I've been asked twice this week about my writing method. I'm taking the liberty to share my process with you, knowing that it is not the normal way writers are told to write in writing workshops and in blogs.
I think the main guiding principle for me grew out of my method for writing songs. Songwriting relies very strongly on inspiration. The word comes from the latin inspiratio. The source of inspiration is thought of as being mysterious, ie: the breath of the gods. I don't know where it actually comes from, but I know it comes to me when I spend time away from distraction. Therefore, I find a little time each day to be distraction free, either sitting and breathing, or stopping at a cafe, and keeping my phone silenced in my pocket, just looking around.
For example, the inspiration for my novel came to me on a bus. Most people hate taking the bus, but I always see it as a great opportunity. Inspiration can come on a train, but I think a bus is better. Of all forms of transportation, an airplane is in third place, and a car is dead last. I get inspiration biking sometimes or walking, but for some reason, for me, a bus is best.
In this case, I was on a double-decker bus leaving new york city. I was high up and could gaze out the window down into the passing cars. I was bored, which is the optimal way to be when seeking inspiration. I looked down and saw almost all of the drivers texting while they drove. This was a bit before all the fines and warnings about distracted driving, but after that movie Seven Pounds came out, so everyone certainly knew it was dangerous.
So, I'm watching all these people text and drive, wondering what is so important about exchanging a little bit of information, that people are willing to risk their own lives and the lives of others to do it behind the wheel? I wondered how this would change and evolve over the next ten years, then twenty years, then thirty, forty, eighty, and bam - inspiration. The world for my novel downloaded into my head in one gigantic package, and I had to madly scribble some notes on my phone to get some of it down. Those notes became the rough outline for the chapter "Skating the Merritt" in The Wakeful Wanderer's Guide to New New England & Beyond.
So the first part of my writing process is to
1. Get Inspired.
This is no doubt, the first part of any writing process. What I try to do it use it throughout the whole process. So the next thing I do is
This is where most of my writing takes place. I do not sit down and write pages every morning. I do, however, make sure to daydream about my characters multiple times a day. I start with a question like "what will Mem do, if...." and then I let my imagination go somewhere with that question, knowing their character, situation and the situation of the characters around them. Another tack I take might be "How do the Spiders attack? Do they have intelligence, or are the purely controlled by the Memoria?" Then I let my imagination go. This works great when I'm doing a morning workout, or on a bike ride, or dozing off at night, or if I can't sleep. The important thing is that I don't write anything down when I daydream, I just leave it in my head. Some daydreams will go nowhere, and I take that as a sign that they are not interesting enough to remember. Some of them, like the initial inspiration that hit me on that bus, are so powerful that they build and build on their own and I can't get them out of my head if I tried. Sometimes I have to research an idea to be sure it actually works in my world. Sometimes I have to research a mindset that people have now to understand what they might think in the future. Then I
3. Write it down.
I never force anything. I write only when the power of the daydreams build up so much that I have no choice but to write them down. Generally, I have the entire chapter in mind before I ever sit down. I don't have every detail, just what is compelling about the narrative of that chapter. Some chapters are ready to go with just a little bit of imagination, some have built up over weeks or even months. I don't start writing until I can see the arc of the chapter clearly, and then I sit down and pound it out in about 2 hours. I almost never write more than a chapter at a sitting. I generally write in the morning. It is important not to let your inspiration sit too long in your head, so
4. Strike while the iron is hot.
When you have the next piece of the story ready, write it. Do not wait more than a day. To do lists be damned. Phone calls be damned. Social media be double and trebble damned. Write it immediately. You don't know if it will wait for you to be ready and it is crowding out your next daydream. Get it down, get it out, and make space for the next packet of inspiration to come. When I sit down to write, I try to
5. Eliminate all style.
This was a hard thing for me to learn. I think the resistance to this comes from insecurity. We all have a voice. We also all have bad habits. I found a strong temptation to try to write like I was a writer. This is a godawful mistake. The page fills with adverbs, useless metaphors, flowery language that just rings false. Sentences run on and on. I decided that since what I was describing was really really complex, I was better off just telling the damn story as simply as I possibly could. One great tool I recommend to help get over any habits of trying to sound like a real writer is Hemingway app. It can be brutal when you first try it out. Paragraphs you thought were straightforward and pithy turn out to be full of vagueries and inessential words. Use short sentences. Go ahead. Don't be afraid.
When it was time to record albums of my songs, the most valuable thing I learned was from Peter Galway, a record producer, and performer, who told me that the key to producing a great record is to "eliminate everything that is not absolutely essential to the song." I find that the same thing holds true for writing prose.
Ultimately, eliminating all style reveals the writer's true voice. That is what remains when we get rid of all the unnecessary fluff. Also, remember that this work is yours. You have permission to write your story. If you don't, who will?
As I eliminated all that style, I learned to
6. Get rid of mushy expressions.
This may sound like I'm trying to advise you to make your writing more masculine, simply because I'm male. It's not that. Mushy expressions are vague placeholders where more precision is needed. Some examples of mushy expressions are "sort of", "mostly", "a few", "some", "rather", "somewhat", and even "then." There are dozens more. My writing was riddled with them. When you discover one, do a global search for it and ask yourself, "can this be more descriptive, or more precise?" With few exceptions, the answer is yes. Most can be deleted. I wish I had a complete list of words, but I think if you take a critical eye to your writing you can find them. Ask yourself the questions your readers might ask when you are being vague. Ask "how long?", "where exactly?", "how much?", "in what way?" and you will find the answer. "Then" is tricky. Often we say "Marto ate a sandwich and then went to get a coffee." Take out the "then." We already know. There are also pretentious expressions to track down. For example, you may not want to use "amongst" when "among" is really more normal for your world. Finally
7. Revise, revise, revise.
My brother tells me, "writing is revision." I'm pretty sure he didn't make that up, but he's my brother and I believe every word he says for some reason. It's true though because there is always some refinement, some loose language to fix, some vague expression to hunt down and kill, some details missing, some element of the story that doesn't move the narrative forward. For example, I noticed that none of my characters were using contractions in their dialogue. They all spoke like Data from Star Trek, Next Generation. Whoops. It seems like revision goes on forever, but it eventually grinds to a halt. Do it, do it, do it, even if it's already up on Wattpad. Do it and repost. We will love you for it.
That's mostly it. Maybe I left something out? Probably. Oh, I didn't mention that I'm a pantser, but that should be clear from the above. I want to discover what will happen next in my own book as I write it, so apart from knowing the characters well, and wondering "what would they do next?" I never pre-plan. Almost. I almost never pre-plan. Mostly. But that's just me.
My Uncle Carmine drew and designed the comic book character we now know as The Flash. To put a fine point on it, he redesigned the original flash - which had a helmet (Jay Garrick drawn by Harry Lampert in 1940) into the Flash with a hood-mask (Barry Allen) and the new lightning logo in a circle we all know. I think this happened in the 1960s, but it was near to the start of the Silver Age of comic book characters, as opposed to the Golden Age which preceeded it.
He passed away a few years ago, and shortly after, The Flash launched on TV as Barry Allen. On May 16, the show gives a significant nod to it's comic book creator with an episode titled "Infantino Street."
My last name is not all that common here in the states. It's pretty strange to hear it or see it on TV. I don't think it's ever been used as the title of an episode.
My father drew some cowboy comics in the 1950s but like most brothers, he didn't continue with it, maybe not wanting to do the same thing as his older brother. My dad went into advertising, working on campaigns for BMW and Apple, and Carmine went on to become Publisher of DC comics and to work on many projects that connected to hollywood, such as Star Wars and others.
Likewise, my brother John has been instrumental in the creation of cartoons on Cartoon Network (The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, Regular Show, among others) and Disney (Star Vs. The Forces of Evil), while I, well, you can find out more about me on this site.
I remember years ago, when Carmine and I were eating and drinking too much wine at an italian restaurant in the village in NYC. I was bragging to the waiter that my uncle was famous, mostly teasing my uncle, and mentioned that he created The Flash. The waiter, who grew up in Brazil got really quiet and emotional, and told my uncle that those comic books meant so much to him as a boy, gave him courage, and the ability to imagine another life. Until then, I didn't understand the power and reach of these characters worldwide. The books were translated into many many languages and published internationally, something you can't do as easily with TV shows. Then Carmine drew a picture of the head of the Flash on a napkin and gave it to the waiter. I naturally felt like an ass, and was humbled.
I'm not sure what Carmine would make of the TV rendition of his character now on the CW. No doubt he would be pleased, as I think it's pretty faithful to his vision. That said, like many creators of the time, the artists of the Silver Age worked really hard for not a lot of compensation, considering the power of what they created. Of course, those comic books were not as closely connected to TV and movies in the Silver Age. They were popular, but not a billion dollar industry. They started to make forrays into TV with Superman and Batman (Batman was also re-designed by my uncle) and Shazam and Wonder Woman and Isis and He-Man in the 70s and 80s.
I keep this in mind when creating new things. There is no way to judge the power of what you are doing as you do it. You just have to do it the best you can, and keep doing it.
Hello Jim Infantino,
I was listening to your song "The Ballad of Barry Allen" and its a really enjoyable song, but very sad at the same time. I was hoping if you could explain the flash alittle more for me. In the song, it says things like "I've got time to think about my past as I dodge between the bullets how my life was so exciting before I got this way " and also " How I wish I'd never gone into my lab to experiment that night before lightning flashed around me". It seems like its hard for him to be the flash, and is that because everything is so slow? Like say he has to save someone in Florida and he is in Texas. In the human mind it would seem as 0.001 secs but to him does it take days? Is he able to speed up the process of things so it wouldn't take forever to get to places? Also last question, I know that he can read books really fast but does it take regular time in his mind, or he can just look at the words really fast. How does he perceive time? I have read so many reddit post, but I know you could give me logical answers because of the song you made and also because you are the nephew of the creator of the flash. So if you could help me understand, that would be great because he is my favorite superhero, and please if u could get deep into detail that would be awesome. Hope you have a nice day.
So, there was no real help from Carmine on this, I was just thinking about his Barry Allen character and the song is a thought experiment.1. If you act and react in super speed, doesn't your mind need to be sped up to react to events around you? Hence, running from Florida to Texas, you would need to be sure not to trip over anything, or run into a car, so your mind needs to match your speed. If your mind remained slow while dodging bullets, or whisking someone away from a fall, you would not dodge, or catch accurately.2. If your mind speeds up, your sense of time slows down. You would remember all the details, so your memory of the events would be in a slower timeframe than other people's. Looking back, events would be in slow motion. During time that the flash is sped up, events would elongate during those times, or maybe all the time, depending on whether he can turn it on and off. Except for the instances where he is actively dodging bullets or fighting foes, there's a lot of waiting for things to happen. He still has to put his costume on one leg at a time. The mind does not blur with his speed. Acting on instinct alone would not allow him to do things like get his costume on, or comprehend what he reads.3. In the present moment, there is no sense of time, only now. Nothing happens now, things only happen when we compare now with before. In other words, we only measure the passing of time by remembering what has already happened. For the flash, a lot happens in a short period of time, so his days are longer.So the line: "I've got time to think about my past as I dodge between the bullets, how my life was so exciting before I got this way " expresses (and this is just my take on it) Barry Allen's lack of patience with how slow events transpire around him when he is sped up. I leave the question open, whether is is always sped up, or only when he turns it on. From everyone else's point of view, his life must be very exciting, moving quickly, but for him, everything is slowed down so he can react to what is happening. He has to "wait for calamity to strike because when things change in an instant it's almost fast enough for me." In the song, he wishes he could experience events in normal time so that his life might be more exciting "before I got this way."All this said, the song, in my point of view, is a metaphor for someone who is in a constant state of distraction, staying pretty much on the surface of things, always wishing for a more speedy moment, something exciting enough to keep him/her from staying put with the ordinary passage of time.I hope this clears things up. Again, I never got to process this completely with my uncle. He liked the song, but we didn't discuss whether my ideas fit with his sense of the character. I think ultimately, he might have felt that I took the philosophical issues with the flash too far, but who knows?Hope that helps. Thanks for asking.
My Friend Sarah Lipton has launched the first episode of her new podcast Genuine. The episode starts with an instrumental version of my song "Habits And Plans" from our album Stay.
The podcast is launching from Patreon.com - and is available right away with a subscription to support it. You can get access for as little as $1 per month. I think these micro-patron models are particularly powerful, because we can help bring about advertising free content for new creators who are doing something awesome. This episode will go public for non-subscribers April 30.
This episode focuses on Claudelle Glasgow who talks about their experience with living as a gender fluid life.
Here is what Sarah Says about the first episode:
At long last, Genuine: Episode One: Living the Challenge is finally ready for your listening ears!
Join us as we share an exploration of what it means to live the challenge. This is not just for you to sit back and listen to, but also to engage in.
You will have the opportunity to:
- pause and be present
- listen to some wonderful music by good friends of Genuine: Jim Infantino and Jon Sousa as well as some tuning sounds from the London Symphony Orchestra and ambient sounds of Portland, Oregon and New York City
- hear commentary by myself - Sarah Lipton and my friend Carlton Green
- soak in the dulcet tones of Claudelle Glasgow as she shares with us his journey of living a genuine gender fluid life
- travel to New York City and South Africa....
If you wish to become a Patron you can listen now, otherwise, you can listen on April 30th.
To hear the full song with words:
To hear the complete version without words:
I got a brainstorm 5 years ago and it would not let me go. I have to write this novel to be free of it. So yes. I am now writing a book.
The working title is
The Wakeful Wanderer’s Guide to New New England and Beyond.
Marto can read the thoughts of everyone around him and they can read his thoughts as well. The people of his generation send messages not with their phones but with their minds. Their technological telepathy accelerates social interactions, eliminating the need for speech, money, property, family and travel. In the aftermath of severe climate change, 80 years from now, theirs is one of a few surviving cultures.
Raiding gangs of bikers control the dry lands of the Midwest and South. Neo-Feudal luddite families struggle to bring back a pre-technological way of life to the former United States. The interconnected tribes, populated by technologically augmented people like Marto, live a life of constant virtual interaction, where one’s worth is a calculation of one’s generosity. Theirs is a strange utopia, free from ownership, free from tradition, and defined by their online status. The Raiders and the Neo-Feudalists call them xombies.
Marto is a travel writer. He live-posts his journeys for his followers, who prefer to stay put and view the world only through their implants. Riding his unicycle from town to town, Marto becomes aware that his origins are a blank. Large parts of his memory are missing, and his past is steadily tracking him down.
The Wakeful Wanderer’s Guide to New New England & Beyond is set in a richly imagined near future, complete with dystopias and utopias in constant conflict, a newly envisioned economy of Merit, astonishing and disturbing new technologies, and the continual struggle between those who adapt to change and those who resist it. It paints a picture of a world that has been turned inside out, where people must fight to defend what it means to be genuinely human.