Celeste Ng on Writing with a Plan ‹ Literary Center


The following is an edited excerpt from a 2017 conversation with Courtney Balestier on WMFAa show about creativity and crafts, and first appeared in Lit Hub’s The Craft of Writing newsletter—register here.

I always have to have the general shape of the story before I can even start, because otherwise I feel like there are too many decisions to be made. When I get an idea of ​​where the story is going to start and where it’s going to end, its rough shape, and a few little dots along the way that I know will be important, that’s when time that I can somehow start . I need to spend some time digesting what the characters are and what I’m dealing with. I can translate that into something the reader can understand.

I think of it as scaffolding; often I write towards something that I try to understand. My process is that I write and I become more and more articulate – I started with the basics, and it’s not that I become less articulate – but I move away from it so you can see the situation in general. And then, every time I hit that comfortable middle ground, that’s when I go back and take things out that are too out of the way or too explicit. There’s a lot of writing on the page, and then, often, I’ll take a step back.

I usually start each day by rereading what I did the day before. And then I’ll sometimes write about what I think I’m talking about, almost as if I’m analyzing someone else’s text, where I [am] As, Ok I think the reason the character is doing this is really in response to his mother, and I’ll write stuff like that. …

Often you can’t see what you’re working on until you step away from it. And part of getting that distance, for me, is writing it down. It’s almost like a process of self-analysis. I know there are writers who describe and then write from the outline, and my process is actually the reverse, which is I write first, then I have to go back and describe what I was writing about. So I can look and say… It must be something my mind is spinning.

I take notes from time to time, which is my way of tricking myself into getting the job done. So I’m like, Well, I’m not writing it. I’m just taking notes on this book I’m reading. Or maybe I think of something to do with the character, and I write it. I slowly register these things. Lots of things tend to happen when I’m not sleeping. … So often I lay awake and just flip over the ideas I have going on or the characters I’m thinking about. There is something about this semi-awakened state that allows the rational part of my brain to shut down and this subconscious part of my mind to make associations and be less guided by storytelling than I am. when I’m awake.

I think when we are awake we often try very consciously to figure things out and put things in place and put them in order. And you almost have to turn off that part of your brain, at least for a while, when you generate the idea. …Although I tend to forget some of the things I think about, the things that seem to be central to the project tend to stick.

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