The Method and the Channel
So, you’ve been filling up your warehouse, stocking sensory data, experiences, life and so forth.
As you fill up your warehouse, ideas will come. It’s up to you then to make sure those ideas start getting processed. Here’s just a glimpse of my average order for the creation phase of a project.
The Method is about the mechanics of the project, whereas the channel is a more difficult and non-tangible concept. However, the channel and the method are interdependent on one another.
Channel is almost always happening to a creative who’s prolific and open. While there’s not a scientific way to explain this intangible piece, I believe in it for my own creative output. I think of it as the pipeline between my creative warehouse and my fingers on the keyboard. Keeping this channel clear, fresh, and available is part of the active and ongoing practice of being a creative.
Depending on your belief system one might describe this channel as the connection between local and non-local self. However you refer to it, the viability and constant accessibility to the information stored in your warehouse is dependent on your relationship with the channel, and the strength of your connection to your creative potentiality. When an artist freezes up, burns out, or gets blocked, it’s almost always related to this particular connection point. The channel.
Method: The method will depend on your medium; paint, music, mathematics, etc. For this article, I’ll focus on writing.
My writing method is: idea, to concept, to draft, to beta, to revisions, to publication.
Idea comes into the channel. I puzzle over it, go for a drive, or sit in the bathtub with wine and think about the idea. What does it need? Is it ready to be worked – yes, go to concept, no-put it back in the warehouse to percolate.
Idea: romantic comedy
Setting: steampunk alternative wild west
Conflict: Bad guy interrupting trade routes of precious commodities
Character 1: Trader
Character 2: Hired muscle
Character 3: Archetype 3
Theme: Love conquers trade routes, and general prejudice….
Concept: Concept is when I do a mockup arc, a plot or story board, choose a template (generally the 3-act structure, but sometimes 6-act structure), pencil a broad arc point within the structure to see what it will look like.
Aside: The 3-act structure of a comedic romance is standardized thanks to Shakespeare,
(Boy meets girl – boy gets girl then boy loses girl – boy gets girl back.)
If this is the template I choose, I might set my idea into this template, then modify it to fit the story needs. A template is just that, mix and match and muddle to your artist’s heart contentment.
Girl meets girl (how) – girl gets girl (how/why) – girl loses girl (why)- girl gets girl back (how/why) and they decide to have an open relationship (because).
To create further interesting detail, pick a layout template.
simple order = chain of collapsing events
bookends = begin with the ending, and work back into the story
scrambled = out of order events (example: Memento)
The possibilities are endless. Also during this concept phase you’re choosing the POV, and the tense.
Final concept: Third person, present tense, comedic lesbian love story, bookend layout of 3-act structure.
- World building requirement: Advanced
- Character building requirement: Moderate
If I get to the end of a concept and I realize I don’t have enough in my warehouse for this project, or time, or energy, I’ll bundle it and shelve it for later. If I’ve concepted and don’t feel like it has enough potential to be interesting, I’ll put it back in the warehouse to percolate.
If, however, my energy and curiosity are piqued, I’ll start drafting.
Draft: Drafting is when the writing begins. This is where channeling really happens. Channeling the inspirations, ideas, sensory data, and more from your warehouse into your work. You’re opening the pipeline from your writing desk to your warehouse and letting the stored data pour through.
Some writers describe it as someone else writing a book using their hands. Other say it’s like grabbing onto a lightning rod in a thunderstorm. It’s been both ways for me.
When a frustrated writer sits down to work and that channel doesn’t open, they say they have writer’s block or the idea is bad. Since I don’t believe in writer’s block, I tell them, go back to the warehouse. Go back to nurturing the connection you have with that space of imagination and possibility. Do something else for a while to take pressure off the valve – then try again later.
Drafting is opening the valve, and letting creative energy course through the channel. It’s the world building, character articulation, conflict manipulation, and a LOT of winging it.
There’s a great debate amongst Nanowrimo participants nearly every year on the boards. “Are you a plotter or a pantser?”
- A plotter lays out the whole story in detail through outlines and storyboards before beginning.
- A pantser flys by the seat of their pants.
There’s no right or wrong way. I tend to use one or the other depending on my mood or level of interest in a project. Usually, I split the difference between the two. While I hammer out the who, where, and why in concept—I generally don’t focus on the details, minutia, hooks, or leads during concept phase so that I can be pleasantly surprised and curios as my characters and events unfold.
Before I start a large project, such as a series or set of interconnected articles, I’ll plan out the big points and map the important revelations so I know where I’m driving the story from chapter to chapter. All of which would happen in concepting.
It just depends on the project.
Once the draft writing begins, problems will surface, issues in the concept will reveal themselves and I’ll have to work around or through them, or go back to the story board and start again. It might take a couple of drafts before I’m ready to beta.
Beta: Beta is the testing phase. How does it read to a fresh set of eyes? What story problems surface? What wasn’t connected in the text from my brain? Did I hit the targets for emotional resonance? World building? Did I make relatable dimensional characters?
Being able to accept critical feedback from a beta reader is important to getting you closer to your story and writing goals.
My caveat to that statement is: you need really reliable, well-tuned beta readers AND you need to know your story and your intentions well enough to know WHEN and WHAT to accept or disregard from the beta feedback. Beta involves a lot of judgement calls, and personal preferences.
For example: If I netted a beta reader for my lesbian comedic romance set in alternative steampunk wild west, and my beta reader is either homophobic, or only tends to read space opera – it’s likely much of the critical feedback will be skewed per their personal tastes, preferences, or bias. It’s a bummer to say it, but the most consistent negative feedback against story beta comes from subconscious prejudice.
This is why it’s especially important to have a beta reader who is story-versed, articulate, and able to separate their personal feelings from the feedback of a story or writing evaluation.
A good beta reader is priceless. The best beta readers are usually part of a writer or reader group that meets consistently, and works regularly to keep their skills sharp.
I like to have both a beta reader who is story versed, and beta readers who are not story-versed.
This is because the story-versed trained reader will grab writing details, inconsistencies, structural faults, and so on. But the readers who allow their own personal interests to impact the story will give details to where the trigger points are, and what lured them in or pushed them out of the story. This is important, because they’re reading the story as a reader would, as a person feeling and relating or not relating to what you’ve written. Their feedback is just as important as the story-versed reader.
Being able to breakdown unrefined beta feedback into helpful data can take a thick skin and a solid trust in your writing and process.
For example: “I’m getting bored.” “Started skipping ahead.” “I put the book down here.” “This part is kind of stupid.”
To some writers this can be hard feedback to receive. I love it! I love these pieces of feedback because they’re telling me something I couldn’t have seen on my own. These are beta indicators that the pacing, tension, and resonance of the story aren’t working for this reader. That doesn’t mean it’s broken, it means that point in the manuscript is in need of attention. If you make it through a revision and still can’t find the problem, compare the rest of the feedback from that reader to find the points that line up, and target the trends in their language.
Revisions: are based on beta feedback and notes I’ve been making while the manuscript was in the hands of test readers. Notes on issues I have suspicions about, but want to know if they’ll pop on the radar after beta.
I might note: I feel like character X is too agreeable to all the points that would have incited interesting tension. Missed opportunity to ratchet up conflict.
Then as I go through the beta notes, if that comment or something like it surfaces: bingo. Make the changes.
The true value of having beta readers cannot adequately be expressed. It’s fair to say about half of what a beta reader notes, I disregard out of hand. Another quarter I ponder and disregard. But the final twenty-five percent-ish that they note or comment on…almost always would have slipped under my radar, or had passed by my brain completely and it made all the difference in the revision process for making a story into a novel. Those choice observations from readers can make or break the story quality.
Publication: Publication is a rabbit hole of editing, polishing, and running the project management gauntlet of timelines, independent contractors, and marketing. As an indie, I do most or all of it myself. What I can’t do by myself, I hire out for, but it can be expensive and slow. This separate process deserves its own post.
Still, to get the idea from the warehouse to the bookshelf, it’s worth it.
So there we have it, my method and channel process tools from the toolbox. That doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone. It doesn’t mean I’ll stick to it the same every time. It currently works for me, so I use it, and when it stops working, I’ll revise.
Next in the toolbox: The Sacred Boundary