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How do (I) Write?

****ed if I know, honestly

By Alexander McEvoyPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 7 min read
Top Story - September 2023
How do (I) Write?
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

I read Mackenzie Davis's "How do YOU write?" and the questions asked in that text were very interesting for me. I think about writing a lot, and I think about how I'm going to write my next piece a lot. So the answer, for me, is haphazardly.

Much as I'd like to be self-deprecating and say "how do I write? Poorly," with a cheeky grin, I can't. Though I might not always think highly of my work, I can't be dishonest and ignore the legitimate question.

So, I've broken down my process into a few little pieces that I hope will answer some of Mackenzie's questions. Maybe it'll help me get passed writer's block on a few of my stories that I have languishing in the 'someday' pile. (Like my beloved child An Ocean Aflame)

Tell me your approach to these challenges, or to writing in general. Do you get inspiration for the prompts or do you find yourself writing about the first thing that came to mind?

Typically for community challenges, when I enter them they aren't a blip in my writing day. And I treat them with all due seriousness. Usually just the prompt is enough to get me going, like with Donna Fox's Community Story Challenge. I read the prompt and can fire off a continuation relatively quickly. But then that was only 600 or so words building off a strong foundation.

For this story, I sat back and I thought about all the information I had. We had two teacher's name, a setting, and the instruction to go have fun. So being the type of guy I am, I immediately thought 'haunted ruin and eldritch terrors' when I read that. So it's what I did.

I took the my personal love of that type of story and spun it into a fun piece of fiction continued by the Estimable Mackenzie fun fact. It was quick and relatively easy. But in truth, it also wasn't my story, I was sharing it so I didn't have to do all of the hard work to make it fit.

Since we were telling the story collaboratively, I got to sit back and react. Which, and I'm I don't need to tell you, is a lot easier than planning out what happens next. Instead I just got to see and respond.

But for the more official challenges, the ones with more fixed rules, the process changes.

For example, for the Myth Maker Challenge I had to be more proactive. It's not as though I could just respond to someone else's start, instead I had to be the initiator of the complete idea. So I stared at it, this was actually a difficult challenge and if I remember correctly, I submitted rather late.

What I did for this one, since I knew I wanted to throw my hat in on it, is completely different to how I approach wholly original works and collaborative ones. I took out my trusty notebook, fountain pen, and tiny handwriting, and stream of consciousness dumped for an hour.

Eventually I landed on the idea of telling this myth the way that they are traditionally told, through oral tradition. Great, I had that and it was a good foundation. Next I needed something uncommon, I wanted to do something that would stand out and to do one where I had never heard of a reason for the phenomenon.

I landed on the moon, now, there are a million stories about the moon so I had to be more specific. I didn't want to create a stand-in for Artemis or Tsukuyomi, so I settled on something that had fascinated me as a kid and a question I remembered asking as a wee tyke. Specifically, I wanted to know Where The Moon Goes.

But I didn't think that was enough on its own to tell a story. After all, ancient myths are full of human tragedy and drama, so I expanded it to be about a boy who loved the moon. Specifically, the girl in the moon, neatly age and gender swapping the old man in the moon trope.

Armed with a prompt, a time limit, a narrative structure, and a basic idea, I set to write it. And it didn't work. I could not get the words to flow so I got a different notebook and hand wrote the first few hundred words; after that the process got easier, I transcribed it to word and took off running.

Now, personally I think it's a good story and I'm very proud of it. In case you missed it, the link is three paragraphs up.

However, that's not the only process I use to write. Sometimes the kernel of an idea is all I really need. And that's how I wrote Shrouded Meetings, the story of a divine deer, a sentient mist, and a curious youth.

This story flowed out of me. I think I had it done in under a few weeks, edited and published. But that's not to say it was easy.

Shifting narrators is difficult, and I'll be honest I don't know how well I managed it. But I did my best to ensure that each of my three points of view was distinct, and demonstrated the nature of the different intelligences that experienced that shrouded world.

Written in almost a frenzy, Shrouded Meetings was a rare story for me. Not written for any specific challenge, but rather because I had the idea and thought it good enough to share.

Lastly, I want to talk about the stories that were not so easy. They had no prompt, nor did they come easily. Instead each of these stories took a long, long time to write, to find the words and the images that would bring my characters to life in the minds of my readers.

The Partisan, Parasocial, The Boy, The Dominion, and Rain are all in this category. As well as some others that I'm still chewing on.

For these stories I had to approach them differently. Each of them started with the grain of an idea that I then nurtured for life. For The Dominion, I started that story while fabulously inebriated, the first thousand words flowed easily, afterwards the well ran dry. I sat on it and thought for weeks before writing another word, and even then it wasn't right.

Finally I came to a product that I'm very happy with and working to continue, but the same difficulties are still there. Each scene, every word is a struggle at the moment as I determine how the next phase of the story progresses. Once I make it to a certain point, whenever that it, it'll get easier. Then harder again in a repeating cycle until chapter two is finished.

So many decisions still to be made.

The Boy and The Partisan owe their beginnings to songs. For the former, Sixteen Tons, sung by Colm McGuiness and for the latter, The Partisan sung by Leonard Cohen. Each of these songs sparked in my brain, characters and scenes leaping to the forefront. But those alone aren't enough for a whole story.

Each one had to be teased out in my spare moments. A hundred words here, a thousand there, deleted and replaced and rewritten from scratch.

Whenever I got stuck, I would listen to the song again; close my eyes and focus on the lyrics, the flow, the emotions they evoked. Then I would try again, I must have had those same songs on repeat for days as I was in the trenches on these ones and every story is different. Every process.

And for some of them, usually the poetry, I essentially cry onto the page. I take the mass of feelings, usually negative, and pour it out then show it to you all. Those are the least fun, but they get some of the most rewards.

So, sitting here and thinking about how I write, I'm left with one conclusion. I write with my hands, on a keyboard or with a pen and paper. I hunt for inspiration and spend hours upon hours thinking about them. Pulling them apart in my head and on the page until I know how they tick and how best to present that to my reader.

Taking ideas out of the ether and forging them into a story is what writers do. In much the same way that visual artists pull imagery out of thin air and craft them into shapes and colours for us to see.

I can't explain how I write, if I could I would be a lot more help to a friend of mine who struggles to produce prose but can world build with the best of them. But I hope I've helped you understand the process just a little bit.

Now everyone go read everything Mackenzie has ever written! She's great.

Writer's BlockPromptsProcessInspirationCommunity

About the Creator

Alexander McEvoy

Writing has been a hobby of mine for years, so I'm just thrilled to be here! As for me, I love writing, dogs, and travel (only 1 continent left! Australia-.-)

I hope you enjoy what you read and I can't wait to see your creations :)

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Comments (22)

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  • Angie the Archivist 📚🪶4 days ago

    Fascinating read… well deserved Top Story.✅ Reading, rather than writing, is breathing to me! So enjoying the variety of stories on Vocal.🤩

  • Carol Townend2 months ago

    Fantastic. I loved this, and sometimes I can just sit and write. However, my chapter stories are created from ideas that often create film images in my head, and that is why they take a while to build. I am like you, I like to work with pen and paper at times too.

  • Kenneth Lawson2 months ago

    On a good day, Writing is like breathing. On a bad day, Not so much. As a pantser or Discovery Writer, I usually have no plan in mind when I start writing. Once in a while, I know what genre I'm writing in. But usually, the genre and title are afterthoughts. There is no planning and rewriting. I start with an opening line or two and build from there. On good days, the story unfolds on the screen pretty quickly. But there are a lot of days when it runs out of steam or story, and it's a dead end. If I like the opening line enough, I try again and go in a different direction from it. Or I just start over with a new line, Until I get something that works. Editing usually includes spelling and fixing the many typos that happen when my fingers do their own thing. Something that happens on literally every line I write. Toward the end, when I usually have an ending in mind, I sometimes have to rework the story to make the ending I want work. But that is the extent of my story editing. There are no deep moral values or deep questions explored in my stories. I tell stories because I can, and I'm good at it. I write stories that bend genres and cross the boundaries of time and space.

  • Onah chidera2 months ago

    Nice writing ❤️ I think I really need to work on mine

  • Paul Stewart2 months ago

    I love how you spoke so eloquently and insightfully about your process. I do not think I could do that, but you laid it all out clearly. It was a wonderful read and deserving of the Top Story accolade. Thanks for sharing, and congrats, Alexander!

  • Kelsey Clarey2 months ago

    Congrats on the top story! You broke this down so well and I loved reading about how you approach different things.

  • R Roka2 months ago

    Interesting!. Congratulations on top story.

  • Jazzy 2 months ago

    I love how you broke this down! I am not coherent enough to possibly think I could break down how I write, it simply happens to me! Lol but I loved learning about you!

  • Kendall Defoe 2 months ago

    I have read Mackenzie, and now I am reading your TS. Glad to see Cohen namedropped, and to read about another process. I cannot explain it either. I have two pieces up after putting a list of notes in my notebook, and it seems like an automatic process.

  • Donna Fox (HKB)2 months ago

    Congrats on Top Story, I love that you are bring recognized for this piece! Great work!

  • Cathy holmes2 months ago

    Very interesting. It's always great to learn how the writers in our community tick. I think we all have our processes or inspiration. That you getting inspiration from music is relatable. Really well done. Congrats on the TS.

  • Naveed2 months ago

    Congratulations on your Top Story,

  • Onah chidera2 months ago

    I have a long way to go

  • Lamar Wiggins2 months ago

    I love articles like this because I always learn from them. Whether it's a single word or maybe a technique I've never thought of. Thanks for sharing.

  • Alex H Mittelman 2 months ago

    Holy cow! What a process! Well written

  • Rob Angeli2 months ago

    Quick word of congratulations on my break! I can't handle the challenges and prompts anymore. My writing energies are being usurped into pulverized pennies for these, I have way too many projects bursting to get out to write under dictation. And I'm always afraid my lack of social participation is going to be held against me. I'm terrible socially and wish I would be Judged on the quality of my writing instead.

  • Stephanie Hoogstad2 months ago

    It’s always interesting to read about another writer’s process. It’s a unique journey for each of us, and I think that’s part of the beauty of it. Of course, that’s also the frustrating part of it, the part that, as you pointed out, can’t be taught. We have to figure out what works for ourselves as individuals and go with it, and that won’t necessarily look the same as anyone else’s process. Thank you for this glimpse into your writing life, and congrats on the Top Story.

  • Donna Renee2 months ago

    Oooh this was a very interesting read 😁Nice to see how your mind works here!! Congrats on TS! I laughed at the fabulously inebriated line 🤣

  • Donna Fox (HKB)2 months ago

    I love this!! I like the insight to your process and how versatile it is!! I also appreciate the small shout out!! You are far too kind to me!! This was such a great response to Mackenzie's article! Great work Alex!

  • L.C. Schäfer2 months ago

    I am always fascinated to see others' processes. I wish I had one, but apart from a few tricks to stir the silt and pan for idea-nuggets, I just bleed.

  • Mackenzie Davis2 months ago

    Sooo many thoughts. I have one question, though: Did this help with your block? That mythmaker challenge was similar for me. I tried a few different styles, and just could not get the words to flow for most of the challenge period. I finally got two written for it, that I was quite proud of, though whether they were true myths is up for debate, lol. I find that I want to follow prompts to the extent that they just barely fill the criteria; I'm a contrarian, always looking to bend the rules, hehe. Super interesting, to see how writing it by hand was what unlocked the story for you. Sometimes, the pain of hand cramps, ink stains, margins, etc., gets your brain working better than a convenient tap tap of the keys, lol. I'm getting Wise Man's Fear vibes from your moon myth! The community story is very different for me too. Different from the normal process because of its shared nature. It's nice to be able to let go of the reins, ease the burden of crafting every level of a narrative. (I still owe a part 4, lol.) I am definitely a mass deleter as well. I don't do it much, as I don't write a shit ton of long fiction. But I frequently delete drafts that I am stuck on and start over. Love your process for writing from songs, though. That's pretty cool. I'm planning to write some stories and poems from songs that I think are pulled from the fabric of the cosmos (read: beauty itself). Haven't had the chance to do them yet! Songs are incredible sources of inspiration for me. "Taking ideas out of the ether and forging them into a story is what writers do. In much the same way that visual artists pull imagery out of thin air and craft them into shapes and colours for us to see." THIS IS BEAUTIFUL. I completely agree. This was such a good read, Alex! Thank you for basically turning my article into a challenge, and delivering a super thoughtful and valuable response! I completely adore reading about other writers' processes, and I'm not in the least surprised to find that yours are so varied. Each genre demands a different process, I think (perhaps not for everyone), even if only slightly. I think we're all grabbing at our muses however we can.

  • Oh my goodness, Alex! This was mindblowing! Like whoaaaa. There's like soooo many layers and procedures! I wish I can be more like you!

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