What’s Your Creative Process?

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

Every writer’s process is different.

Some spend ages perfecting each word or sentence in their heads, then sit down and hammer out a draft in no time. Others slap their words down on the page, then reshape those words draft after draft until they look like art rather than a jumbled mess.

Some write by hand, others on the computer and still others on their cellphones.

Some writers focus on one type of writing and strive to perfect their craft in just that one genre or category. Other writers scatter seeds to the wind and cultivate the projects that feel right to them in that moment, even if these projects are vastly different from things they’ve written in the past.

This week I’m curious to find out about your creative process. What do you do when you need to come up with a killer idea for a writing project, or when you want a fresh new take on an old piece you wrote? Are there any tools or tricks of the trade that you find helpful?

As for me, my process revolves around a little thing I’ve put together called the Brain Book. The Brain Book consists of the following items all stored in a zipper pouch: a medium-sized notebook, fountain pens in an assortment of colors, stickers and a variety of knick-knacks or “mascots.” The idea is to keep a little bit of my office and writing space with me tucked into this zipper pouch so that even when I’m writing on-the-go I have everything I need to feel home with my writing.

This picture shows you what my Brain Book looks like right now (though contents will change periodically.) When I need a creative boost, I grab my Brain Book and head to a cafe or nearby park/garden to hang out for an hour. During that time, I brainstorm and work out my ideas on paper without judging or over-thinking any one concept. When I come home, I’ve usually got the start of something I can work with.

The other day, I was doing one of these brainstorming sessions at a coffee shop when two kids came over and started asking me questions about the Brain Book. The apparatus seemed to fascinate them. Our conversation went something like this:

Why do you write with those funny-looking pens? Because they make me feel like I’m channeling Jane Austen and George Eliot, only with hot pink or purple ink.

Why doesn’t your notebook have lines? Is it hard to write straight? I don’t like lines because sometimes I write longways and sometimes I write sideways and sometimes I write in a circle or upside down. Sometimes I’ll draw pictures. Lines just get in the way.

What are the stickers for? So I can give myself a couple when I do good work.

What are all these pins and weird stuff? Talismans or mascots… to keep me company when I write and give me important reminders. Like the compass charm tells me that I should make sure I’m going in the right direction with everything I write. The skull and crossbones button reminds me to fight for my writing.

At this point in the conversation, the kids’ nanny came over and told them to “stop bothering the nice writing lady.” It was hardly a bother, though. In fact, that short conversation with those kids reminded me of the most important reason why I use the Brain Book: because it’s that tiny but magical ritual I need to get my writing going.

Having this little contraption with me transports me to a place where I feel safe and ready to write anything. When I unzip that pouch my brain knows that “OK, it’s time to write now” and it’s like a switch gets flipped in my mind because I go into writing mode. And because I can take the Brain Book just about anywhere, I never have an excuse not to write, which is perhaps the best part of it all.

What about you? What does your creative process look like?

  • I’m a stickynote girl. I literally have one those big, lined stickynote pads in various colours that I carry around everywhere when I feel inspired. Usually it’s bits of dialogue or something I want to develop further in a scene that’s stuck in my head and when I get home I just stick the sticky on my computer or desk and it’s right there when finally manage to find a moment to write. I also carry around a notebook with a fun colourful pencil (because pens and lefties just don’t mix) but for some reason I tend to write something in the notebook and then forget to look in it for days or weeks at a time.
    Also when I get stuck and I need inspiration I started going crazy – literally. I start narrating my life (in my head, of course) describing the little details and the background stories as best as I can and if I ramble long enough, I get a connection with SOME part of my story and latch on to it. It’s a little weird – especially when you start narrating out loud – but I find it really helps if you have something tangible to play with rather than just trying to see a world in your head.

  • Gabriela,
    I am fascinated by process, my own and others’.
    Love the brain book. I just carry a journal around, but I do have a purple pen to write in it with! I used to put pins and stuff on my jacket or purse, but I kept on losing them 🙁 Now I’m the “piece of my office” I take everywhere with me, from the purple painted toenails, toe rings, anklets, puzzle ring and pill ring, tat and multiple piecings (nothing exotic).
    Here are my thoughts on process: http://melaniemarttila.ca/2012/03/15/my-process/
    I also blog about it in my work-in-progress category (various drafts and what they taught me).
    Thanks for tickling my fancy 🙂

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  • My ideas are likely to hit whenever, wherever, and I find the Notes on my iPhone perfect for jotting things down quickly. The commute on the bus is then perfect for fleshing those ideas out and either saving them or tossing them as quality warrants. The bulk of my writing, though, is on the laptop. I do character sketches, setting notes, plot extrapolations — lots of stuff that only informs the actual story rather than contributes word count. And I outline everything in Excel to keep track of various subplots, character arcs and key turning points,

    Given how atrocious my handwriting is, I’m probably not a good candidate for the Brain Book. But it’s a cool idea!


  • Gabriela

    Vicki – LOVE the sticky note idea. I do that myself in a way because I’ll sometimes use those to add comments or reminders to pages I’ve already written in the Brain Book.

    Melanie – It’s like YOU are the little bit of your office you can take everywhere. That’s such a neat idea! I hadn’t thought of it that way but really, isn’t that true for all of us? We are all our own Brain Books.

    Mike – I totally hear you on the handwriting thing. I’ll sometimes have trouble deciphering my ideas when I look over notes in the Brain Book. The iPhone idea is awesome. It’s like your iPhone is your Brain Book. Have you ever tried Evernote? It lets you synch notes with your computer and also lets you add voice and pictures. I think there are a few such note-taking apps out there that let you do that.

  • I have Evernote but I never bothered to figure out how to use it so it’s just annoying. One day I’ll figure it out…and maybe I’ll get a phone that can USE Evernote while I’m at it. The only thing I’m starting to hate about stickynotes is finding them and having to actually put them where they need to go. I have all these scenes and tidbits that keep popping out of notebooks – and my lunchbox – and I’ve got no where to put them. I still find it easier to plot on paper than the computer though so I guess I’m stuck. Alas.

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