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.