What is my writing process?


Let me tell you a thing: I don’t spend a huge amount of time writing. I don’t write 2000 words a day. My writing comes in waves, some days i’ll sit around thinking about writing all day, and other days some magical force picks me up and gets my fingers moving at a lightning pace. At the end of this strange possession-like period of zooming fingers I usually have something that doesn’t require a huge amount of reworking, and mostly makes sense. It looks a bit like this:

kermit

But some days I don’t wait around for the magic, and I have a go at forcing out a piece i’ve had kicking around in my Moleskine for a while. Sometimes it works, but it’s definitely not the same. It’s generally a bit of a hard slog and the words might not have that natural flow to them, but it’s undeniably satisfying to get something down after a fair bit of internal struggle. Other times, however, it’s more like trying to mine a nugget of gold from an old rotting compost heap using my 2 year old sister’s silicone Dora The Explorer spoon. Those days tend to not be as productive on the word count front, and I think it’s totally ok to throw down the dirty spoon and say hey, things aren’t working out today, let’s pick this up again tomorrow.

I think a lot of people think that I spend my every waking minute hunched over my word processor, and admittedly a lot of high-volume writers do that and it works for them, and ultimately I think i’d probably prefer to work like that just for that feeling of ‘working’ everyday. But I know myself to know that’s not going to produce my best work.  But what works for me is a slower paced method that occasionally involves waiting for some little house elf/gremlin-like creature of inspiration to come over and prod me into gear with a rusty knife with a loud guttural battlecry of “LEZ DO DISSSSSSSS!” It’s worth hanging out for, because  it’s like i’m not even typing, and I write things that perhaps I think in my head but dismiss as not even worth writing down. It’s not until either I or my partner read back over them with a chuckle that I realise what i’ve written, both surprised that I had that sort of language in me.

I used to think on the days that I didn’t write anything, that i’d failed, or had an unproductive day and I would beat myself up about it. But now i’ve realised that the days I spend thinking about writing are just as valuable, because those internal brainstorming days set me up for those moments of frantic writing. A book that has helped me stress less about my writing volume has been Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It took me a while to get past the acid-tripping bright cover and bring that baby home, but i’m so glad I did. It’s nice to know that other people, and a best selling author no less, has moments of stagnation, but also gets this feeling of being pushed along by an external force. If you’ve ever really struggled with your creative process I really encourage you to check out this book, it’s like the warm reassuring hug you never knew you needed.

Just to get an idea of my frantic bursts of writing thanks to my Inspiration Gremlin, I wrote all of this in as little as 10 minutes, and i’ll have it edited and posted in another 10. That might not be surprising to some people, but to me writing 700 words in that time that needs very little editing is crazy. It feels great when inspiration shows up.

What’s your process? Do you battle it out until it’s done, or do you wait around for those lightning moments? Or something completely different?

*Edit: It took me a fair bit longer than 20 minutes because my backspace got stuck and decided to chew up a whole paragraph – save frequently folks! Or at least don’t sit there panic-stricken as your computer slowly eats your work and do something other than mashing the keyboard.

Hungry

Photo by Mark_K_ on Flickr
Photo by Mark_K_ on Flickr

After graduation I was satiated. I thought I had eaten and dished out more words than I could ever read/write/speak again. I revelled in the feeling of having nothing due, to go to sleep without triple-checking to ensure I did in fact set my alarm. I was in a state of blissful limbo, where I felt the space between graduating and work was a good place to rest because damn, I had worked hard.

I worked in my unfulfilling cafe job and spent all my in-between time sculpting. I loved having the time and freedom to pursue my art, and I had no intentions to write, read, or do anything in relation to my degree. I had no idea what I was doing, floating through the weeks in the hopes that my dream job would yank me out of hibernation and inspire me to continue what I used to love and do for fun.

That feeling of euphoric freedom faded as swiftly as it had come. Small talk with strangers became difficult, because when they asked what I do for a living I stuttered and made excuses trying to justify my state of nothingness.

Up until now I had been stagnant, but it all became too much. Doing nothing was weighing on me more than when I was running myself ragged, and that gnawing need to write started to bug me. At first writing was hard, I felt like a newborn baby giraffe stumbling around clumsily. But now it’s just started happening, as weird as it sounds. I’m writing in my head constantly, most of it is shit, I mean it’s not like I picked up a pen and became a writing savant or anything. But I’ve started carrying my journal around just in case, and i’ve actually picked up my university textbooks again. For the first time, in a very long time, I can call myself a writer and actually mean it.