For some reason, I am fascinated by the behind-the-scenes process that writers go through when creating their stories. This is odd, I think. For instance, I don’t generally get the idea that professional actors sit down to watch a movie and wonder what the actors on screen where doing the day that the current scene was shot. But I often find myself wondering what was happening on the day a writer I admire worked on a particular scene.
Some of this influence most certainly comes from Isaac Asimov. In the first volume of his massive autobiography, he paints a very mundane, and yet very real picture of the night he sat down to write what would become one of the most famous science fiction stories of all-time, “Nightfall”:
I put a piece of paper in the typewriter, typed the title, which Campbell and I had agreed should be “Nightfall”, typed the Emerson quotation, and then began the story. I remember that evening very well; my own room, just next to the living room, my desk facing the southern wall, with the bed behind me and to the right, the window on the other side of the bed, looking out westward on Windsor Place, the candy store across the street.
What I like about this window into the writer’s studio is that it is so mundane. We have all been in this situation. Our “studios” may look different. They may take the form of a large office or a small coffee shop. But we’ve all been there, at the beginning, starting a new story with the same kind of feelings we always have at the beginning of such an endeavor. And yet something that starts in such a mundane fashion, can turn into something incredible, as it did in Asimov’s case. I suppose it provides a hope of some kind, that each new beginning, each story we start to write regardless of how it seems, could turn out to be something spectacular.
I can remember sitting at my desk (facing the window) in Riverdale, Maryland, as I wrote the first story I sold, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer”. And years earlier, I sat at my desk in the extra bedroom of my apartment in Studio City, California, writing the second story I sold, “Hindsight, In Neon”. I remember the rumble of trucks zipping by on Tujunga Blvd., and going for a walk after I finished the story, walking around the neighborhood in my usual loop, past the famous “Brady Bunch” house, with a feeling of deep satisfaction. I recall struggling with the opening of my most recent story, “Take One for the Road”, while sitting at my desk in my home office in Falls Church, Virginia; struggling until I finally found the voice of the character, and then things went much more smoothly.
And so when I read stories, I often wonder about what the author was doing when they wrote a particular scene, knowing that the creation process can seem so mundane, but be something so special.
How about you? Do you ever wonder about the creation of stories that you enjoy? How about stories you’ve written?
I remember starting the first book of my series on a hot day in August. The air conditioner was broken, and we were going to save money by not fixing it (this was in North Carolina.) I wrote at a card table in my bedroom, as close to the open window as I could get. And considered the first words as I looked down from that second-story window through the leafy foliage at the cul-de-sac blacktop where the neighborhood kids played. Then it disappeared and I was in another world, where I would remain for five years.
Michael, that is just so cool. Isn’t it amazing how these worlds are born?
Once, my studio was the inside of a railway carriage. At the time I was commuting to work. Over the course of a year I wrote what turned out to be one of my trunk novels in thirty-minute bursts. I still have powerful memories of the view over the River Trent from that train window, the way that view changed over the seasons, the rhythm of the wheels on the track and the slowly growing story in my notebooks.
Graham, that sounds simply amazing. It’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. Funny that you mention a river. I used to commute into work on a train in the metro-D.C. area, and I’d cross the Potomac twice a day. Over the course of 6 years, I could read the weather by the way the river looked each morning, so I think I know what you mean there.