excerpts from an interview with myself

Okay, exciting, I know. Transcript/rip-off of my interview with Whohub.com (from sometime last spring). I was discussing my writing process with someone today, and it made me want to blog about it (naturally). Then I remembered this interview, so I thought I would share this instead. I wrote all the answers, so I feel no guilt in repeating them here.

What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I first read the back of milk cartons. But I mostly just looked at the pictures. It made the story easier to understand. Even at such a young age, I got it. The cows like eating daisies, they smile, while blinking their pop art eyelashes. They are happy to have their teats violated for me. I think from here I moved on to picture books, but those memories are all a little hazy. Must have been all the Children’s Tylenol I was jacked up on.

I began to write in kindergarten. I had just learned a new skillset: the proper etiquette for eating paste. I was a sick kid (all the paste, of course) and spent about three weeks in hospital, during which I completed my opus. It was magnificent; something about a dinosaur. It glittered. I made a cover out of cardboard, which my mother had to sew together as the doctors had banned all paste.

What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
I spend days, weeks, months, even years letting something fester in my mind. I have premises, plot point, characters, and cliches in my head that have been there for so long, they are now more a memory of a dream I had once. Some I will likely never actually get around to writing, and these characters will live on in my head like old imaginary friends. I think it borders on psychosis. I call this phase the Dreaming Phase (I just named it that right now).

I usually make random pages of notes, outlines, or even whole passages. Sometimes I draw crappy pictures of the characters. It makes me feel like a fangirl of my own unwritten work. I’m a scatterbrain stereotype. I have tons of stuff half-finished in draft form, random pieces of paper or napkins shoved in folders, scribbles, index cards. One day, I tell myself, I will organize all this. I call this the Literary Vomit Phase (not as idealistic as the Dreamer Phase, I know, but accurate).

After awhile, when there is one project that I am particularly persuaded by, I will take all this Literary Vomit and attempt to organize it into something recognizable to humans. Usually this involves more scribbly notes and diagrams, but I’ve since developed a fancy system of index cards. I learned this trick when writing term papers in university. I write each plot point or imagined scene so far on a separate index card, put them in a sensible order, then simply fill in the holes until I’ve fleshed out the story. (I call this the Way-To-Get-My-S**t-Together Phase.)

After that, I write. (The Hallelujah Phase)

After that, I edit. Obsessively. Sometimes for years. (The Purgatory Phase)

When satisfied, I will publish. Either online or in print. (The Rolaids Phase… very relieving)

What type of reading inspires you to write?
Usually something that makes me shoot whatever I happen to be eating/drinking out my nose. Kidding. I have friends who are inspired by plot and subject matter, which I love, but I must admit, it’s just a well-wrought sentence that gets me.

For a story of any kind, structure and organization is incredibly important. This, you can teach. A good editor can help you with this. With strict guidance and good self-awareness, any writer can create a well-plotted piece. Yet, when you break writing down to the base elements, like sentences and word choice, you just can’t teach that. Some are born great… and the rest haven’t a hope in hell. You can try to be Douglas Coupland, but you likely won’t succeed. My entire life is living up to this unattainable goal.

What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
Sugar.
Salt.
Baking Soda and/or Powder (depending on the genre).

What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
For fiction, I like reading third person, but I like writing first person. I find that when I write, I have a third-person voice and tone that is distinctly different from my first-person voice and tone. More serious. More godlike, perhaps? My first person is lighter. Self-deprecating.

For non-fiction, I like reading first person, but write (unless blogging) third person. I think this is an academic hangover from university where you got the strap for using the subjective “I”. This always bothered me, as all writing, non-fiction or not, is subjective. I like journalists that acknowledge their perspective. It contains a self-reflexivity that is lacking in a lot of media.

Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
No. I’m terrible. I applaud the written word because I am much more charming in print.

What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
They must have some frame of reference within the reader’s existing knowledge, whether through realism or intertextuality. This is best achieved through solid character development and a strong character arc, but I like to cheat and that means cheap cultural references and/or ripping off famous characters.

In my defence, one can argue that in our postmodern condition, there is no such thing as original characters or “real” characters, only the tangled intertextual references that make up our knowledge of the world and literature, so I’m not really cheating, I’m living up to the standards to which our society has degraded.

Deep down inside, who do you write for?
I think myself… and my imagined public. I’ve been writing since before I can remember even writing. I think I just assumed that, since books existed, everyone wrote them. To be honest, I don’t even question why I write, I just do it. To stop now would be worse than quitting heroin or losing a limb. It would be the same as ceasing to eat real food and just getting all your nutrients from Soylent Green. Yes. It would be exactly the same as that. Well, no. It would be as if my eyes suddenly stopped being blue.

Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
I don’t write with the goal to solve a personal crisis, but it works out that way anyway. You can’t help but pour yourself into each and every character. They are a fragment of your psyche, good or ill. So many things I’ve written, finished, unleashed unto the world, then read awhile later only to think, “wow, I remember exactly what I was going through then.” I can see in the characters. The conflicts they overcome, the story archs they go through, whether literal or allegorical, they are some conflict you see within your own life. It’s really escapism for the author, not the reader. This never really clicked with me until I read Aristotle’s Poetics, and I completely connected with his notion of Catharsis. It completely bridged the 3000-year gap. I think Ari and I would be good drinking buddies.

Does reader feed-back help you?
Screw the bastards. No one really understands me. Kidding. I do listen. I just don’t usually act on the constructive criticism until after I’ve burned all their photographs.

Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
No. I think I should, but I’ve yet to find someone I really trust to give me an honest answer. Perhaps, also, I’m afraid they WILL give me an honest answer and I don’t want to hear it.

Do you believe you have already found “your voice” or is that something one is always searching for?
Your voice changes as you do. I’m only twenty-six. I’m still growing into myself. I look back on work I’ve written when I was an angsty teenager, and I definitely see a different voice there. It is still me, but just like the paste-eating kindergartener was still me.

What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
Ha ha, “discipline,” that’s a good one. I am reminded of a Douglas Adams quote: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

The only schedules I’ve had to adhere to are ones imposed on me by others I’m working with. When I do create a schedule or deadline or goal, that immediately causes me to work against it. Call me a self-saboteur, but it’s the rebellious streak I just can’t break. I will even miss appointments I’ve made for myself, then giggle with a revolutionary fever as I look at my watch knowing I’ve skipped it. I then feel a slight thrill as I stub out a cigarette, straighten my black beret and untuck my Che t-shirt.

What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
The Chicago Manual of Style, so I can spot errors like “help your concentrate”.

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