Creativity,  Fiction,  The Writing Life,  writing tips

The Spark: Where the Fun Begins

The Muse visits during the process of creation. Not before.

Roger Ebert

The Spark is the idea. That little seed that has the ability to grow into a full blown story. It is the excitement that sets you and your characters on a journey on which readers will gladly tag along. It is the beginning of everything.

Maeve Binchy was an amazing storyteller and I loved the way she was able to take a host of characters, make us care about each one and then weave them all together into a beautiful tapestry that somehow shone a light on the human condition and gave us hope at the same time. I’ll never be a Maeve Binchy, but I want my story to follow a similar model. I have known for some time what my vision was for my character’s stories, but weaving them together was another matter. A family secret? Perhaps. But then what? There was always a missing piece. I was missing the spark that would set the story in motion and connect all the characters.

Until now.

Yes. That’s right. Whisky turned out to be just that spark, which, I have to say came as a huge surprise for me. In fact, I would say it is proof that the Muse has a sense of humour. I was looking for a famous person, and discovered that a famous whisky, not a person at all, was the missing piece. Weird. The person behind the whisky is a woman, from Scotland, born in 1930 and not at all famous. But her whisky., well, that’s another story. And it turns out, that the story of the whisky is the missing piece that flows down through the next two generations and is the exact bit I was looking for. Who would have guessed that a bottle of whisky could weave such magic? I’m thrilled to get writing this story. I love it already.


Once a week, I reflect on how the process is working for me. It is a time to reaffirm the work I am doing. A time to remind myself that the Morning Pages, the writing practice, is worthwhile and to congratulate myself on what I have done well. If you missed my first post The Shiny New Thing click on the link to get more information on the practice of writing Morning Pages.

Last week I was pleased with my consistency with getting my pages written, but some days the Morning Pages turned into Practice Pages because it was afternoon before I got to them. Still, I’m determined to not skip them, even if it means finding a time later in the day. I have also started putting a note on the outside that clues me into the content if the muse does happen to show up and I have some rambling thoughts about my work in progress. At the pre-writing stage, I find these meandering thoughts particularly helpful as I begin to feel my way through the characters and the story.

Tools of the Trade

Years ago, when I wasn’t sure I even knew how to write a novel (I didn’t), I got a stack of these lined yellow pads, some pens and pencils and started to research my idea. The pens you see in the photo are what I have progressed to over the years. These are my very favourite Energel pens and I collect them in as many colours as possible. Boxes of twelve along with boxes of refills. Not having a pen at hand is not an option. The colours inspire me. For journal writing, I choose a colour that fits the vibe of the journal (or the cover) and then vow to write only in that colour for the entire journal. There is no particular reason for this practice.

Back to the yellow pads. I wrote my entire first three drafts on these yellow pads. Stacks and stacks of yellow pages. I don’t know how I kept everything straight. After that, I moved on to creating on my laptop. But for this new project, I felt like going back to my practice of handwriting on the yellow pads. It was exciting to buy a stack of lined yellow pads again. To be clear, I have no intentions of writing my entire draft on these yellow pads. That would be torturous. But I do think they have their place, especially in the pre-writing process. There are scenes, lists, notes, descriptions, character traits and lots of mental gymnastics that somehow flow better from my pen than typing on my computer. I can doodle and draw arrows and cross things out. I have worked with writing software, and I currently write using Word. I do know that the computer is capable of all the organization I have listed above. But in the creation process, there is something organic that works better for me with pen and paper. So right now, at the very beginning, I get to use my fancy pens and my nostalgic yellow paper. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Artist Field Trip

Another recommended task in Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, is to take yourself on an artist’s field trip once a week. My first field trip was to Staples to buy yellow lined paper pads for handwriting notes for my novel along with a couple of notebooks with tear-out pages for my daily Morning Pages. It’s funny how inspiring and exciting it is to do these simple tasks. Another time I went to the second hand bookstore to look for mentor texts. But that’s a topic for another day. Either way, the field trip is a weekly fun trip out, by yourself, to get inspired for your writing practice. The artist field-trip is a positive experience to keep the inner child motivated. Definitely recommended.

Things to Do

At the beginning of a new project there are always so many things to sort out before I actually feel ready to begin writing the story. That’s really what the whole pre-writing process is all about. This new WIP (work-in-progress) is more complex than the novel I just finished and will be told from multiple points of view, so I’ve decided to write a list of things to do in the pre-writing stage. Here goes:

  • Write a backstory for each of the POV characters
  • fill in a family tree/timeline for each character
  • Write what each POV character wants more than anything else
  • Write what is standing in the way of each character getting what she wants
  • Write what my vision is for this story.
  • Find photos of each of my POV characters

This will be a significant amount of work, but it really is the fun part. Nothing has been decided. Everything is up for grabs. Okay, that isn’t entirely true. I do have a vision for what I want this story to accomplish and each character will have an important role to play to ensure the puzzle pieces all fit together at the end. But this time of getting to know the characters and finding the magic is one that I enjoy.

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