Tag Archives: your writing process

Writing & the Freedom to Fail

A client once said to me,

“Writing this story feels like I’ve set out on the ocean with a lot of heart and grit and a general sense of direction, but I don’t want to spend months rowing hard to get to France only to learn that I’ve landed in Texas.”

At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

  • Was she feeling insecure about her writing overall and needing me to reassure her that if she had planned for France, and worked hard to get there, she would definitely see the Eiffel Tower?
  • Or was she expressing some subconscious uneasiness that she was actually on the wrong plotting track?

There was no right or wrong answer here. The first speaks to the general anxiety writers all feel from time to time. We’re sitting alone creating worlds out of thin air; how could we not feel insecure from time to time?

The second speaks to a more complicated issue: where does our writing come from? Whose ideas are these, if not mine? So why do they sometimes turn on me and take me to a place I never thought of–or wanted–to go?

When that happens to me, I’ve learned to listen to my silent self and, at least for a while, give it rein to move at will. Eventually, I either write myself out of that place–or I find that it actually is where I wanted to go. It means, of course, that I have to allow myself the hardest freedom of all–the freedom to fail.

Grammar! Punctuation! Spelling!

How do you feel about grammar & punctuation? Is it the writer’s responsibility, or can it be off-shored to a paid editor?

That’s the going debate on a private Facebook writer’s group I belong to. The responses, which seem to be running fifty-fifty, are passionate in both directions.

All that grammar stuff stifles the creative urge

versus

Words and the correct use of them are an essential part of the writer’s toolbox.

I say both of those are true, and what we’re really talking about is…

The crying need for a First Draft.

  • First Drafts, which I affectionately refer to as the Vomit Drafts, are where you just pour it all out without a thought for whether it makes sense or is legible.
  • The First Draft is the draft that only you, the writer, see; therefore, you can spill your guts with impunity.
  • In First Drafts, you can leave blanks to fill in later when you can’t come up with the words you’re looking for now.
  • You can write notes to yourself in your First Draft remind you of something you want to describe but aren’t quite ready to.
  • To treat the First Draft as a Final Draft in which you focus on correcting grammar, punctuation and spelling is to deny yourself…

The essence of the First Draft,

which is the freedom of discover.

 

Morning Pages: How do they work for you?

In a comment last week, I responded to Laura of Wordgrrls suggestion about doing Morning Pages with one of my quip-like responses: “I had done MPs for ages (okay, not really, but it’s so cutely alliterative) and was quite successful then. At least doing the Morning Pages; I’m not sure what the rest of my productivity was.”

Every morning, I would sit outside in my garden, with my coffee and cigarettes, and write my three pages in longhand. I amassed a notebook full, and much of it was devoted to a story I had been chewing over for a while based on my version of the life of my mother-in-law. We’re talking Grapes of Wrath with a feminist twist.  I still have that notebook. I still think the story is worth telling. I don’t do Morning Pages anymore.

For one, I no longer have that peaceful brick-walled garden, and I no longer smoke. For those of you who have never smoked, you can’t imagine how those of us who were smokers found our writing process intwined with cigarettes.

So that time and place in my life is over, and with it seems to have gone the urge to do daily Morning Pages. Now I do free-writing of the Morning Pages-type when I’m trying to  dig down as far as I can go into my thoughts and feelings. I just write and write whatever without judgement until…

I’m not sure what follows the until: I get tired…hungry…bored. Or maybe until I’ve gone as far as I can with the topic. Then, whether my three pages are done or not, I start wanting to shape the thing I’m writing and make it presentable for publication.

The unconscious writer leaves home and the editor takes over. I’d like to think the editor is a consequence of forty years of shaping words professionally. That’s part of it; the other part, I think, is that the editor is more concerned with the turn of a phrase or an interesting story line than the utter truth of the moment. 

I have all sorts of responses to myself here. The part of writing that is fun for me has to do with putting the words together that speak the thoughts intended. However, the me who has a grad degree in psych says, “hmmmm, what were you actually working on when the editor takes over? Is it something that you’re uncomfortable getting into?” That’s the me that understands there is a psychodynamic of writing, and I best be aware of it if I want to do more than just go along to get along.

Quotable Writers: Roger Angell

Oh yes, is it ever! When I first saw this quote from New Yorker writer and editor, Roger Angell, it said perfectly what I had been thinking just that morning.  Which was: I don’t want to have to think before I write something. I wanted it to come burbling out of my unconscious, preferably via an app that creates a conduit between my brain and my fingers on the keyboard. Is there an app for that–ya think?  

While Roger Angell, who has spent a lifetime writing award winning essays and as the fiction editor for the New Yorker, uttered these words of advice, I’m sure he has never felt the angst of sitting down to write and–blank, there’s nothing there. Of course not. Real writers, of which Angell is certainly one, never face a blank page without a veritable fountain of words–superb, multi-syllabled, emotionally evocative words pouring forth.

I, on the other hand, am obviously am not a real writer since I face the blank page syndrome on many occasions. Usually when I’m poised at my desk full of grit and determination to write something. I’m not sure what, but something articulate, meaningful, and, yes, wonderful. Then I remember Angell’s words and realize that my problem is one of form and not content. That is, I can picture the printed page, but have no idea what the words on it actually say. And that, I’ve learned over the years, means I’m not done thinking about this particular piece of writing. It’s back to the drawing board–the notes, the research, the talking it out in my head, and so on–that I must go.

It gets down to what is the bottom line of writing: that it is essentially a tool of communication. So if you haven’t put in the thinking time, then you really have little to communicate.

How do you handle the blank page syndrome? Do you ever sit down primed and prepped To Write and–nothing happens? So what do you do? 

 

#1 Rule To Better Writing: Learn to Love Your Process

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?

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