Friday, October 21, 2011

The Creative Bond

by L.J. Sellers, mystery & thriller author
Last fall my husband started building his seventh trike, just as I started writing the fifth book in the Detective Jackson series (and my tenth novel). Dying for Justice was released in March, just as Steve took his first ride on the new trike. Always having a creative project in the works is one of the bonding elements of our 23-year relationship. He listens while I talk about plots, publishing, and promotion, and I listen while he yaks about Type 1 Volkswagen engines, fiberglass bodies, and adjustable foot pegs. He reads my novels, and I take trike rides with him. I believe he gets the better deal, but I’m biased. Still, I think the three-wheeled motorcycles are so cool, I’ve given my main character, Detective Jackson, a trike-building hobby.

You wouldn’t think a three-wheeled motorcycle and a crime fiction novel have much in common, but the creative process is surprisingly similar. Both start with a concept, a simple idea that each of us has been thinking about and can’t wait to develop. For me, it could be a vivid opening scene or a character that sparks the whole novel. For him, it’s often a type of engine or a new way to connect the two halves of his vehicle.

Next is the planning/designing phase. The first part of this process is all mental. We both spend a couple of weeks thinking about our projects, turning them over in our minds until they began to take shape. I can look at the expression on his face and know he’s thinking about his next trike. Honey, you’re focused on your trike and haven’t heard a word I’ve said, have you? On the other hand, I do a lot of my brainstorming while I’m exercising. (Those endorphins help produce some great plot twists!)

Then the tangible planning takes place. For me, it means outlining. Determining and plotting, day-by-day, what happens in the story and in the investigation, then mapping it out in a Word document. For Steve, my trike builder, planning means drawings. He starts with a pencil drawing of the whole trike, then progresses to CAD versions of all the individual components, including dozens of parts for the frame alone. We each modify our plans as we go along, seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Then he starts building and I start writing. For both of us, this is the hands-on work, the joy, and how we spend the bulk of our time. We’re both happiest in the crafting phase. Of course, we have occasions when we get stuck. I’ll realize a plot element doesn’t work because of wrong timing and have to back up and revise. He’ll recognize that two components don’t fit together the way he envisioned, so he’ll stop and redesign.

But it’s just part of the process. We know from experience that we’ll work through whatever glitches we encounter. In all our years, he’s only abandoned one trike project, and I’ve only abandoned one novel. (But my agent at the time discouraged me from it, and I may finish the thing yet.)

I don’t mean to imply we’ve always worked in tandem—in fact, we’re often in different phases—but we do have a similar process and timetable. And eventually, we both end up with a finished product that we’re proud of. Some people insist that what we both do is art, but we think of our projects as crafts…and now, small businesses.

Here’s where the difference comes in. Steve sells each trike (or motorcycle) to a single individual to enjoy, and I sell my novels to thousands. But we both love what we do and can’t imagine our lives without a project in the works. Sharing a creative compulsion is a big part of what keeps our relationship healthy.

What is your creative process or hobby? Share it with us!


  1. We were having lunch and the waitress made a comment about two patches on my jacket begining weird.
    I told her no; it was marriage. I learned to watch race cars and he learned to watch birds.
    At the time Ford was one of the flagmen for the Indie 500 and my patch said "offical."
    Neither of us realized that 30 years later we'd be combining the two skills in our books.
    Keeps selling books & trikes.
    Nash Black

  2. What a wonderful trait to share with your life partner, L.J.!

  3. Love your post, LJ! Interesting, and gives us some great insights into your planning and working process, and some of the attitudes and habits that work for each of you in your separate projects, and also keep your marriage strong!

  4. Thanks for the lovely comments. And thanks, Irene, for stopping in. I think it's sweet that you and your life partner write stories together.

  5. What a wonderful article L.J.! I find I need creative projects to take a break and refocus my mind on my writing. I just finished restoring an antique fishing reel and now I'm working on refinishing my first electric guitar (Ibanez Roadstar II) I bought when I was 14!

  6. I recently figured out I could turn out a fairly recognizable watercolor. Where a book can take months and months to wirte, it's kind of a kick to knock out a watercolor in a couple of hours.

    The other thing I love to do is re-purpose furniture and change around accent pieces. There's a physical element that comes in shoving furniture around that is gratifying, and I can also satisfy the nester part of my nature.

    A new idea came to me this morning, borne of my own preconceptions about something, so I'll kick it around and let it simmer to see if it can become big enough of an idea for my next book. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but I love having a new idea to play with.

    Thanks for a great post, L.J.!

  7. I love that you and your husband each have your individual creative outlets but still find a way to share in them together. Sounds like a very balanced and symbiotic relationship to me.

    I think most creative processes have more in common than they don't. Whether you're holding a pen, paintbrush, or wrench in your hand--it all starts with a concept and then as the layers fall, something remarkable emerges.

    Really enjoyed reading this.


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