How I write

From time to time, I receive questions about how I write my stories. There’s a distinct pattern to it.

My relationship with writing is complicated. There’s nothing easier than writing when you have everything in your head. There’s nothing more painful than when you don’t.

The hardest part for many writers is sitting in front of a blank screen. Fortunately, it has never been the case with me.

I may have unclear ideas or a storyline; it only gets clarified through writing. Most of the time, stories come in the form of a fog in my head that can be 20-90% complete. The more complete it is, the more inclined I am to write it down and start actually working on it. If I type something, it means I’m overwhelmed by it and afraid to forget.

When I don’t have anything to write, I just don’t. In the past, I had years without writing a single paragraph (of fiction).

How do these stories come?

Glad you asked. This is the exciting part.

I categorize stories by clarity/completeness with which they come.

  • Little Girl — she is standing in the corner, waiting until you call her. She will sit on your lap and tell you everything she has and will let you look at her from all angles. These stories typically get written in one sitting. They leave little to doubt. I don’t consider them to be my work or even “work” at all. I rush to get them down as soon as possible. It’s hard to evaluate such a story before re-reading it a few times after a while. I wish I had more little girls, but they are rare and completely unpredictable. Examples: 13Hamster Heaven.
  • Fine old gentleman — he will come knocking politely and will only dictate when I’m ready to listen. He will convey the main gist, which may be a key event, feeling, or a character trait to build the story around. He will leave the rest for me to figure out and will never show up again. It requires “work” and many changes before I get it right. “Fine old gentleman” is the most common type. Example: three (!) stories in the pipeline.
  • Bully — he will dictate one version and keep returning with contradicting plot lines and character actions. He will exhaust me to the point where I feel the story has lost its plot and would require to start over. Eventually, he will disappear, leaving me in a complete discontent. I have never published a story dictated by bully merely because I couldn’t finish anything.

When and how do these folks show up?

Most common time — at nights, just when I’m sleepy and almost passing out. Then this familiar psycho voice will show up in the signature “missed me?” manner, and erase any trace of sleepiness.

Sometimes it can be sparked during a day: by a conversation, an event, a feeling, a memory.

The voice starts engraving complete sentences on the inner side of my skull, in random order, never in meaningful chunks. It will render me useless for further social interaction, widening my eyes, putting a puzzled look on my face, and capturing my full attention.

When it stops, I usually wait for new visits in the following days with more information and let the story ferment in me until it wants out.

I will reach out for keyboard at various stages of clarity and completeness, intuitively judging when I have the best shot at having it down shortly. If stars align — ta-da! Here comes a story.

This process works for me, at least for the ultra-short format that I recently discovered. Working to produce more weird little stories soon.

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Why I write