I’ve read a lot of work by other writers and other people studying English in school and random people on the internet talking about their “writing process.” It’s interesting to read all the different ways people suffer for their work, and I’d love to share how I go about it too. Like all things to do with writing, my way may not be the best for everyone or the most functional for anyone or produce the best results or be the most healthy or work all the time, but it’s how I get things done.
First, I decide if I want to write something. That’s an important step I used to forget a lot. I’d sit on the floor, pounding my head and begging some mote of inspiration to guide me to write something, but I didn’t notice that I’d much rather be sleeping or doing something that didn’t involve quite so much thinking and finger articulation. I’ve found that guilt works best at motivating me to want to write: if I promise to write something almost every day and then I don’t, I’ll feel awful and dwell in a shrieking vortex of my innumerable inadequacies. It’s a good first step.
Once I’ve decided I definitely want to write something, I take a little seat. I’ve read about people who need a special chair or a particular type of music. I try not to rely on such external things. Instead, I rely on the eternal maelstrom of ideas that rolls about in my head like a tornado in a bulldozer and knives warehouse. I think about dozens of ideas superficially until one strikes me as worth starting. I usually know an idea is worth trying if I can think about it for more than a minute without getting bored.
With idea in hand, I sprint to the nearest computer. I used to be the kind of person that would outline everything by hand. I’d use different notations to represent how much time I’d spend on each idea, different colors to note the importance of each paragraph. Once I wrote out multiple drafts of my topic sentences. I don’t waste time on any of that anymore. I organize the writing in my head, and then get started. Usually I can see the trajectory of whatever I’m doing as I work, but there’s always room for surprises. Writing is like a rollercoaster: you can see most of the track ahead, but it can still be surprising and even exciting, and sometimes I will throw up after it’s over.
I always make sure to leave a little time to take a break, plop down on the floor, and stare into the deep abyss of my own self-loathing. “Why am I doing this to myself” I’ll whisper to the old gods, hoping they will wake from their slumber beneath the sea and drag me down to their old cities where I’ll be some kind of table decoration instead of someone destined for unemployment. “Why am I bad at every other thing” I moan to my resume. “Why,” I cry to the hole in my ceiling “couldn’t I have gone into accounting?”
Sometimes, I’ll have a little snack. Something with fruit to energize or carbs to fill. Shoving balls of old cantaloupe into a damp sourdough crust does the trick nicely.
I used to get lost in the walls of my own paragraphs. Now, I like to read my writing out loud so I catch each and every word to be sure it sounds right. However, if you’re like me and detest the phlegmy, wet baritone of your own voice, then whispering through your writing is a nice alternative. I do it with my students all the time, and I joke that it makes me sound like I’m casting a spell. Jokes on them though because I’m as magical as the capitalist thunderdome Disneyland.
After writing a first draft, whispering through it, and struggling through the morass of crippling self doubt, I find that I’m usually just satisfied enough to hurl my idea out into the world. Steven King said to kill your darlings, but I like to nurture mine first, to raise them right, let them grow, mature, and then I kick them to the curb like a parent evicting their 18-year-old unemployed burden. Then, I never think of them again. Write, forget, repeat, that’s the way to get it done.