

For example, I never create a detailed plan before writing. I can’t take time to make an outline or jot notes when my head is buzzing with an idea. I’m on fire to write, so I do. Sometimes my fire runs out of fuel by the third paragraph, but usually it blazes along quite nicely.

I also refuse to set a daily goal in order to force myself to write a set amount of time or a specified number of words every day. Sometimes, when I’ve fussed too long over a piece, a paragraph, or a sentence, I walk away from it. Other times, I prefer to continue banging my head against a wall. Either way, I’m not worried about making a quota.

Like Rhett, I’ve individualized my writing process; and I’m glad that, many years ago, I had the wisdom to tell my talented student to take the advice of others only when it made sense and worked for him.

Then, to my dismay, he did just that. He totally ignored my oft-repeated advice to pursue a career in writing so he could dedicate a book to me and choose instead to graduate from college with a degree in business management.

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58 thoughts on “The Creative Process  

  1. This reminded me of my then teenage daughter’s clear understanding of asking for advice. She said she just kept asking until she found someone who agreed with her. She thought most people did the same.
    Process is so individual, so personal. I remember meeting Byrd Baylor once who said that the pen, the paper, the light coming in through the window all had to be exactly perfect before she wrote. Gawd. I’d never get a thing done.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Your comment gave me a chuckle on yet another snowbound day in Craig, Lorie, and I appreciate it. There’s something to be said for your daughter’s approach to advice, though. Her explanation must have given you a chuckle as hearty as the one you gave me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Must admit, I approach writing much the same as Rhett—no plan, just get in there! But in all honesty, I think I have a mental plan going on, since I think about a piece for at least a day before I start.

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  3. SO happy to read this. Like you, I have a hard time setting writing goals by others’ standards. And, I always feel a little guilty or “less than” because I can’t do that. You’ve given me, and others, permission to be creative in our creative process and honor my own writing life. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome, Laurel. What is it that imbues us with guilt when we find our own way rather than imitating others? As a teacher, I tried to talk with my students about options authors have as they approach their writing rather than dictating a required method to them — except for my expectation that they would complete their assignments on time, which, of course, proved to be an impossibility for some.

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  4. You never know. You may still get that book dedication. Business management and writing are not mutually exclusive. Rhett may still come through, but until he does, I’m betting any emails and memos he produces will be wonderfully crafted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Shelley, I like your thoughts on Rhett and writing. I’d never thought about it, but I’m certain any writing he has done over his life, including emails, memos, and business plans, have been well done. Thank you for that thought, and for reminding me that I didn’t publish a book until I was approaching 70.

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  5. Aww, he may return to writing one day. ☺

    The writing process is very personal indeed. I just write when the words bubble up to the surface and begin spilling all over the place. I’m all about containment though, so I’ve learned over time to get cracking before the spill… Messes are too much work to clean up!

    It also helps that I work alone most of the time so if I pace the day adequately, I can jot down my thoughts quite quickly via my smartphone. And thank goodness for the wordpress draft mode and other note taking apps that make compiling an entire post such a breeze. I can now write anywhere, especially on the train when I have an hour commute to and from work.

    I never schedule writing time. That system doesn’t work for me.

    Great story!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Business management? Perish the thought.
    I’m having a bit of trouble with the creative process lately.
    Like you, I enjoy reading about practices and techniques that other writers employ, but… my style is extremely individualized—maybe too much?
    Thanks for another post that’s given me lots to think about!

    Liked by 2 people

    • My process is working well right now, Rita, but sometimes I get bogged down a bit, usually when I’m distracted by too many other happenings, both positive and negative, in my world. Let’s do talk about our processes when we get together. I’m excited about sitting down and talking with you face to face.

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  7. Sometimes a thing is so precious that we don’t want to soil it by trying to earn our living from it. Maybe this was Rhett’s dilemma. Writing was something he loved so much he could not see himself trading it in for a pay check.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like that thought, Don. I made that same decision about traveling. At one time I thought I could combine travel and a paycheck if I tried writing for travel magazines as a freelancer. Then I realized doing so would turn something I absolutely love to do into a job. Perhaps Rhett and I had more in common than liking cats.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. First off, a business exec that can write? You’ve done the world a great service:). Aren’t enough of those! Second, I just have to write because the words come into my head so quickly. At least, if it’s creative writing. And third, nude with licorice root? Really? Oh my:). I’m glad you’re not trying that one!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is a great post. I try to plan. I really do. I have tons of notes, but when I look at them, they never make as much sense as they did when I wrote them. Sometimes, I make them work, but the best things I’ve written just flow form an idea.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Dan, so glad someone else does the same with the notes and jottings it frustrates me because at the time it was sheer brilliance but when I come back the words and phrases have lost their lustre, it leaves me quite flat. Linda 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • I, too, have tons of notes about things I want to write that I find confusing at best and nonsensical at worst when I review them; so I rarely do so. My preferred method is to think, “Hey, it might be interesting to write about cataracts,” and then begin writing; though I sometimes have to research online check my facts and understandings.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I remember a famous skater saying, “I go when my skates tell me go”. I am that way with pen in hand, I cannot abide shaky tables, wobbly, skimpy pens, or anything sticky nearby. To be spontaneous is vital. I write mostly on the back of unpaid bills, and post it notes. Wish I been in your English class, as always, a delight, thanks Janet.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “…shaky tables, wobbly, skimpy pens, or anything sticky nearby” would make it to the top of my dreaded-things list as well, Sheila. I’d add, “people wanting to converse,” but don’t want to seem rude or uppity. I diverge with you on unpaid bills and post it notes, but could add a dirty screen on my computer. To have had a writer like you in my English class would have thrilled me, Sheila, truly it would have.

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      • You may to, and I wish you had taught my brother, all his characters fell out of closets, coated in mold. Clever chap, a bit misunderstood perhaps. Yes, people who wish to converse! Cheers.

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  11. When teaching a class, I usually had a lesson plan, but in my own work I may list a few important facts and then create it as I go. I rarely did a preliminary sketch for a painting or sculpture, but I did have a clear picture of where I wanted to go.
    So interesting to see how others work.

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    • Kayti, I, too, had lesson plans when teaching, but mostly ignore planning for my writing. I like your thought, “I did have a clear picture of where I wanted to go.” It seems to me that’s the best sort of planning.

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    • I’m so glad you shared your process with me, Troy, because it supports my idea that the creative process is personal and individualized. Another excellent writer I taught wrote exhaustive outlines and produced marvelous work. When she worried about being too detailed in her planning, I told her the same thing I told Brett, “Find what works for you.”

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  12. The preparation for creative writing that I’ve read about makes me think of all those assignments I had while in school. At the time that groundwork was more or less the rules to follow because that’s what the instructor wanted. Once out of school, those rules automatically shifted to guidelines for me that may or may not be necessary, and instead, be considered. I figure writing is like all the other arts; there isn’t any wrong way to do it. It’s up to the individual to decide what s/he need to be her/his own success.

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    • I like your thought that there isn’t any wrong way to do the arts and that its up to the individual.Sadly, I think the school system I was a part of for many years can discourage creativity, even in math, by making students think there is one best or correct way to do things. Happily, I also think the creative soul is resilient and will find a way. Thanks for commenting. I’ll visit your site soon.

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  13. Great post. I do a lot of free writing on topic and keep that in a folder with notes and scraps until I think I have enough to turn into something. I then start to organize it and put it through a process. But nothing is ever finished. I just reach a point where I’ve done all I can do.

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  14. For me personally, no plan seems to work best. I generally write when inspiration hits, the only downside to this being that inspiration tends to hit during my morning shower when I have no way to write it down!

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    • I like your thought that for you it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you had the time to read the other comments, Jeffrey, you noticed we bloggers each have our quirks and pressures. Somehow, the responses were reassuring to me. Perhaps it’s a case of misery loves company?

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  15. Hm…what can I say that everyone else hasn’t already said before me? PS I still can’t figure out why I’m not being notified of your posts on my “Word Press Reader”…doesn’t make sense. Maybe I should try “following” you again……hm..

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did refresh my follow me button, so maybe you should try it again, Lucie. Because of the inconsistencies that kept occurring, I have given up on being notified about new posts. Instead, II have a group of bookmarks for my must-read blogs and I get to them all once a week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, J! I put you on my “bookmark” list a while ago, any ways….hope you’re feeling better. I’ll try “following you” again, though.

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  16. Very enlightening, Lucie and Janet. I also haven’t been receiving notices about new Aunt Beulah and worzelodd posts..
    Janet, your thoughts on the creative process are very freeing, along with your reader’s comments. I’ve been expecting writing to be too easy and it’s invaluable to learn that struggling doesn’t mean failure.

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  17. I wish I could say I wrote better with my cats nearby, but alas, the headbutting, pen stealing, lap fungus wannabes just don’t help me out that much. The only thing I’ve managed to figure out about my creative process is that unless I actively engage it, I don’t have one. And when I say engage it, I mean like bribing a 5-year-old with cotton candy and carnivals…my muse turns into a tantrum-throwing child who is long overdue for a nap when she’s not having fun. But when the creative juices are actually flowing and everyone is having fun, I’d better leave notebooks all over the house. That way, I’m always ready for those wonderful ideas to strike at the most inconvenient times, such as whilst showering.

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  18. As a student myself, I have often caught myself trying to make my writing good as I go on. This doesn’t always work for me though! I think it has a lot to do with, as you mentioned, the individuality of being creative. I really admire that you were inspired by this student and allowed him to follow his own creative path. Authentic creativity certainly can not be taught!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Something to learn in all of these comments, writing comes from inspirations and the challenge I find is to be creative with them. Conversations, Work Places, People Watching, Children, Students just like Rhett who inspired this blog all have a story to tell. You tell them beautifully Aunt Beulah!!!!
    By the way was that you in that picture in the snow? You can’t possibly be 70
    Loved reading all the comments let alone your blog, Kindest Regards from Annie, many miles away in Australia.

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    • So good to here from you Annie. I enjoyed getting acquainted with your blog. You are right that inspiration surrounds us every day if only we pay attention; and I, too, learn a lot from the comments my work receives. I’m glad you like my stories, and, yes, that is me in the snow. However, the photograph is three years old. taken from a wrinkle-forgiving distance, and I’m still coloring my hair: something I’m not sure I’ll continue much longer.

      Liked by 1 person

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