How do you actually do this thing called writing? What are the habits, quirks, must haves and cannot do’s that are an essential part of your productivity as a writer? And do you allow yourself to have them? Or do you reject them as Not Right?
Interviews with successful writers almost always include some version of the question: how do you write? People make careers (if not fortunes) out of parsing their particular process and then spinning it into a formula.
However, the fact is that the writing process is not a One Size Fits All. Do you get up early? Or stay up late? Do you write in huge chunks of time? Or spit it out paragraph by paragraph? Are you an outline person or do you just follow your inner guide? Do you write in pencil? Pen? Computer? Yellow pad? Loose leaf? Napkins?
Me? I write on a computer. Unless, that is, I’m just starting a piece and it’s not coming easily. Then, I need to sit down with paper and writing instrument. I’m being deliberately vague there because I allow myself to choose the instrument and the paper according to the whim of the moment. I hem and haw on paper until whatever I’m trying to say gets started. Then when my thoughts are coming too fast for me to write them down, I switch back to the computer.
I also wander a lot. There is a place I go to inside my head when I’m creating that needs me to be doing something mindless yet physical. When I smoked, I would realize that I was really cooking at the writing when I lit a cigarette and saw another freshly lit one in the ashtray. I could get all scientific here and tell you how it relates to the different waves my brain is producing, but suffice to say, I know what works. These days, I let myself wander, do a load of laundry, scratch the dog’s belly. Then when I come back to the writing task, I can see it anew.
I have a lot of other quirks or tricks that get me over the rough spots. Like what I did just now except you can’t see it. Up to this paragraph, the draft I’m writing was double-spaced. But there was something wrong about that for me. All that vacant white space made my thoughts seem, well, vacant. So I changed the spacing to single and somehow that was enough to get me going once more.
Again, I could say that it has something to do with the density of the type on the screen. It’s a psychological thing—look at how much I’ve written—but it also means my eye can’t scan sentences which prevents me from judging what I’m writing as I’m writing it.
All of these are things I’ve learned about myself during a long career as a writer. It’s part of my writing process, and I’ve learned to value it, silly quirks and all. It has made all the difference regarding my productivity, my creativity, and my state of mind! So what I know for sure about writing that I really want to pass on to you is this: To learn to be a better writer, you need to know what your process is. And then you need to respect it.
I once worked with a young woman who was writing her memoir about a turbulent time in her life. It took place during the ‘70s in Hollywood, and the other characters she was writing about were some bold face names in the movie business. The only way she could put down her memories to even make notes was to get into bed and write with the covers pulled over her head. That was what she had to do to feel safe enough to write. That was her process.
So I say again: To learn to be a better writer, you need to know what your process is. And then you need to respect it. That part is in bold for a reason. There are a lot of people (and some you’ll pay for it) who will tell you how you should write. Where you should write. When you should write, and, even, why you should write. Ignore them. Or, better yet, listen to their advice, try it and either incorporate it or dump it. Including mine.
A lot of what gets in our way when we’re writing are all those voices in our head: you’re not doing it the right way…stupid word choice…I can’t say that…how dare I even think I’m a writer. Learning your process is learning how to silence or muffle or just ignore those voices