The Space Between

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Space Series

My good friend and former classmate, Nancy Hatch, provides the next installment in the Space Series. (The first can be found here if you’re new to this blog.) Nancy writes awesome young adult fantasy books. She’s currently working on a YA Gothic romance. Take it away, Nancy!

A friend of mine is the fastest writer I know. She can draft a middle grade novel in a few weeks and return an editorial revision in ten days, all while coming up with a new proposal. She writes like a jet plane, a ridiculously fast, mostly straight shot from takeoff to landing. I can’t do it.

Jet

For me, writing is more like a hot air balloon ride. It takes work to get an idea off the ground—a lot of fanning (thinking) to start the inflation and a lot of hot air (the excitement of brainstorming) to fill the envelope. And then it requires space—a lot of space—and freedom. (Weren’t sure I’d fit that in, were you?) It is in that space between earth and sky, that space between my ears, the space between my dreams and the words on the screen that the story starts to develop. For me, this is the journey. And it is messy and unpredictable and hard to set a timetable to. I’ll land when I reach a place that looks like a good landing; when my flight has been long enough and exciting enough to complete my journey. And that may or may not be where I intended to go.

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I have read many a craft book and writing life book that embraces outlining, shuffling 3 × 5 cards, elaborate character interviews and worksheets, and intricate world building—all to be done before putting fingers to keys. Know the story and your characters and then the book will write itself, they proclaim. It makes sense. It works for authors A, B, and C. It doesn’t work for me. It tethers me to the ground and never lets the story journey happen.

I read somewhere that you have to embrace your own process. I wish I’d known that a long time ago. Maybe I’d have had more balloons take flight. But, here’s the deal. Every writer has a process. No two of us do this the same way. I start with the idea of a scene and maybe a hint of a character, and then I write. It isn’t until I write that I start to get to know that character and figure out where my plot is going. I’m completely open for a subconscious surprise to appear beneath my fingertips. It’s exciting. It’s scary. But that’s what works for me.

Do I ever employ these other methods? Some of them, but not until my balloon is already in the air and sometimes not until I’ve already landed. Then I usually need to go back and analyze and make the adjustments in revision. Like I said, it’s messy. But that’s what works for me. It won’t be the same for you.

If you’re just starting out, my great tidbit of advice is to try some suggestions, read some books, talk to other writers, but when it comes to your writing and your stories, you do what works for you.

And never apologize for it.

I am not a jet plane. Yes, it has taken me forever to get where I am right now. I launch balloons and float them between the earth and the sky until I find a good place to land. In the process—my process—I enjoy the space and the view and the journey. You should too.

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Balloon photos by Nancy Hatch. Jet from listofimages.com. Space image from wallsave.com. White space from dessign.net.

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46 thoughts on “The Space Between

  1. I love the comparison of your writing style to a hot air balloon ride, L. Marie. Like you, I try other suggested methods now and then, but I’m not big into rules when it comes to writing.

    Have you ever been on a hot air balloon ride? I’m scared of heights, but this is something I would love to do one day.

    Great post!

  2. Great post, Nancy (and thank you L. Marie!) Until I started writing, I used to look for that “formula” … now I research and let the writing take care of itself. Love your balloon analogy! 🙂

    • I can’t believe how much time I wasted trying to fit into someone else’s process. I have learned some very good techniques that I employ in revision, but when first beginning a story, those methods strangle the creativity out of me. glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. Hey, Nancy! So good to connect with you here. I miss you!

    I loved this post. The writing process is different for everyone, and for every book. isn’t it? One thing Linda and I have talked about a lot is embracing your process. Sometimes, often, it’s hard for me because I’m impatient. I’m going to imagine a hot air balloon, drifting with purpose, and remind myself to slow down and look around for the deliciousness that is there.

    • So good to see you here. I’m here a lot, but reluctant to post. I love watching the balloons. They’re never in a hurry (hurry in a balloon is a very bad thing). The pilots use maps to know where it is safe (and legal) to land, so they have some idea of where they’re going, but so much is up to the winds. I like your idea of drifting with purpose. When those winds are just right, hundreds of balloons drift right over our house. The butterfly balloon in the picture was about 40 feet over our house when we took that picture. So cool.

  4. “I read somewhere that you have to embrace your own process. I wish I’d known that a long time ago.”

    You and me both, sister! But I think we have to try a lot of things before we figure it out. Unless we’re extremely lucky, I don’t believe there’s a pain-free way to get there (and maybe that’s how it should be).

    BTW, is that the Albuquerque balloon fest? You wouldn’t happen to be related to the Hatch family that grows all that delicious chile?

    • Yup, Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. It just ended a week ago. I remember one year they had over 900 balloons launch in several waves. They were everywhere!

      I am related to the people who settled Hatch, NM through my husband’s mother’s family waaay back. I have been there. Lots of chile fields, not much else.

      You’re right that we have to try things to figure out what works for us. Once we do, though, we need to get one with writing and stop fussing. For me, trying to find the “right” method was a form of procrastination and a little bit of desperation.

  5. I like what you say about the importance of experimenting until you find a process that works for you — my own creative line of work is songwriting, and I read a ton of songwriting books and took many courses before I came to realize that all I really had to do was sit down and listen to the music that is perpetually playing somewhere in my awareness, and the melodies (and sometimes even the lyrics) will come.

    • Thanks Chris. I think that sometimes I believe that everyone’s method has more value than mine and try and contort myself to fit their mold. That’s so great that you have melodies that play for you. My daughter has cinematic dreams that come as nearly complete stories complete with color and sometimes music. Kind of wish mine did, but alas, that’s not the case either. Good luck writing those tunes.

  6. Thanks for posting, L.Marie! And thanks for writing, Nancy! I especially appreciated this message because as L.Marie knows, I’ve spent far to much of the last few weeks judging my fledgling first pages of a new WIP. Nancy said she employs tactics only after the balloon is off the ground. That makes such good sense. Thank you both for the reminder.

    • Hi Laura. I’ve got to completely embrace the creative and shut out the structural or my editor takes over. When I had Martine Leavitt as an advisor (VCFA, of course), I would get really frustrated that I hadn’t written as many pages of new stuff as I’d wanted. I had to spend a lot of time thinking about certain aspects of the book. She told me that thinking is writing too and not to rush it. That helped me a great deal. Now, when I hit a snag and I know that it needs some thinking time, I’ll walk away from the computer, maybe try and take a short nap or bake something. When I come back, I’m usually not as stuck as I was before. Sometimes I come back with an epiphany I wouldn’t have had if I’d tried to force myself through or past whatever was going on.

    • Mine don’t ever talk to me. I don’t see my scenes. It’s just words that spill out of my brain. It sounds weird to me too. When I try and insert too much structure, the words go flat or won’t come at all. I just stare at the screen.

  7. Thanks for this, Nancy & L. Marie. So nice to have someone talk about the importance of finding your own process and that no two writers do it the same way. So often we end up stifling ourselves when we try to fit into someone else’s box or formula.

    • it is so important to trust our inner genius (can’t remember where that came from…) Maybe the need for outside validation (see, I do it this way like…) drives this too. Of course, it could be that it would be easier to just follow someone else’s blueprint rather than develop our own process.

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