[Remember, keep sending in your questions to email@example.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. And anyone can pop my cliche writer cherries if they want.]
I'm having sooooooo much trouble writing every day. If I wrote as much as you do, I'd finish two novels a year. What is your process?
There are a few milestones in the life of a writer that let them know they're on their way to something more than the obscurity of the unsung hobbyist. Milestones like hate mail, getting paid, and of course someone asking about their process. Much like the hate mail (and hopefully some day like the money), the first time is only a lone visigoth on the hill–harbinger of open floodgates. I'm told by every writer of any notoriety that I will come to loathe this question with the white hot fury of a billion supernovas.
Don't get me wrong Jenny, I don't resent the question. I'm young and innocent like when the world was new. As far as I'm concerned you popped my process cherry and there will always be a place in my heart for you, even long after I'm gritting my teeth, staring at the ceiling, and answering this question for the googleplexbizillionth time. It will be fond memories of my sweet innocence, October the 3rd 2014, and Jenny that will help carry me through such events.
Creeped out yet? Wonderful. Let's move on.
The thing about the process question is that it is fundamentally a conflicted question. Asked casually, it is so innocuous, but it so often comes with the subtext of "I can't seem to do it. HOW THE FLAMING CAPYBARA GENITALS DO YOU DO IT???" When this happens it becomes a double edged khopesh of information.
|Fire the image finding intern.....again|
I'm sick of her just picking copyright free images off of Google and....um...
Actually....shit...this isn't half bad.
Further, hearing working writer's process can help the how-do-you-do-it? writer with sort of a "template" for what might be a good idea. It can spark ideas, and give the writer something to try. I hadn't even considered that I might do better if I got dressed than wearing pajamas or nothing at all. Suddenly my whole mindset changed and I felt like I was going to work. I was serious, focused, and Facebook had less power over me. Now it's just part of my routine. I might diddle and fiddle at any time, but when I'm serious, I preface the session by getting dressed.
Socks and shoes unlocked my inner potential. For realsies.
On the other hand, a writing process is like a fingerprint. No two writers are exactly alike. Capote wrote in bed. Fitzgerald got up and put on a business suit like he was going to work. Vonnegut wrote one page at a time. Joyce wrote one sentence a day. King writes ten pages a day. Rowling writes for hours and hours. Some writers retire to their office after dinner. Some creep down into the dining room with first light and reenact Grape Nuts commercials with the local squirrels while clacking out an hour before the kids wake up.
Every writer eventually settles into a process that works for them. The problem that so often happens is that the young writer tries to do exactly what the experienced writer does, to poor results. Instead of thinking of it as something to try, they think of it more in terms of: "This is what makes the magic work." And they try to reproduce it exactly as if they are casting a spell. But only you can do your own magic, so only you can find the process that works for you.
I still remember deciding I was going to write ten pages a day like Stephen King does. Just so you understand, ten pages is about 2500-3000 words a day. For reference, Nanowrimo pace is 1667 and is largely considered to be just on this side of six tokes from the what-the-hell pipe by working writers. So this was roughly akin to me deciding that Nano was for amateurs and I was going to do twice that.
My meltdown, less than a week later, was spectacular.
I believe it may have been the only time in my life that my dream characters threatened to make my life miserable by shutting off important body functions if I didn't take it easy. ("Imagine losing your balance right at the top of those stairs at the Concord BART," a cliché mafioso said, sitting on a pink cloud and eating a vienna sausage off a toothpick. "Wouldn't that be unfortunate? I wouldn't want anything like that to happen to you. So maybe you should just take it easy for, you know....ever.") However, it would be criminal of me not to mention that before this dream offer that I couldn't refuse happened, my writing became so filled with clipped dialogue (to fill those ten pages as quickly as possible) that all my stories started to read like Mamet plays.
"Why you pissed?"
(Oh yeah. Only nine more pages to go!)
What is often lacking from young writer's consciousnesses is the sense that they should discard anything that doesn't work. Instead of trying something, they treat it like it is the prophet's pilgrimage and everything must be done exactly just so as the writer has done it. "I must have a fountain pen crafted by the hand of virgins that has been filled with the blood of my enemies, or I'll never be able to write this Harry Potter fanfic!"
So Jenny, I'm going to tell you (though my answer will disappoint you) but the most important thing is that you A) stick to the basics like daily writing and trying to write at the same time each day and B) find your own, special, unique process that works for Jenny.
Right now my process is to get this damn blog done each day, preferably not so late that I'm hitting "Publish" when it's chock-full of careless mistakes. (A goal you can see I very rarely achieve.) If I can write some fiction too, that's gravy.
That's basically it.
I wish I could be more colorful. I'll try to use the full sixty-four crayon box as I fill in the lines here, but that's the basic sketch.
When I have time, I try to write at least one page (preferably two) on fiction that I'm working on, but the phrase "when I have time" and "nine month old" don't tend to go together without maniacal laughter that ends up breaking in tears.
Right this second–as in the last two months or so–I've been getting some good mileage out of writing after dinner. I have written in the morning and before the baby, I wrote during the day when everyone was gone, but right now night works best. I spend the day cleaning, caring for the baby, reading, and maybe playing some video games.
But when night comes along, sometime between eight and nine, I go upstairs and get dressed. The most important thing is to dress like I am going out, so I put on socks and shoes. That puts me in a more "going to work" head space. I head into a room full of junk and boxes still unpacked from our move three years ago. There's a path through the e-waste and the baggies of screws we don't dare get rid of and textbooks from college that were "interesting" so we're kidding ourselves that they'll be read again and thirty years worth of video games and.....
This room is scary messy, but houses my space. In the far corner, I've carved it out and planted my flag. I hiss at anyone who comes near. I would pee on the door, but it doesn't work and just makes Unsupportive Girlfriend get really cranky.
I go through that bulldozed path to a table that I've set up in the room that is covered in crap. But unlike the crap of the room, this is my crap. And I know exactly where everything is on this table and can get to it in a split second. There's a Christopher Walkin fan and a Clawdia Wolf doll sent to me by readers, lotion I stole from rooms at the last convention I went to, and a Blue Shield information packet that I totally need to read any day now. I sit down to a MacAir turn on some music with either no lyrics or really easy lyrics (like Enya or Enigma or maybe Peter Gabriel if I'm feeling feisty), and I write.
|Totally not kidding.|
I'm a sucker for Facebook. I get distracted easily. Too easily. It's one of my biggest problems with time management and writing success right now. (The other one is cute and poops a lot.) The hours sometimes grind on and I'm doing more posting and replying than I am writing. I'm sure that just one more reply will convince this guy that we have not quite achieved a post racial utopia. It's a problem, and part of the reason the late night hours work best for me. I struggle against myself, the words, and the blank screen.
And yet...slowly but surely, my thoughts find their way onto the page. It's painful at first. Happening in these excruciating splats and spurts between distracted glances about the internet to see what has happened in the last five minutes. Then, as I pick up steam and find my center, I start to speed up. Facebook and email fades away and my fingers get faster and faster. Ideas come together. Thoughts get cohesive. Pretty soon the world drops away and it's me and the words–but now instead of struggling, it's more like we're dancing and where I lead, the words follow and our waltz fills the blank page.
It is in these moments (sometimes) that I punch through to that artistic ecstasy where all the pain and discomfort and unpaid hours and hate mail and everything become completely worth it. Sometimes I catch myself in these moments, my heart pounding and my breath coming in gasps and I know I will never, ever be free.
Writing has my soul.
I usually end before I'm done with what I was working on. I get tired around one or two, exhausted by two or three. Very occasionally I come to a good stopping point before that and call it an early night.
It's about four or five hours of writing all told, though my daily goals are based on output more than time. If I was on fire, I got done with my article and wrote a page or two on fiction. Lately, though, I'm just happy to get done with the article...or even to get it done enough that I will probably be able to post it the next day with some further work. No matter what, I write every day, even if I've taken off time from the blog and I just do the page of fiction.
I'll either be given a baby or wake to one screaming in the next room around 8:30. So every day I deal with the missing hours of sleep by taking a nap in the early afternoon. It's not a lazy nap. It's the missing two hours of my sleep schedule and things get pretty ugly if I miss it for some reason.
When I first wake up (either in the morning or after my nap), I am usually very sharp mentally, and that's the best time to revise. If I've timed my writing well the night before, I have a draft of the day's post, and I can polish it before it gets too late. Usually my timing is pretty much down-to-the-wire and I am scrambling to finish up the post itself, half the time with a sleeping baby strapped to my chest. That revision time might add up to another two or three hours on a good day or maybe only one.
It's been pretty seat-of-my-pants lately. (And don't even get me started on the seat of HIS pants.)
So somewhere between six and eight hours a day split into revision and raw drafting. It's not that I never do one form of writing during the other time, but I recognize that I work best that way. If I've finished my article early, I might knock off without doing fiction. That happens a lot on baby watch days.
Often on the weekends I really try to work on some of my fiction or make a feeble attempt to get ahead on my posting schedule so that some of these emergencies don't fuck me up so badly all the time. Something almost always goes wrong (sickness, tired mom, tired dad, special plans, something), but I hit each weekend filled with foolish optimism and an itinerary of pipe dreams.
I'm getting better every month. One of these days between baby growing and getting easier and me getting better, I'm actually going to nail it. That's probably when you'll start seeing the trickle of fiction I post become something more substantial.
I wouldn't recommend this process, Jenny. It is messy, last minute, horribly stressful, and only results in "writing" in the strictest sense of that word. One of the only reasons I'm so good about my output is that I owe the patron muses for their amazing generosity. I've literally wanted to skip a day (or five) and only kept going because I knew they would be disappointed.
I will say this. If you're reading fiction, it's probably gone through at least one full rewritten draft and multiple revisions. My process is not so haphazard there. Revision is usually not so draining. I can't do it very well after I've written, but if it's the only thing I'm doing that day, I can go on for eight, ten, even twelve hours without really even noticing.
How about we hear from other writers in comments. What's YOUR process?