My new blog friend and comrade-in-arms, Amy, wrote an article yesterday inquiring about other writer’s “process” of writing. I read her post and wanted to leave her a comment about my process, but what I discovered in trying to flesh out my exact writing process is that I had no idea what is was. Funny how you can do something every day for 263 consecutive days and have no idea how you did it. Socrates would be disappointed in me if he were around to see how truly unexamined my life is, at least in this arena. So, I tried examining my process. What I found today was that I didn’t want to write. It’s impossible to determine your process if you can’t start it. Instead, I played on WordPress, changing the appearance of my two blogs rather than being willing to contribute any written work to them. Then I played some Words With Friends and Mind Feud before deciding that what I really needed to do was write another bit in my book, which I have finally started. It wasn’t until I started writing there that I realized what my process is. In lieu of a comment on your page, Amy, I find I must write an entire blog post about my process for you. This is probably more than you were looking for, but you’re a writer. You know how it is.
My writing process starts with thinking. Lots of thinking. Sometimes days, weeks, months of thinking. Ideas germinate in my head before I am willing to claim ownership to them by talking about them or writing them down. I am a thinker, first and foremost. As an introvert, writing is merely the means by which I am most comfortable relaying my thoughts. I rarely write anything on paper. Instead, I will peck notes into my iPhone for future reference. When I’m looking for something to write about, I will revisit my Notes. Sometimes I add quotes I’d like to use in a story. Sometimes I add topics to write about. Sometimes all I get in the Notes section is a vague kernel of an idea. Then, I think about it. I leave it. I come back to it. Then, one day, what I am supposed to do with that tidbit becomes clear and I begin writing. Today, I wanted to work on my book. The idea for it has been years in the making. It has morphed like a shape-shifter, revealing itself to me in myriad forms until it appeared the way I thought I could best extract it from my brain. When it’s all said and done, I’m lazy. I don’t want to write a word until I’m sure it’s what I truly want to say. I won’t waste my time until the story I want to tell exists clearly in my head.
Then, like a woman possessed, I will keyboard my thoughts onto the screen so I don’t lose them. (It’s so easy to lose thoughts once you hit middle age.) My friend, Chris, told me to “write from the heart and edit from the head.” That was the best writing advice I have ever received. So, that is what I do. Sad fact is, though, I’m not a great writer. I identify with James Michener who said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I am an excellent rewriter.” My first drafts are rough. All my ideas are there, passionately written, but they are a mess. So, I rewrite. Luckily, I am an editor by trade. Editing is what I enjoy and is what comes easily to me. I move sentences. I reword them and rework them and piece them back together. My thesaurus and dictionary are my closest friends. Literally. They sit one foot from my MacBook as I edit, and I would never write a word without them.
I consider my work finished when I feel good about it. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes I am finished because it’s midnight and I have to be up in six hours and this is all I have to offer. I have learned during these past eight months of blogging that it’s more important that I write than to love what I have written. I can’t become a better, more accomplished writer by thinking about writing. Writing is a process and, no matter what your process is, thinking about being a writer doesn’t make you one. I put words on a screen so I can legitimately claim to be what I know I am at heart. If I can mix philosophers here and toss in some slightly edited Descartes, the truth is that I think, therefore I write. That is the only way I know how.
Thanks, Justine. Yes, it was a lot more than I was expecting. Thanks for devoting a whole post to explain it. I feel moved, honored that it sparked so much writing energy. I find writing “the book” is a lot harder sometimes and I suppose there will be days when we don’t feel like it. I think on those days I will treat my writing as practice days. Because all writing is a process and, like anything, there is bound to be days when I just don’t feel up to the task. Keep up the writing. I will be here to cheer you on. 🙂
Right back at you!
Hi Justine, Just perused your Face Book page-looks good and many ‘likes’ is impressive. I have one question. Are the comments made on this page-where we give you direct feedback-available to the folks on Face Book.?
Enjoy this last Sunday of August.
Bonnie…as far as I know, to access the comments made on my web site, they would have to view my web site. Some people subscribe to a FB page to know when a new post has been put on a web site. The comments don’t push to my FB page. Hope this answers your question.
Nice entry, Justine. Albert Goldbarth, a poet in his early sixties, uses only a 1930’s style Smith-Corona manual typewriter for his work. And he does not write short poems as a rule. I don’t know what I’d do without word processing. I would have to hire a lovely secretary, I suppose.
A friend of mine once used cooking as an example for editing. You either cook it all and clean up afterwards or you clean up as you go. I am of the former school. I like to get it all down, then put it ‘to bed’ for a day and revisit it. Then start revising. When I I write a piece I really love, the is like a lover or a romantic interest with whom i have just fallen in love. I can’t wait to see it when I get up next morning. Well I think I am going far afield with this process stuff. I had mentioned in the FB post that I didn’t think it could/should be talked about. But perhaps the way to it can be. Tahnks fo allowing me to share.