Monday, March 27, 2017

On Creeks, Mucking Around, and the Writing Process

March 2017
"People sometimes ask me to quantify how much time I spend in the different stages of the writing process. That's a tough question. If you held my favorite teddy bear hostage and forced me to answer, I'd say roughly 5% goes to Pondering and Mucking Around, 15% is spent Scribbling, 70% is Boiling Down the Bones, and 10% is figure out how to Craft Chords and Singing." --Laurie Halse Anderson, madwomanintheforest

Adventures in the creek happen occasionally around here when hubby takes grandkids exploring. This was the case recently (kids ages 8, 6, and 4). They think it quite a lark--at least this time of year when the mosquitoes haven't come out yet.  There are stones to overturn, salamanders to find (they call them geckos), elusive crawdads to search for, splashings, rock skippings,  and balancing acts on tipping rocks. Although they did bring usable footing for the occasion (rubber boots, crocs, and flipflops), they still came in the house with wet pantlegs and dirty feet--and of course stories to share. But that's par for the course when mucking around in the creek on a Sunday afternoon. (photo sans kids: an after-the-fact re-creation since neither I nor my camera accompanied the original exploring party)

Laurie Halse Anderson (above quote) divides her writing process into percentages, saying that  5% of her process is spent "pondering and mucking around." Doesn't that tell it like it is in the first stages of writing? I love her creative way of describing her practices and found these treasures when I visited her blog at madwomanintheforest. And what prompted me to go there? I just finished reading her fantastic Seeds of America Trilogy (Chains, Forge, and Ashes), was moved and inspired by the stories, and wanted to learn more about the author.

About the Seeds of America Trilogy, from Amazon:
"What would you risk to be free? It’s 1776 and Isabel, Curzon, and Ruth have only ever known life as slaves. But now the young country of America is in turmoil—there are whisperings, then cries, of freedom from England spreading like fire, and with it is a whole new type of danger. For freedom being fought for one isn’t necessarily freedom being fought for all…especially if you are a slave. But if an entire nation can seek its freedom, why can’t they? As war breaks out, sides must be chosen, death is at every turn, and one question forever rings in their ears: Would you risk everything to be free? As battles rage up and down the Eastern seaboard, Isabel, Curzon, and Ruth flee, separate, fight, face unparalleled heartbreak and, just like war, they must depend on their allies—and each other—if they are to survive..." 

Loved this series. Ms. Anderson is also the author of the award-winning YA contemporary novels Wintergirls, Twisted, and Speak, along with numerous other books.

She is an engaging writer. And it's always a treat to get a glimpse into a successful author's life. She elaborates on her methods in her post, "The Bones of the Writing Process--Part 1", where she describes the stages of her writing process as:
  • Pondering
  • Mucking Around
  • Scribbling
  • Abandonment
  • Boiling Down the Bones
  • Chords
  • Singing
  • Storytelling

Of Mucking Around, she says: "When the idea takes solid shape--I know a bit about the character and I think I know a couple of the book's important moments of conflict--I start jotting things down. I play a lot of 'What if' games and start exploring the relationships..." (note the word exploring!Of Scribbling she means the first draftOf Boiling Down the Bones and Crafting Chords: "Let me explain that last 80%. It's rather important. Other people call it Revision."

And Singing? "You've got chords now so you can sing! With your imagery in place, with your plot and character development in place, now you can really plunge into the vast ocean of language and come up with precisely the right words to elevate your prose to a new level."

I don't suppose she had creek beds and salamanders in mind when she visualized this imagery (though maybe she did!). But her words help us traverse the rocky streams of writing and come out of it with a sense of discovery, and with our own stories to share. I've done my share of mucking around in this latest project, but that's okay. I'm like a kid making discoveries in the creek. Although I am looking forward to hearing those chords sing.

How about you? What stage are you in? Have you read any of Ms. Anderson's books? Do you have a favorite series of books you would recommend?

And if you want to see one amazing writer's cabin, check out the youtube video: Mad Woman in the Forest Gets a Cottage. Custom built for Ms. Anderson, it's a place to dream of. It even has a magic window. You'll wish you could put your boots on and truck over to a place like that for all your writing needs. 


  1. this was such a nice post. I need to go visit her sites you mentioned. Meanwhile, I'm in the submitting stage. I don't seem to be able to write anything until I send my ms. out. Well, I AM in the muck-about stage with a story idea, but i haven't mucked much with it yet. ☺️

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth :-) If you visit Ms. Anderson's site, you'll also see that she hosted a 'write fifteen minutes a day' (WFMAD) challenge a few years in a row some time back. As simple as that sounds, I'm not there yet. I'm still in the 'write at least one sentence a day' stage that one of my critique partners challenged me with :-) Good luck with your mucking-about stage on your new idea, hope it uncovers lots of treasures!

  2. I have read several of Laurie Halse Anderson's books -- CHAINS and FORGE, plus FEVER 1793, which my children's lit class will be discussing next week. All very good. I've never seen her writing stages before, but I'd guess they're pretty accurate. I have manuscripts in just about every stage right now, even some in "abandonment" - which I hope will be temporary. :-)

    1. Oh, Peggy, I wish I could sit in on your children's lit class--I've read Fever 1793 and would love to be in that classroom for the discussion :-) I also think you are an example of a perfect literature teacher since you have such a passion for writing your own stories. And that abandoned mss? It probably won't stay there--you'll breathe life in it one of these days! Have a great rest of the week...

  3. Oh, I love this so much! I'm at the scribbling stage with my WIP, desperately wanting to be at the "Boiling the Bones" stage :) Creeks are amazing places to explore with kids! OMG, just watched that YouTube video...that "cottage" is incredible~ that window!!

    1. Jess, so nice to hear from you--and glad to know you have another WIP in the works because...well, I just have to say (since you dropped by) that last month I read your book "Waiting for Augusta" and LOVED it!! So now I know another good book is in the works :-) Also glad you watched the video. Can imagine you would love something like that. Maybe your hubby will build you one? Take care, keep writing!

  4. I've not read any of her books. But maybe I need to. :) Appreciate the recommendation!

  5. I think you would enjoy this series, Karen, especially since you have hosted a number of interviews of historical fiction writers to your blog, Thanks for stopping by. Happy Easter!