Notes are not always written (II) – a seven-step creative process

The first part of this mini-series was written back in June 2019, when I introduced my duality as author and photographer, and how I use this to take notes for a book or a story. It’s always interesting for me to go back and review some of my precepts and principles as a writer and compare them to the present day status. Yes, I stand by the philosophy of taking visual notes in addition to written ones and all the research. Videos, documentaries, interviews and biographies have become part and parcel of my research over the years, not just what I find but also what I create.

The concept of minimalism and decluttering has been on my mind for several months now, and I try to practice what I preach, not just in my physical surroundings but in all my creative aspects. Back in High School and university I loved to write long and winding essays, which drove my professors mad but I always got full marks for being so thorough. This was long before I discovered blogging and decided to get into writing as a lifestyle. Note: lifestyle, not profession.

One of the things I am most grateful for is blogging as a disciplined creative writing tool that forces me to write something at least six days a week, regardless of which platform I choose. Blogging has taught me to trim down the meandering thoughts and get to the point faster, and this is a fantastic self-imposed discipline for short-story writing. Over the past four years, however, I have been using my own photography more and more as motivation and a way of revisiting some basic writing principles. I have found that there are concepts that overlap in both creative worlds that generate an interesting result, often times unexpected, but the journey remains the most important part.

My personal seven-steps creative process:

  1. Envision 
  2. Create 
  3. Define 
  4. Edit 
  5. Reduce 
  6. Essence 
  7. Spirit

Have a concept in mind what you want to achieve, whether it is short story, blog entry, novel, video, montage, collage, etc. Those of us in the creative fields tend to fall into the trap of over-planning everything to the last detail. It doesn’t work. I find – and have witnessed – overplanning hampers creativity and clips your wings even before you begin to fly. Sure, it is essential to know what you want to achieve in the end, but always factor in unexpected bursts of inspiration and allow for flexibility. Maybe you decide to kill the character after all, or maybe the light and clouds for that landscape shot are the complete opposite of what you came prepared for. Go with the flow and ride that wave of creativity without sacrificing the original vision.

There is no shortcut to actually getting your hands, mind and body involved in the creative process. Ignore the technicalities and don’t get bogged down by rules and precepts of perfectionism. Just sit down and write or go out and photograph. Are you a painter or sculptor? Then set those brushes and chisels in motion. The worst thing is to hesitate and be afraid of imperfection. No diamond comes out of the mine polished.

This is different to envisioning because here you begin to establish parameters. So you went out and shot 500++ images of landscape or people, WTF do you do with them now? Use the original vision and start sorting out what works and what doesn’t. What has potential, what can be used as a back-up or reference. If you are writing – what do want to do with your characters and setting now that you have created them, do you want the candy sweet story with a happy ending or do you have a knack for the unexpected dark side? Identify the anchors to your work and what you want to use as cornerstones.

This is truly where the magic and transformation begins. If you have a solid foundation to work with then you can get work on editing. Begin narrowing down the superfluous elements – can you discard one character and make the story more powerful, or is the contrary more effective? Would adding a character make a more balanced flow? The key here is not to get lost in the detail. Description is well and good, and necessary, but character development and dialogue is more essential. Will the reader react as you plan or will you lose the reader altogether? Will your audience understand the message or vision you were aiming for with a single glance at your photograph / painting / sculpture? If you have to supplement unnecessarily then you have to go back and tweak. Note that I am not a fantasy or sci-fi writer, I am a suspense thriller / crime writer, so emotion and psychology play a major role, and this can only be highlighted by weeding out extraneous elements that would kill the suspense. Know where to cut and leave the reader hanging and gasping. Same with visual arts, know when to crop to create the greatest effect. Over-ambition is a killer in the written as well as the visual.

This is where my penchant for minimalism comes in. After I’ve edited, I continue to reduce until I have the spotlight on as little elements as possible, zeroing in on the the one element I want to play up and make the most of negative space. You might be asking yourself by now, OK, negative space works well and good for photography but what about writing? I find it is the greatest challenge as a writer to sit a character in a drab room and have him or her have an internal monologue that create a backdrop, bring the reader up to speed on the general psycho-social condition. This is where you show instead of tell.

What is the essence of your work, the core of that creation? Is it a transformation, an emergence, reconciliation or the ultimate detachment from life? What is the essence of the image, the photograph, painting or sculpture, the one thing that you want to highlight above all else? Some photographers will blur the background to bring out the face, others will insist on a darker shadow, and those who do detail photography have this particular step mastered, zeroing in on the single element that becomes the alpha and omega of the shot.

This has nothing to do with spirituality but rather the projection of the artist i.e. the writer, painter, sculptor or photographer into the work. It is not enough to be the creator, but your work should also reflect that part of you that needs expression with this particular work. Case in point, in all my short stories and books there is always one character who is a reflection of me and my personal responses to the plot, especially if based on deep personal experience. In terms of photography, this is what I call the soul of the image, that very part that speaks to the image but also what gives the image a voice. The creation must be able to have a dichotomy of being spoken to and reaching out to the audience as well.

This is a creative process that has taken me over 30 years to put down in writing and it is by no means final. This short video that I played around with yesterday says all. My new and redefined visual storytelling.

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