I explained in an earlier post what the Writers’ Blog Tour is about. Basically, writers answer the same four questions:
How does my writing process work?
You can click on the links to see my answers to previous questions. Today I’ll (try to) answer the final question:
How Does My Writing Process Work?
The only reasonable response seems to be, “I have no idea.” However, although it may feel that way sometimes, it’s not a very helpful response.
So, I’ll try and be more helpful, although I should preface this by saying every writer must find his/her own way to the page. What works for me may not work for you. What I write is specific to me, is born of out my life experience, my sub-conscious, my obsessions and longings. My writing process is similarly personal.
On one level it’s mysterious and magical and full of grace, on the other it’s about getting my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard and my thoughts on the page.
I do all sorts of things to get in the mood, as it were. I drink tea. Lots of it. I listen to music. I light candles. I read poetry. If the novel or short story requires it, I will do some research-reading. Then, sure I will be writing any second, I get up and make another cup of tea, walk the dog, nibble a piece of cheese, read an essay on writing, meditate, pray, take a shower, have lunch… kidding. Sort of.
This post might be called, Why Writing Is Like My Dog At Bedtime.
I approach the page the same way my dog, The Rescuepoo, prepares for sleep at night. He’s tired and just wants to lie down, but first he spends an amusing amount of time in his rituals — picking out the right toy to take to bed, scratching up his blanket, rolling around on his back for belly-rubs, doing what I call “dig-dig-dig” when he scrabbles away at the bed with his bum up in the air and a silly grin on his face; circling the cushions, flopping down in this position, and then that position… until at last, with an enormous sigh, he collapses like a heffalump (see Winnie-the-Pooh) in the same spot as every other night, which is to say, on the bed between My Best Beloved and me, with his head on my leg.
That’s me, after the cups of tea, meditating, showering and so forth. I’ve arrived at the position most conducive to writing. I am at my desk. My fingers are poised at the keyboard. My heart is ready and open. I start by reading over what I wrote yesterday, and I begin to go forward, one word, one sentence at a time. . .
But the Rescuepoo isn’t asleep yet, and I’m not writing, yet. It takes a while before my dog slides at last into deep sleep, usually on his back with his neck at what looks like a dreadfully uncomfortable
angle but must not be, since he apparently prefers it, and his paws up in the air. Then… he sleeps…
And, in exactly that way, it takes a while for me to slip into the half-dreaming state where the real writing takes place, as opposed to the surface writing that always precedes it. But the only way that happens in in the writing itself.
So that’s the sort of magical, mysterious part of my process. A lot of fiddling about and then, presto, I find myself in the underworld, if you will.
But what about the practical part? Well, there certainly is discipline involved. I work on something every day. If I am working on a short story, it must go forward by 500 words a day. If I am working on a novel, it must go forward by 1,000 a day. I begin by doing a word count to see where I’m at, add on the number of words, and only give myself permission to stop when I’ve reached that number. As I said above, I begin today’s work by reading what I wrote yesterday. If I hate it and delete it all, then I guess I’m writing more than my assigned word count. So be it. I must go forward. This way I get to do some editing, which I love, every day, and some first draft work, which I find challenging. Some days, I get the work done pretty quickly, and then I can spend the rest of the day doing research, reading and taking notes, which is also part of the writer’s workday. Other days it takes the whole day, and some of the night, just to get the words out.
But no matter how long it takes, when I’ve finished my writing for the day the feeling of accomplishment (regardless of the quality of the work, which is honed later, over many drafts) is intoxicating and becomes its own daily reward. Since I can no longer reward myself with a martini, this is a good thing!
And then the next day arrives and I begin again. Robert Leckie once said, “Every morning or afternoon, whenever you want to write, you have to go up and shoot that old bear under your desk between the eyes.” Well, in my process, the bear is more of a muse. One doesn’t shoot the muse, but tames it, and keeps it tame by feeding it regularly. It is much easier, I have found, to keep the bear happy and friendly, than it is to have to tame it all over again.