Today my friend and fellow writer Cheryl Anne Gardner talks about her muse and her writing process. It’s funny because Cheryl and I weren’t always friends. Back when I started an indie book review blog and was the new kid on the block, Cheryl reviewed and wrote for one of the old kids on the block and though our two sites supported the same types of authors, we didn’t always see eye to eye. But somewhere along the way, Cheryl and I got to know each other beyond the indie velvet curtain and discovered we had lots in common. We’ve been best online buds ever since and my life as a writer has been much more brighter with her in it. Not only do we share our writing with each other, but she’s also a fellow nature and animal lover. So, I respect Cheryl’s “write or wrong” opinion and asked her to share it with you…
* * *
My Writing process, i.e. word-smithing. Yeah, that’s what we’ll call it, but in reality, it’s more word-smashing, word-fumbling, and word-nervous-breakdowning, so I guess I’ll start with what I don’t do. I don’t write on a schedule. I don’t have a daily word count. I don’t have a set writing space or way I prefer to write, and my muse is a douche. I suppose this is because I am very anti-rule. I like art for its anarchy, and so my process is very fluid and flexible and free from constraints, self-imposed or otherwise. This is probably why I can’t seem to crank it out like some authors. If I try to stuff myself into an official process, I freeze up creatively. I’ve tried, and since I don’t need to write for a living, I don’t worry about it too much. Maybe hobby writers, like me, have more freedom to take risks. We don’t have to worry about marketability, or deadlines, or royalty payments. We write and publish because we love it, and just so I’m clear here, hobby doesn’t mean unprofessional. Most of us are professional writers; we just don’t do it for a living and we are ok with that.
As far as my process goes, I can say that I’ll write anywhere about anything. I have notepads and a flashlight by the bed. I seem to do my most poetic writing in the middle of the night. I’ll write on my kindle, my home computer, my work computer, on post-it notes, gas station receipts, pretty much on anything. Whenever something sticks in my head, I always have some way to jot it down. I’ve even used a digital voice recorder, but transcribing my voice is about as painful as transcribing my incoherent late night scribbling.
When I write in the long-form, I do use a bit more structure. When an idea hits me, I scribble that down somewhere and then start thinking about the characters and the overall story arch. I research locations, tack up pictures to look at for focus and inspiration, and I do use an outline. Nothing too detailed: I write a paragraph about each character’s particular eccentricities, what they look like etc., and then I create the chapter titles and write a paragraph describing the plotline for each chapter. This is how I rough out the flow of the story. After that, I sit and write. And write. And write. Until I have a rough draft. Since I self-publish my novellas, I actually write in book format versus standard manuscript format. It’s easier getting it print ready and ebook ready that way. There is less screeching-expletive-hair-pulling that way. After that, I put the WIP away for a while. I need at least a month to clear my head, sometimes longer. With Death Dreamt Us All, I put that manuscript away for a year. The subject matter took me to a very dark place, and I needed a lot of time to detach from it before I could even start editing.
As for editing, I do on average ten rounds. The first five really just fill out the story and move chapters around if need be. At that point, I send it out to my trusty beta readers. When their comments come back, I start editing again. Once I am finished with my final edit and I am satisfied with the story, I send it to my official editor/proofreader. It’s a long process for me. A 30k word novella can take me the better part of a year.
When I am writing flash fiction for publication, the process is complete and utter chaos. Most of my flash fiction averages 500 words give or take a 100 or so. I might write a story in a day, edit the next day, and send it out on submission the day after that, or it might take me a good week or more before I feel ready to submit anywhere. It really depends. If a story gets rejected, I never let it sit idle. I give it another round of rewriting and then send it somewhere else. When editors are kind enough to reply with a personal rejection, I take their suggestions to heart. As an example: on occasion, I’ve written the pron and discovered that the story worked much better when rewritten into horror. Weird, I know. I just keep an open mind. Stories are changeable and every reader will interpret a story differently, so write what matters to you, and write it how you want to write it, but stay flexible. That’s my motto.
Lastly on editing, I do use a style guide. My favorite is Words Into Type, but most use the Chicago Manual of Style, which is what I use editing and proofreading at my day job. I also read college-course creative writing textbooks, which I purchase used.
Now when it comes to inspiration, I get it from all over the place. I read widely across many genres. I am a huge indie and foreign film fan. I’m a lousy painter, but love the fine arts in a geeky sort of way. I listen to music when I write and when I don’t write, and I pay very close attention to the world and how I feel about it. Even so, when things click in the ole brainspace, sometimes it’s simply a trivial connection that’s made. Logos was inspired by an African mask I purchased at a local dealer. Death Dreamt was inspired by the controversial argument as to whether or not exposure to violence desensitizes us. Antiquity came about when I was watching a program on archeology and it encompasses the age-old science versus religion debate, and Thin Wall was based on a de Sadien idea involving sexual freedom. You can read my reflection about that book here.
As for the flash fiction, most of my inspiration comes from the news. I also love to use word and picture prompts. Word strings are my favorite because it works like word association automatic writing. Writing flash fiction has allowed me to unwind and flex my narrative voice. It allows me to move effortlessly from character to character and topic to topic based on our ever-changing socio-political climate. I don’t feel confined like I do when I have to spend years with a particular character or a specific plotline. I can write to current events, which, as an artist, makes me feel in the moment versus outside of it, voyeuristically interpreting it from afar. It allows me to experiment with points of view, with time and space, and with style. In flash, I’ll write about anything, including farm animal castration. Yeah, you heard that right. Super short fiction like flash defies all the rules of writing and yet embraces them at the same time in a way that doesn’t constrain the artist. I’ve been writing that exclusively for a few years now.
As I said before, I don’t make my living as a writer, but that doesn’t mean that I have an easier time of it. Writing is wonderful and uber stressful no matter what kind of writer you are. We tend to aim for perfection, that perfectly fluid sentence that when read, blows a reader’s mind. We all want our writing to have impact, and sometimes that means we have to to do battle with the words. It’s an elegant process at one turn and greased-pig wrangling at another. Some writers work better with a regiment and others like me do not.
Cheryl Anne Gardner is a hopeless dark romantic, lives in a haunted house, and often channels the spirits of Poe, Kafka, and de Sade. She prefers novellas and flash fiction to writing bios because she always seems to forget what point of view she is in. When she isn’t writing, she likes to chase marbles on a glass floor, eat lint, play with sharp objects, and make taxidermy dioramas with dead flies. Her writing has been described as “beautifully grotesque,” her characters “deliciously disturbed.” Her short fiction has been published in dozens of journals including Dustbin, Hobo Pancakes, Carnage Conservatory, Pure Slush, Negative Suck, Danse Macabre, and at The Molotov Cocktail among others. She lives with her husband on the East Coast USA, and she is currently the head fiction editor at Apocrypha and Abstractions Literary Journal.