Laini Taylor is my favourite author. Her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy moves me as though the words on the page have a magic of their own. Her Blackbringer story challenged my perceptions of fantasy and helped shaped my own thoughts, ideas and writing direction. In other words, I think she is awesome. Total fangirl here. *points to self*
So when the Brisbane Writer’s Festival announced that Laini Taylor was a guest presenter, I had to go. Unfortunately life was going to be in the way as it was settlement and moving time for our house during the festival weekend. Oh, and Father’s Day.
So I bought two days’ worth of tickets and decided to just schedule life around the festival events. That’s smart, right?
Creative Methods was the masterclass run by Laini Taylor and we gained insight into a range of her writing practices. Like many aspiring writers, Laini started off her writing career without any specific idea of what a writing process actually was. She had no specific strategies and instead spent her time making notes on different story ideas and world building. The problem of course was making the pieces fit together. What was her solution to moving past ‘What happens next?’
Many aspiring writers can relate to this, myself included. For my second WIP I have ideas, characters, a world that is complex, and even a rough idea of key events. How do I take these parts and create an entirety?
For Laini, the catalyst came when she attended her first Writer’s Festival with her art portfolio and although she didn’t come away with a picture book deal like she was hoping, she found the festival to be ‘humbling and electrifying’.
The artwork caught the attention of a publisher who requested that the ideas behind the images become a novel. The Dreamdark series was born.
With a deadline from a publisher, Laini reassessed her writing processes. Essentially, it was pressure from that looming deadline that allowed her to focus her ideas and produce Blackbringer.
Lesson One: Know who your characters are before you make them speak or act.
The important lesson Laini learned from this experience was that up until this point, she didn’t know what her characters would say because she didn’t know them yet. How could she write their story until she understood who they were and what they would say?
Lesson Two: Just keep going.
Like many of us, Laini felt lost during the writing of her first novel but she did not give up. After it was finished, she continued writing even if she didn’t have a specific story to work on. When Blackbringer was completed Laini co-founded a writing prompt online group. Every week people would free write and share their work. Here she connected with other writers and even came up with the idea about a blue-haired girl who had the strange job of collecting teeth for her even stranger guardian who had two giant horns on his head.
Lesson Three: Develop a writing practice and then write.
Understand your writing needs and develop a practice to suit. “Process is about knowing your brain and getting it to do what you want it to do.” Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you write better in the morning, afternoon or evening? Do you have a specific set of rituals you use to write? Do you go through a series of writing exercises to ‘warm up’ your brain? Do you need goals? Perhaps extrinsic motivation such as a calendar of stickers for when you meet your word count, would work for you.
Lesson Four: Don’t wait for perfection
“Nothing will be perfect, so don’t wait for perfection.” For many, especially plotters, waiting for everything to be perfect can be a formidable barrier to writing. Writing exercises can help loosen up writing rigidity and push past the obvious and the known. “No one likes a delicate flower.” Writers need to push past our comfort zones, even first ideas may need to be shelved. Keep going until you find, as Laini puts it, “the ‘snick’ – when the idea slots into place like a puzzle.”
Having a story idea and the words to say it doesn’t always add up to writing. The bridge between words and ideas is the magic of storytelling – “the brain function where it all fits together creatively.” “It’s the Fictional Dream – the state when you completely forget you are reading or writing and move into a waking dream.”
Writing exercises allowed Laini to glimpse the Fictional Dream which her perfectionism had previously been holding her back from entering.
Lesson Five: My writing time is up to me
I dream of going to a writer’s retreat, of having naught to do but explore my ideas and words and whatever character wisdom I can come up with. It is unlikely that will happen anytime soon. I have work commitments and a family and just, you know, life stuff that I have to deal with. I’m lucky if I can find three hours a week to write.
This is probably the most important lesson I took away from Laini. My writing time is up to me. Everyone has life commitments to deal with but authors make time to write. Laini once checked herself into a beach side hotel for a week long solo writer’s retreat where she wrote 20 000 words. Now, I won’t be doing that anytime soon but the message was clear: Laini is successful because she prioritizes time to write. Without that time allocation and dedication to her practice, her amazing stories might still be in the ideas phase instead of sitting on this fangirl’s bookshelves.