On Writing

Because my spring semester at college does not begin for another few weeks and my part-time job has become extremely part-time, I find myself with a lot of free time these days. Mostly when I have free time I  reread Harry Potter and watch Boy Meets World episodes on the internet take dance classes and work on Swingnacht.

When I mentioned the Swingnacht part to an acquaintance (of course I called it “my work-in-progress Novel” instead of “Swingnacht” because apart from being a German word, “swingnacht” is also a mostly made-up German word) he immediately asked “what’s your writing process like?” which sort of surprised me. I mean, he hardly knows me and here he is asking me this very personal, intimate question?!?! As if I would tell him, the nosy scoundrel.

Okay, so the truth is, I don’t really know if I have a writing process. Jo Rowling used to push her daughter around in the pram for a bit and then mosey over to the nearest cafe and write brilliant best-selling books about good and evil and wizard school and socks. Ernest Hemingway used to . . . well, I’m not really sure what Hemingway used to do whle writing except probably “breathe” (Google just failed me) but I’m sure he had a process. So what’s mine? This is my best guess:

1.Return from dance studio/gym/wherever all sweaty and exhausted and sore. Throw bags and coat on bedroom floor and put the kettle on.

2. Turn on laptop with intention of turning Swingnacht into brilliant, groundbreaking masterpiece.

3. Get momentarily distracted from plans of creating great art by Facebook, Skype, Twitter and YouTube.

4. A half-hour later, find myself googling “civil war conspiracy theories” for  absolutely no reason whatsoever.

5. Remember that I forgot about the water I just boiled. Boil more water, finish making tea.

6. Lose my stolen wireless signal and after a series of failed attempts to reconnect, decide to open a Swingnacht word document.

7. Spend five-minutes reading a chapter I rewrote for the fourth time last week.

8. Bash head against key-board a few times at how horrible the writing is.

9. Decide to take a shower. People get good ideas in the shower. I will surely emerge from the shower as the greatest writer of the twenty-first century.

10. Shower. Become discouraged when shower does not turn me into James Joyce or Markus Zusak. Delete a few sentences furiously while still wearing bathrobe, then spend another ten minutes trying to figure out a way to rewrite entire chapter so it doesn’t sound so stupid.

11. Repeat step ’10’ several times.

11. Finally write a few paragraphs I like a little bit. Move on to a new chapter and repeat.

There you have it. 11 surefire steps for writing a novel you will finish one day and then spend an entire year editing and rewriting.

Lately these 11 steps have been performed in the comfort of my own home, but usually I like to “write” (delete, bash etc.) in a cafe somewhere because it prevents me from yelling at myself too much. There is one west village cafe that I’m pretty sure knows me as the “girl who hits ‘delete’ a lot and drinks coffee faster than can possibly be healthy.” But I’ve blogged about that before.


Graham once commented that I hit the delete key more than the space bar when I write, which actually is probably true.

Do you have a writing process? Do you have 11counter-productive steps like me or a specific place you like to write? Care to share?

EDIT: Thanks to a kind commenter, you can read about Ernest Hemingway’s writing process here Awesome!

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8 responses to “On Writing

  1. sadly I haven’t done any real writing, (I mean orriginal writing that I actually liked and finished) for a couple of years now. I think sending my play into a contest before it was even remotely ready caused me to loose confidence.

    However, I’ve found that I like to write at night. I have also found a spot near Hyde park that seems as though it would be very good for writing. (I can see ducks and geese on the pond! There are ponds here! And swans too!)

  2. My best writing doesn’t come to me until I throw all of the ideas that I have in my head down on paper/screen. I’m often stifled because I have SO MANY ideas in my head at once that my brain can’t decide what to put down first – so I end up either staring at a blank screen for hours frustrated because my brain doesn’t work; or I force myself to start writing and end up having the same backspace/space issue that you have. My process NOW is:

    1) Put every idea that I have in my head on paper/screen regardless of how stupid they sound **very important to note that no one is going to be seeing these notes so it doesn’t matter that these ideas “are crap”**.
    2) Do something else for 20-30 minutes – in your case, that shower/tea would work out great.
    3) Go back to my list and add to each of those ideas that you thought of while doing something else it’s MUCH easier for me to develop ideas/storylines when they are all out in front of me and not swimming around in my head and scaring away all the “brilliant thoughts.”
    4) Repeat step 2-3 until I have a solid foundation for story/work piece.
    5) Use those written-out ideas as an outline and start writing. The original, written out ideas tend to evolve from “crap” into a well-crafted and enjoyable piece.

    Not sure if this is going to help you any, but it works wonders for me.

  3. Hi! I forget exactly how I found your blog, but I know that I follow you on Twitter. All of this probably conspired while I was avoiding my NaNo novel in November… Anyway, love this post (and your writing in general) – I completely identify with the procrastination. I used to write a weekly newspaper column, and I did everything I could to push it off until about half an hour before we sent the paper off.

    I do have a writing process, (which is strangely just like my graphic design process).

    1. I optimistically decide that I’m going to pen something so compelling that hearts will swell and burst with appreciation for such articulated brilliance.

    2. Oh no! I have to [insert required activity like ‘go to work’ or ‘use the bathroom’ or ‘stop thinking about writing and pay attention to church’]. But the little seed of excitement whizzes around inside of me, and I cannot wait for the moment that my fingers meet the keyboard.

    3. I finally sit down to write (usually to avoid some other task) and suddenly my thoughts are muddy and heavy and slow. I type a few words just to get words on paper. The passive voice and dangling prepositions hurt me so much that I HAVE TO ERASE THE ENTIRE SENTENCE AND PRETEND IT NEVER EXISTED.

    4. I have a moment of self loathing that begins with chastising myself for such poor grammar and ends with retyping the offending sentence so the stupid cursor will stop mocking me on that big white page.

    5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for at least 15 minutes.

    6. In a flash of brilliance, a collection of beautifully organized thoughts fall from my fingers. I can hardly type fast enough.

    7. I reread my work a few days later. I marvel at how nicely the thoughts flow and decide to write again. The seed of anticipation takes flight inside of me again, imploring me to find the nearest scrap of paper and record the ideas before they escape.

    ~Kate

  4. i believe my process is very similar to yours

    when i went to see Gaiman, someone asked him what was the best writing advice someone else ever gave him, and he said it was to ‘write and do nothing else’. you can sit there and stare at the wall or write. starring at the wall will eventually make you realize how much you miss righting, and you know the rest. So I have this intention of finding a place free of distractions so that I can one day write and do nothing else.

  5. I wake up, listen to some Mozart, blast some heavy metal, play the violin for thirty minutes, douse my face in cold water… and just start.

    I can’t guarantee it always comes out good, but the words always come out.

    – Jaden

  6. Just a stranger who stumbled upon your blog, but I felt compelled to leave a comment when I read the sentence about Hemingway’s writing process. Here’s an interview he did with the Paris Review and he goes into great detail about it.

    http://www.theparisreview.org/media/4825_HEMINGWAY4.pdf

    Here’s a link to all of their author interviews:

    http://www.theparisreview.org/literature.php

    Not sure if you’re familiar with any of this, but it’s a such interesting stuff.

  7. Writing process? Yeah. Mine is pretty much exactly like yours.

  8. I’m not sure if I have a writing process anymore . Once upon a time when I was writing regularly I did have, but if I went back it might have changed completely.

    One thing’s for sure, like most writers it involves a great deal of deleting, self-loathing and procrastination. I think that’s practically a requirement from everything people tell me.

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