• Grietje Y. M. François

Behind the Writings 3/9

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

The Muse

Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

In my previous post I mentioned the five senses. Our basic biological channels that enable us to capture impressions and shape memories. Good ones or bad ones, that’s not what matters here. What matters is how a (creative) writer uses these interpretations of the real world to feed his/her/their literary work. A writer creates a new reality based upon bits and pieces of memories, dreams, anecdotes from his/her/their own life, from that of others, … you name it. I like to call these bits and pieces “raw data”. And as with any “raw data” it needs to be polished and interpreted to forge a story.*

The rules of the game change in a period of confinement. You’re more likely to draw from memory or anything that comes in via digital channels, books or radio. Sources are somewhat monotonous when contact with others is restricted. For me, personal contact helps me shape my fictional characters tremendously. I'm not referring to close contact per se, just being around people can fuel my imagination enough to create. For instance, I might have overheard an anecdote while waiting at the counter in a supermarket. It may not have much story value right away, but I take a mental note of it. I tend to let the words sink in, to dig them up later and try to fit that piece of “raw data” into the story I’m working on.

Right! I’d like to mention that I try to avoid working on several stories at the same time. Multitasking is out of the question. I need to focus intensively on one plot if I want to achieve good writing.**

What if that “raw data” sparks inspiration at a moment when you’re miles away from any pen or paper? A moment in which that darn Muse decides to show up and no means to keep a record of your sudden epiphany! It has grown into a habit of mine to have a notebook within reach when I’m out of the office. Call it old school, but I still prefer the texture of paper and a pen to a screen when writing down my ideas.

Another habit when I’m working on a story is this: I don’t often go back to what I’ve written. A waste of paper? Nope! The usage of a notebook is a way of working that helps me catch the essence of an inspiring moment. The mere act of writing helps me memorise. I’ve noticed that going back to my initial notes too often pins down the idea, taking away it’s agility, turning it into a "fictional fact" with less room for transformation. I get stuck more easily.

There was a time when I doodled on the back of a paper napkin. Today, I have to admit that the number of notebooks in my closet has multiplied over the years and found refuge in many of my bags from small to large sizes. The pages contain many loose scenes, setting descriptions or dialogue. Plot timelines, character arcs, plot points and cliff-hangers are part of the content. Occasionally, sketches of characters or settings find their way to the paper surface. In other words, my notebooks don’t contain draft stories from beginning to end, rather the building blocks of a story in a pre-draft phase.

It’s only when I start connecting more dots and visually aim at a story, that I create a concept. Not every concept is a winner, most of them end up in the writer's (mental) dustbin. Some are even better off at the bottom of that bin.

Today’s post can be considered a disproval of another myth, like last week’s. The content of my posts is not consecutive, it’s intertwined. Feel free to go back and forth or start somewhere halfway. There’s no strict beginning, middle or ending to my writing this time.

* I’ll talk more about "polishing" in blog post number 8: “The Project”.

**More on "focus time" in blog post number 5: “The Routine”.

author: Grietje Y. M. François

editor: Christopher Dunkley

There are nine episodes in the "Behind the Writing" series, the last one will be published on Thursday the 27th of August. The content of these posts is about my personal experiences as a writer, writing my first young adult novel "Naar de haaien." (Dutch).

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