Writing Process with CL Walters!
For this week's writing process interview, please welcome my dear friend CL Walters!
Who Are You?
I write under the name CL Walters. I’m five years shy of a half-century, and I’ve written for most of them. The first story I remember writing for an audience, I was eight or nine and I’ve been writing ever since. This joy of writing inspired my college degree (English) and I became a teacher of English Literature (fun fact: I’ve taught all ages from Kindergarten to College students). Along the way, I married my best friend and moved to his homeland: Hawaii. We have two children - one who is out of the nest and the second on his way through high school – and several furry babies (all dogs).
What are three things that you absolutely need in order to write?
What I needto write is something to write with and on; music and headphones to help me to cut the distractions of other noises.
What I wantto write: my journal with an assortment of pens, my laptop, a cup of something hot, and Spotify with whichever playlist is inspiring me at the moment.
What I dreamof in order to write: I dream of a study lined with books and gorgeous windows which allow incredible light. It would have a desk facing a window which overlooks a vista, probably ocean but a forest would be acceptable. Currently, I write at a table overlooking my living room which I attempt to keep clean so I write instead of stopping to pick it up.
Most writers have many ideas swimming around their heads competing for attention. How do you decide which idea is worth working on?
At the risk of sounding unhinged, I usually will follow the character who’s whining the loudest. The last three books I wrote were based around a character who wouldn’t shut up. As much as I tried to move on and write something different, I couldn’t because the character (Seth) was so adamant about me finishing the story, that I finally just settled into it for the long haul. I just finished that series with the final book now with critique readers, and I’m moving onto something new.
The new project is also a story that has been swirling around in my head for a long time – a fantasy - but I wasn’t ready to write it. When I was choosing something to do for NANOWRIMO, I followed this story thread because 1) the character (Caleb) had started mumbling emphatically. I figured I better check on him before he started yelling at me, and 2) my husband has always wanted me to write this idea. I remember reading once about Margret Atwood wrestling with The Handmaid’s Talefor 18 years before she could finally write it. That little nugget gave me hope that sometimes when I’m struggling with an idea and have to put it away; it might just need some time to ripen because the idea or I might be a little too green.
When you decide on a writing project, how much do you plan upfront?
TBH, I don’t do a lot of planning. I sit down and talk to the character until I have a sense of a scene. Then I follow the thread as far as I can. What usually happens for me is the arrival of questions. In my journal, I explore the questions as they relate to the scene. Out of those questions is born more information which often leads to another scene. Sometimes they are in order, sometimes out and disconnected, so I keep track of the scenes I write by character name and the date I wrote them. When necessary, I’ll dialogue with whichever character is alluding me to understand motivation and character choices. Through this process a story will take shape. At this point, when I have a pretty good idea of what the story is, I will sit down and do some planning. Sometimes that looks like note cards with characters and their “greatest want.” Sometimes it’s a mapped Hero’s Journey (this always happens at some point, but it’s a difficult exercise to do and often discourages me if I don’t have all the pieces to plug into the spaces. I took this class many years ago by a writer named Al Watt called “The 90 Day Novel.” His course focused on the pre-writing of getting to know characters to be very mindful about motivation. The rest of the course hugged the three-act structure, which I will always plot at some point in my writing cycle.
All writers experience writer’s block from time to time. What you do to get unstuck?
Writer’s block is an awful place to be and I have found that for me it is born from fear, self-doubt and emotional struggle. I attended an autobiographical writing retreat many years ago taught by a man named Mark Travis. In that experience he articulated what he called “The Committee.” This is the internal voices we have which for whatever reason (I think self-preservation, self-protection, or safety) will often keep us in a box. They are the doubters, the naysayers, the cruel and critical voices that eviscerate creativity in the name of things like fear and anxiety. When I listen to my committee, I can be paralyzed by them and have noticed that this happens a lot for me after receiving query rejections. Some writers have talked about those being empowering, and I logically understand that mindset, but as we know, emotions and logic don’t always align. Another reason the committee shows up is often when I’m on to something good and I can feel it, but then doubt myself. I don’t have any tried and true method for blocking out the committee, but I have found I’m always self-coaching my way out of their negativity. I journal everyday (even when I am blocked) and this helps tremendously. A great resource for the blocked artist, Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way,was eye-opening for me.
As age and experience walk with me, I’m beginning to see Writer’s block as my mind and body’s way of speaking to me, and a means of the creativity saying, “Hold up, you are spending more capital than we’ve got. It’s time to refill the well.” As creatives (and mothers, and fathers, as teachers and bosses, and whatever other hats we wear) we expend a lot of ourselves. If we aren’t actively filling ourselves back up, we will run dry, and we won’t have reserves from which to draw. Refilling that reservoir is really a personal thing. Where and when do you feel your most fulfilled? For me that might mean a trip to the beach to just sit oceanside in the sun, it means reading books I love (maybe even re-reading favorites), it means spending time every day in my faith and prayer (I’m a Christian, so I spend time every day reading the bible and praying and reflecting), it means wasting time on Spotify to find the perfect new song. These things and time have a way of refilling the well and then it overflows.
Finally, Earnest Hemingway wrote in The Moveable Feast(which if you haven’t read, as a writer you should) he would write each day to a stopping point in which he would be able to continue writing the next day. I found this a liberating way to look at writing because I am one of those people who will write and write and write until there is nothing left. His advice to make sure you have somewhere to begin the following day means it is okay to stop, taking in some life and experience in order to maintain the flow.
Tell me something about your writing process that is quirky and unique to you.
I don’t think of myself as quirky and unique. Instead, I find that I’m pretty average and ordinary. I feel like when I talk to other readers or writers, I think: yeah! Me too. Something I’m very adamant about, however, is not sharing my work as I write a first draft. I suppose – being a Scorpio – I tend to be very closed off and mysterious, but this isn’t to be dramatic. It is more about self-preservation because the minute I start talking about an unfinished and new idea, it flies away (or I lose the confidence to write it). Ironically, Stephen King wrote about this idea -sort of – in On Writing, A Memoir of the Craftwhen he said when you’re writing your first draft, write it for you with the door closed. Not very unique, but something that I’m pretty strict about.
When are you most productive? When are you least productive?
I’m most production and the writing flows best early in the morning when the house is quiet and free from distractions. I love getting up early in the morning; it’s almost like being in a cocoon of creativity. When the writing is flowing, I can find a way to write any time, and in any place as long as I have music and earbuds, but at home is my best place.
The production stalls when I’m avoiding the torture of trying to write words that seem stuck. And while I prefer to be at home to write, when the chaos of a messy house distracts me, I struggle to focus (so I need a clean space). Another form of distraction for me is people who need my attention – so once family reconvenes at the end of the day or I have guests visiting – forget it! Might as well put it all away – nothing is getting done.
It’s my birthday and you want to give me a book. Which book do you get me and why?
Oh dear, GOD! I can only choose one? (Please note: I have said this rather emphatically). Well, I would definitely want to know what you like (and I know you’re writing style is genre bending) because that would factor into what I’d recommend. Really? I can only choose one? I’m going to give you a “book crate” instead. Since you write cross-genre, I would put in Libba Bray’s Beauty Queenswhich pushes the YA genre. It’s a modern culture satirical statement on sexism and feminism, and a funny take on Golding’s Lord of the Flies. And since you’re a writer, I would add in a book called The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writersby Betsy Lerner – the chapter on “The Wicked Child” was necessary for me (I’m making the assumption you already have Stephen King’s On Writingand Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird). Of course, I’d throw in a signed copy of Swimming Sideways, just in case you might enjoy it, and finally, I’d add a copy of Terry Prachett’s YA Nationbecause the twist was awesome. These aren’t my favorite books, even if I enjoyed them so much, but I think they’d make an awesome Book Crate for a genre-bending writer.
Now, the fun part: What is one question that you want me to ask the next interviewee, not knowing who it is?
What piece of writing advice have you acquired that has been magic for your writing process? Conversely, what’s a bit of advice that turned out to be complete rubbish?
Bonus Question from Brandy W. Henry: I would love for you to ask the next interviewee if they daydream of being interviewed on NPR for their work. I sure do!
I love the question. The Answer is absolutely, YES! The idea makes me giddy!
What are you working on and where can readers find you?
I’m finishing up the third and final book – a contemporary YA – which closes the Cantos Chronicles Series (first two books were Swimming Sidewaysand The Ugly Truth). This final act follows the perspective of the final character, Gabe. It will publish later this year. I have also started work on a new fantasy which I would like to have drafted by this summer so I can shoot for publication in early 2020. Those interested could find various samples of my writing on my website www.clwalters.netsince I have a blog and post samples of my works-in-progress there. Other places where I can be “found”: Facebook (@clwalters), Instagram (@cl.walters) and Twitter (@peeledandcored)