On writing.

I’m not used to to talking about writing (or reading).

It seems I have a penchant for surrounding myself not with writers and readers, but biologists, programmers, and artists. They find poetry in the symmetry of shapes or the patterns of cellular structures… not the rhythms of syllables, the proper placement of punctuation, the languid arc of a captivating narrative. Even my friends who are writers, we never talk about writing. We talk philosophy, trading observations, puzzling over cracks in reason and in faith. (It seems we don’t even talk about the books we read. A simple, I enjoyed it, I didn’t, and why seems to suffice.)

As we speak, I’m working toward making writing a large part of my career. Making a business of it. Which means I’m being asked questions I never would have otherwise considered. “How do you deal with writer’s block? What is your writing process?”

With what? My what?

To help me answer these questions in some future interview or passing conversation, I’m going to write about them here. Sorry to interrupt the Slackerisms with something about hard work and ink-stained fingers, but not sorry. I’ll hide it all behind a cut, though I invite you to read on. (And let me know what you think of these questions in the comments – on your thoughts, your process, or whatever.)

The writer’s block question I find funny, as I hold with the likes of Chuck Close in saying that “inspiration is for amateurs.” I learned this lesson in college, though I didn’t notice it at the time.

In my creative writing classes, we were handed our assignment. Write a poem, a short story, a list of titles, a personal essay. And we had to do it, inspiration be damned. I sat down at my desk, keys under fingers, and wrote. It didn’t matter if I hated the idea or if I loved it. I wrote whatever came to mind. Then I fixed it. Then I worried over it. Then I passed it in. Some of the best words I wrote, I wrote for stories that began completely without inspiration. I didn’t even want to write them. But I did. And some words were really quite good; enough to make the painful process worth it.

I don’t know what to say when people ask me about how I deal with writer’s block. The last time, I said, “Write through it. If that doesn’t work, take five minutes and read an article. Stare at a picture. Jump up and down. Then, sit down and write.” (I’m very serious about the jumping up and down part. It also helps when tired, frustrated, bored, lonely, or anxious. Ironically, it doesn’t help when hyper. In that case, it just makes things worse.)

As to the my writing process… This perplexes me. I don’t know how to explain my writing process, because it is as natural as breathing, as practiced as speaking, and as varied as ways to swim.

Sometimes, I begin my work by writing madcap stream of consciousness. That’s how I started this post, as well as the one before it. I do this for topics that are particularly difficult for me to express. This is a kind of freewriting, and if done for personal reasons, these words are let be. I hardly ever read them again, let alone proofread and edit. If done for work, I set the words aside for a few minutes to marinade before I go back and fix them, arranging, re-arranging, and often altogether re-writing until they suit my needs.

Sometimes, I begin my work by writing what amounts to a perfect first draft. The idea – beginning, middle, and end – have mulled in my mind until perfectly formed. Then it leaps through my fingers and onto the page lickety-split, as nice as you please. Pieces written this way get the benefit of several drafts, even if nothing much changes.

Professionally, some drafts are fully formed, clear prototypes of what they will be. Some are a jumble of boxes and lines, an esoteric treasure map that only I can decipher. Some are simple bullet points; SEO-optimized phrases to be stitched together.

Sometimes I require absolute silence. Sometimes I play drum and bass music so loud my sternum vibrates with the bass line. Sometimes I compose essays on chairlifts, wrapped up in my thoughts. Sometimes I blurt taglines without thinking them through at all, occupied by walking, or grocery shopping, or playing with dogs.

So no, I still have no idea what to say about my writing process. I sit down and write. Or I stand up and write. Or I hunch over and write. Or I lay down and write. Or I stretch out as tall as I can, balanced on one tippy-toe. Just as I sometimes breathe deeply, or shallowly, or thoughtfully, or thoughtlessly, or easily, or punctuated harshly by coughing. It depends, it depends, it depends.

If you made it this far in my stream-of-consciousness, thank you. (Sometimes) I think best while writing. For example, I now feel very sure in how I’ll respond the next time someone asks how I deal with writer’s block. (But I still have no clue how best to answer the dreaded, “How do you write best?”)

Please leave your thoughts – on your process, your techniques – in the comments. Would love to read them.

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2 thoughts on “On writing.”

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