The Writing Process and my Latest Work The Butterfly Girl

Story ideas can knock around in a writer’s head for a long time. Inception can happen in a variety of ways: an image of a particular character, an inspiring passage, a plot element, theme (though many authors emphasize never to start with theme), what have you. Nearly fourteen years ago inception happened to me in the form of a title and a memory: The Butterfly Girl.

I knew a girl in high school with that nickname. I can’t remember precisely, but it seemed she liked to sport butterfly hair clips, so classmates gave her the alias. As I reflected on the memory of that girl, I found myself repeatedly saying to myself her nickname. It had a catchy quality to it. I thought it might serve as a great title. There was a mysterious quality to it, suggesting all kinds of connotations. Since my imagination often wanders into the strange shadows of the horror tale, I began to imagine a transformation story, one with monstrous possibilities.

Writers will often use metaphor in the attempt to understand what they do. Thomas Williams described the writing process in his novel “The Hair of Harold Roux” akin to characters standing around a small fire, their faces barely visible in the dim light. The author’s job is to keep the fire ablaze, keep the sparks flying, or the characters will be swallowed up in the dark and forgotten. Stephen King has described the writing process as like excavating a fossil. An idea, character, or phrase is the location of a fossil. Writing the story is the work of digging up the bones. Revision then must be cleaning off the bones and connecting them in their proper formation. I’ve heard others describe the writing process as like planting a seed in the ground and giving it a place to grow. The rough draft is the hedge bush grown to its most rampant potential, shaggy and shapeless. Revision is seeing the true shape that could exist, and making the proper cuts to bring that shape to life. With my story, the title was the first spark of story-creation fire. The title was the first protruding hint of a fossil to be dug up. It was the germinating seed.

Since then “The Butterfly Girl” has now become a full-length story. Right now I’m in the process of cleaning off the fossil and realizing how it all fits together.

How do you envision the writing process?

“Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground… Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered, pre-existing world.”

Stephen King

Why I Write

It’s fun to find an old book you haven’t seen for a long time. There it is, tucked away in the dusty corner of your bookshelf, hidden away like an old fossil or relic. You pull it out, brush the dust off, and recognition strikes you. You remember the day you bought it, the place you spent reading it, and all the relevant content. It’s a little like meeting an old friend after many years. You can’t help but remenisce nostalgically.

I recently had this experience as I was rummaging through one of my bookshelves. The book that called out to me like that long lost friend was an instructive book called Writing Creative Nonfiction: Instruction and Insights from the Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs.

I riffled the pages, turned to random sections, and smiled as I read passages highlighted all those years ago. The book had been required reading for a creative nonfiction course I attended at Utah Valley University. I remember this period being very fruitful for my writing. The creative nonfiction lens opened new doorways in my imagination, and motivated useful introspection which developed a greater understanding of character.

One essay particularly moved me. It served as a mission statement. The author of this inspiring manifesto is Terry Tempest Williams. The question she answers in her essay is one I think we authors seldomly think about, although we often intuitively sense the answer: why do we write?

At the beginning of the creative nonfiction course that year, me and my fellow classmates had to ask ourselves the same question. Why do we write? The process of answering the question, of digging deeper into my own motivations as a writer was inspiring, insightful, and anchored me with a stronger sense of orientation. I knew where I had been. Now, where was I going?

Today I will ask myself the same question. Maybe much has changed since the first time I asked this question eight years ago. Perhaps some conclusions have remained the same. Regardless, it’s always good to declare my mission statement, to reorient my course and desired destination.

Why I Write

I write to understand what I’m really thinking. I write to refine my thinking. I write to see the world through a new lens. I write to observe myself through a new lens. I write because a story has possessed me and won’t let go. I write to see where it leads. I write to run down a dream. I write to be entertained. I write to be emotionally moved. I write to inspire. I write to be scared and to scare you. I write for the love of it. I write for the need of it. I write because so badly I want you to understand. I write to express what I believe. I write to express my own beliefs. I write to understand my own beliefs. I write to create order out of a chaotic order. I write to bring life to the page. I write to build worlds. I write to form conclusions. I write to ask questions. I write to wage battle with evil. I write because I want to see good prevail. I write to confront harsh realities. I write to shed light on darkness. I write to seek reconciliation. I write sometimes because there’s simply nothing better to do.

Why do you write?

Writing Creative Nonfiction is available in Amazon.

“Rule one, you have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen.”

Neil Gaiman