On Leaving This Extant World and My Other Writing (and Reading) Foibles

Painting by Tithi Luadthong

Time for some more burning writing questions.

I’ve been answering these as part of my 10th writing birthday celebration back on February 12.

Amanda is a co-worker of mine with whom, during our breaks, I love to discuss issues surrounding social justice, intersectionality, and inclusivity.  She posed me a series of writing questions that I’m excited to answer:

1) Who are some of your favourite writers?  Are there any writers that inspire you to do your best work?

Usually, whenever asked about my favourite anything, I’m ready to start answering before the question has fully been posed.

When it comes to favourite writers, though, I first have to put some filters on the question before I’m able to respond.

Because I’m a writer too, or because I’m being self-centered (a self-centered writer), I often consider the authors of books that have most directly influenced my own works-in-progress to be my favourites.

Among these are historical fiction author Philippa Gregory and fantasy authors Jacqueline Carey, Juliet Marillier, Sarah Micklem, Robert Jordan, and J.R.R. Tolkien (The Similarillion, not Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, just to be clear).

When I answer this question as a reader, it becomes even more of a struggle.

I often say that I’ve read one book by everyone.  This has the benefit of making me well-read across a number of genres, however it’s less conducive to producing favourite authors if I don’t make a point of going back to explore more of their backlist.

Still, I enjoy the works of authors Sabaa Tahir, Sarah J. Maas, Madeline Miller, Hilary Mantel, Annie Proulx, J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith), Naomi Novik, and Amy Harmon.

I would say that any authors I’ve read inspire me to do my best work.  I read as much to obtain fuel for my own writing as to simply immerse myself in a story told by someone else.

Yet most recently, I’ve really been inspired by Madeline Miller, because she tells stories of ancient historical fiction that are a blend of history, depth of character, and make-you-week beautiful writing.

In short, everything I’m trying to create in my own work.

2) Do you have any writing rituals? What are they?

I’ve heard it said that writers shouldn’t have rituals—that rituals promote reliance and dependency, and that real writers cab write under any conditions regardless of whether the setting and superstitious circumstances of their ritual have been fulfilled.

Alternately, I’ve also heard that in order to enter the space and mindset of maximum creative flow, writers have to leave the extant world and fully enter the one of their own making, and that rituals can help facilitate this process.

This latter argument certainly makes sense to me, and is the one I subscribe to in my own writing life.

I’m not really interested in being able to write under all possible conditions.  Rather, I try to maintain a constant state of those specific conditions where I already do my best writing.

In general, this has meant making certain lifestyle changes that support my writing objectives.  But it’s also involved devising a shorthand to signal to myself that my creative departure from this world is at hand.

Because I do my writing at night, last thing before I go to bed, my writing rituals are intrinsically linked to my nighttime/bedtime rituals and include:

  • Brushing my teeth
  • Putting on my pyjamas
  • Unplugging my modem
  • Working in bed (very bad for sleep hygiene, I know, but I’ve always been a good sleeper so I can get away with it)
  • Turning off the overhead light to work under the muted orange glow of a side lamp
  • Burning a candle on my side table
  • Listening to relaxing new age-ish or movie score music
  • Not ending the writing session at the end of my ideas for the day, i.e. holding a little bit back so that I have something to dive straight into the following day; also leaving myself a few bullet-point notes on what I plan to write the next day

3) What do you find more difficult—getting started or finishing a piece of writing?

I am definitely a finisher.  It can take me years to start a piece of writing, because I first need to have a good sense of how it will end (or at least a possible ending).

Case in point: the next novel I plan to write, which will be set in Ancient Greece.  Aside from my ongoing work on my current WIP, I could technically start this new project and work on it at odd intervals.

But as much as I’ve started considering myself more of a pantser/zero drafter than I originally thought, I don’t feel I have a strong enough sense of the plot (a consequence of my not yet having done enough research into Ancient Greece) to even attempt an outline beyond the first 4-6 chapters that I’ve already mapped out.

For a story that’s already started, though, I’m a true workhorse about getting it finished.  Neither distraction, boredom, nor disillusionment can stop me.

I’m not a speedy writer, but I’ve got discipline, dedication, and a single-mindedness bordering on obsession to take me to the finish line and beyond (because revisions, right?)

4) What do you find most enjoyable—starting or finishing a work?

Definitely finishing, pretty much for the same reasons stated above.  There is nothing more satisfying than months and years of hard, steady work finally yielding its end result.

(Or even the tangible interim result of an intermediate draft.  Because revisions, right?)

How would you answer these questions?

(Image source #1 and #2)

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