Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Writing is Like Running

Did I just start this post with a quote from myself? Why yes. Yes, I did.

Despite my bag of tricks designed to Help a Person Write, I have sadly spent little to no time these last few weeks in front of my computer, doing the heavy lifting required to actually BE a writer. I could say that I've been thinking about writing - musing over plots, jotting down notes, fleshing out characters in my mind - but the truth is that I have been drinking a lot of red wine and watching season four of Mad Men. While this has been good for my mental health (relaxation and quality television FTW!) it is not so good for my own creative pursuits. In order to get back on track, I went to bed last night at 10:30pm, set my alarm for 5:00 and woke up early to make coffee, plop in front of my computer and actually write.

And friends - it was hard! I had this idea that seemed pretty good but once I actually started writing it down, it was the worst kind of terrible. Cliche. Predictable. Safe. Not to mention strangely reminiscent of Sweet Valley High. What was I doing? Why was I even writing? Shouldn't I leave this sort of thing to people who are actually talented, go back to bed and resign myself to a life of wistfully reading other people's books?

Then I came to my senses and realized something important: I have been here before. I don't mean in a deja vu, mystical sort of way. I mean literally. Every time I take a break from writing, every time I begin a new story, I go through the same song and dance. Today I realized that this is simply part of my process, and that if I stick with the story something decent and - dare I say good - will emerge. Eventually.

Photo credit: Frank Chimero, via WeHeartIt

My Writing Process, In Handy Step-by-Step Form: 
  1. Spend two weeks drinking wine and watching Mad Men every night. 
  2. Begin to feel guilty for neglecting artistic endeavors. 
  3. Commit self to writing again. Make up a new rule to jump start creativity, such as a minimum number of words a day, scheduling time in Google Calendar, or reading and/or writing inspirational blog posts (which are all subtle forms of procrastination, but still useful.).
  4. Wake up early because that is when the house is quietest and the brain works best. Begin. 
  5. Hate whatever ends up on the page. Decide a future as a writer is a futile pursuit. Die a little inside. 
  6. Go to work. Sulk. Drink coffee. Sulk some more. 
  7. Think about terrible story while working. Jot down a few ideas and email them to self. While helping someone submit a grant, realize the crux of the story is wrong - that it should begin in a different place and end in another. Get a little excited. Continue thinking. 
  8. At night, drink less wine. Read a book instead of watching Mad Men
  9. The next morning, wake up early and look at story again. Realize it is not actually that terrible. Delete half of what was written the previous day and start again with new ideas. 
  10. Repeat for two weeks, until first draft is complete and surprisingly decent. Return to piece again and again for the next six months to one year, revising, rewriting and restructuring until story is ready to be sent out into the world. 
  11. Return to step one and begin the process again. Repeat until the end of time. 
Step ten is actually my favorite part of the process. As I've said before, I love revising and figuring out how to make a story work. Writing the first draft is the hardest part, which is why the experience always sends me on a downward spiral. From now on, whenever that happens I will pull up this post, read it once again and realize that I'm not lost, not hopeless, and not the world's worst writer. I'm simply at the beginning again, which is fine and necessary and a good place to be.


  1. I have made so many comparisons between running and writing! I often thought of my dissertation as being like a marathon when I was in that last few months of writing. Good on you for getting back into writing form! I'm nervous about my own venture back into words on a page land in that will be starting here in about 10 days.

  2. I admire your writing discipline so much. That's something I've given up on here and there and I always feel disappointed in myself about it. Maybe I need a game plan. I do want to participate in Nanowrimo this year, for the first time ever.

  3. Elliewoodscarlett1:06 PM, May 04, 2011

    Oh God, I can totally relate. I have definitely gone through MadMen and wine phases and it's hard to get back on track. The Internet is a real time sucker too. Ugh, I better get back to work. Good luck!

  4. 10 days... would that be after the semester ends? ;) Good luck with your writing endeavors! It only hurts in the beginning. Once you're warmed up, you'll be fine.

  5. The Internet definitely sucks up my time! I tell myself I'm using it for "research" but we all know that's a lie. I try to stay off the Internet after 8pm for my own peace of mind. Books are better than blogs!

  6. As both a runner and a writer, I completely agree that the two are very much alike. When I get off track with my writing, it can be SO difficult to get back into the swing of things. It's easier to procrastinate yet again, telling myself I'll buckle down and work on writing projects later tonight, tomorrow, tomorrow night, etc. It's a vicious cycle, but just like with running, once I'm able to break through that "this really sucks right now" threshold, I remember why I enjoy the activity so much.

    As for Mad Men...that show is so utterly brilliant and well-written, I never feel guilty for spending time watching it. It inspires me like none other. And Don Draper is hot as hell. ;)

  7. Clare, your comments have been going to disqus' spam queue! Hopefully I fixed it so they don't disappear any more, because I love your comments!

    Discipline is hard to come by and I definitely struggle with it. I have ups and downs with writing, but I think I've finally realized that writing time isn't just time at my computer - it's time thinking, reading, engaging, etc. A lot goes on behind the scenes and that's just as important as what ends up on the page.

    NaNoWriMo is great for teaching you to make time for writing and establishing a daily practice. I've done it five times and loved the experience each time. Highly recommended, at least once in your life!

  8. Procrastination is my greatest enemy! I often find myself thinking about this hazy non-specific time in the future, when I will have time and energy and space to be really write. Then I have to remind myself that the time is NOW!

    And I agree 100% about Mad Men. I don't watch much TV and the TV I do watch is the best of the best (in my opinion). I feel like I learn a lot about writing and story telling from shows like Mad Men, so I definitely don't consider it a waste of time. Also: Don Draper. Swoon.

  9. Just judging by your blog, you're a great writer. Hang in there - even on those tough Sweet Valley High days. :)

  10. Yep. We're in the midst of final exams now. So once I'm finished grading and take a couple of days off to relax and recharge, the writing must commence - even if it hurts in the beginning. :)

  11. I love this post. I have been thinking a lot lately about the cycles I find myself in.

  12. I love this post, my dear! I can relate to so many of the feelings you describe. I think a lot of endeavors fit the same pattern of stop-and-start, up-and-down frustration and joy. I'm feeling it in my science life these days, but I remain convinced that if I keep plugging away at it, something good will emerge. Hope springs eternal!

    And on the subject of procrastination, I liked this piece a lot. Have you read it? If not, you should--it will make you smile.

  13. Thank you so much, Chris! That is really kind of you to say. :)

  14. That article is wonderful! Thank you for sharing. :)