I’m shy/not shy about discussing my writing “process.” I actually dislike the word “process” when it comes to writing because it makes writing sound both vaunted and ridiculously precious at the same time.
I’m often shy sharing mine here because the posts on TKZ are created by professional, grown-up writers. Most have regimented schedules, produce work, reward themselves, and move onto the next project. They support families and/or themselves. Writing is a job. They also have other jobs, whether they be at home, or working outside the home. They blow me away every day with their dedication, creativity, and professionalism.
Weirdly, I’m also a professional, grown up writer. Though I’m a professional writer who has resisted schedules all her life. The ADHD is an issue. My brain can truly hyper-focus, but when it’s not hyper-focusing, it’s constantly on fire. It can’t be still at all. It constantly searches for novelty and stimulation. ADHD meds clamp down my creativity like an empty yogurt carton trapping a spider in the front hallway. Oh, and the yogurt carton has the Complete Works of Shakespeare on top of it. No more web-spinning, fly-sucking, or terrorizing the kiddies for that spider! (Hmmm. That about describes my creativity, though I’ve never actually drained a fly. I found myself weirdly desirous of eating a dead one once–but that’s another blog.)
Every so often, I dive into schedules and calendars and self-help books and organization projects. They delight me! The future immediately looks so bright! I love the idea of not writing at two in the morning because I couldn’t settle down all day to the work. (I don’t enjoy overnight writing, but I often do it out of necessity.) Schedules discourage writing right up to deadline. What a brilliant concept. I’ve actually done it a few times and it was AMAZING. Like Graeter’s Ice Cream amazing. First kiss amazing. (Actually, my first kiss was kind of awful. But that’s also another blog. Or not.) Finding six Hershey’s kisses from last Christmas at the back of the cabinet when you’ve been out of chocolate for an entire day amazing. Dang, that’s a great feeling, isn’t it?
I’ve been in next-book mode for months and have restarted it three times. We’re talking between 30 and 50 pages started. I just couldn’t figure out WHERE the book needed to start because it’s a story with a higher number than my usual amount of turning points. (Hey, I used one of those professional writer terms here. Woot.) This is a big book, a big story. It’s opened in different time periods and with different characters. Also different POVs. Many (more sensible) writers would’ve moved on to another idea by now. Another writer might have been at their desk daily at 8:30 a.m. and gone through the three restarts in a few weeks.
Did I mention I’m 56.5 years old? I’ve been writing for thirty years. Honestly, my meandering process has changed little. I’ve written ten novels (eight of which have been published, 2 will remain unseen), anthologies, short stories, essays, blogs, articles, book reviews. There were even several profitable copywriting gigs. Somehow I’ve produced a reasonably significant amount of work.
But I still hunger for the right schedule. The right way to work. The right amount of finished pieces. I still imagine there’s a Platonic Ideal of Laura’s Writing Career out there.
Perfectibility is the eternal illusion. A quest at least as old as the first cave artist who sketched an Ibex that came out looking like a prairie dog, scraped it off and tried again. And again. Funny how we look at so many of those cave paintings now and think them wondrous. Are they perfect? Who’s to say? By what standards can we judge ancient art? We can classify it. Trace developments over time by looking at similar work. Say one artist’s work is somehow better than another. But each effort stands alone. Human creations are imperfectible, just like humans. (My opinion, y’all. I’m not itching to argue religion or philosophy here…) Here’s the cool thing I’ve discovered about the desire for perfection, though: It keeps me striving. As long as I don’t constantly kick myself for not ever being perfect, I still get plenty of satisfaction.
I will probably die with the notion of the Platonic Ideal of Laura’s Writing Career in my head. Oh, well. It’s definitely far less difficult to live with than it used to be.
Every time I post on Facebook these days, I get some stupid message about how people really respond better to posts with pictures. “Posts with pictures are more popular than posts without pictures, Laura Benedict. Why don’t you include some pictures in this post? And, by the way, you can go ahead and add your photos to this post, and we will automatically remove any preview links you’ve already included in the post, thus completely destroying it. You may then add pictures to your new post.”
So I’m going to add some pictures here. This is what my life has been like over the past five days in which I was hyper-focusing on the third start on this novel. I’m pretty sure I got it almost right this time, in the tradition of horseshoes and hand grenades.
They’re not lovely pictures. But in my life, creation is messy, and occasionally people have to make their own dinner.
After the photos: Tell us about your process. Or your quest for perfection. Or creativity/work habits that really work for you. We are always open to new ideas here!
Sheesh, Laura, I was just about to hammer out my Nifty 350, which is the official start of my day, after which i would look at yesterday’s pages on my WIP, and then adjust the structure of my next project by analyzing the index cards in Scrivener, and then finish the edits on a nonfiction project before returning to the WIP to complete my quota. But for some reason I decided to take a quick look at TKZ. Thanks for the early-morning smile.
I wish I could stay to discuss the man’s version of Second Jammies (for which the word jammies is comically inapposite), but I must now get back on track.
See? You’ve got the world by the tail, JSB. But what will you do after lunch?!
I too wish I could find a process. I vowed that this tax season I would arise at 5:00 AM to spend an hour writing before work—ah that pesky day job that keeps kibble in the pups’ bowls. I suspect the early schedule will continue until the first time I stagger home at 1:30 in the morning. I’m working on my second novel (the first may or may not ever see the light of day) and can’t seem to find a process that works. It was so much easier when my wife was winning all the bread. Seriously, though, I found this post inspiring and exactly what I needed today.
Also, thank you for speaking to our group last April, Laura. We still talk about it.
You’ve got this! But seriously–tax season? If you do find yourself staggering home at 1:30, remember that no one would ask a fireman to scrub the firehouse kitchen in the middle of a four alarm fire. Or something like that…
I can’t believe that was way back in April. What a great crowd of writers!
My process is whatever works for me for that particular project. As that old TV show used to say, “Similar, but not a match.” (Am I dating myself?)
(And, FWIW, every evening at 6 PM, I post a “funny” meme and FB tells me that more people will see my post if I add text to my picture.
And one of those memes says, “Remember to close all parentheses. We’re not trying to air condition the whole paragraph.”
I’m SO guilty of that one, obviously.
You’re killing me, Terry! This is my new favorite meme and I haven’t even seen it.
If you’re working, you have a process!
My profess includes trying to remember to roofread after I’ve finished roting. Sometimes I forget.
Laura, I had to put my coffee down while reading this so I wouldn’t snort it on the keyboard.
“Process” sounds so sophisticated and mystical and, as you say, “precious.” Writing is like producing sausage, sometimes distasteful and not pretty to watch, but ultimately delicious.
Waiting for your post about wanting to eat a dead fly….
OMG I know that if I saw sausage made from pig to links, I would immediately become a vegetarian. Maybe I shouldn’t have posted photos after all lol.
I’m afraid it wouldn’t be a very long post. But it was twenty-five years ago and I remember it vividly. Ew.
Hi Laura, I like your honest style and humor. And you article is very good, because I read it to the end. Best greetings from germany, Sven.
I’m flattered, Sven. Thank you. Aren’t you glad you stayed for the ring around the moon?!
Just now reading Tania Herschman in Writing Short Stories, where she cites the permission she felt when reading Ron Carlson Writes a Story, permission to find her own appropriate approach. She does emphasize Carlson’s advice, “The most important thing a writer can do after completing a sentence is stay in the room.”
I don’t have a fixed schedule either (also due to ADHD, I believe–good excuse, anyway). And due to the world crashing in (whether it’s needing to spend 10+ hours trying to figure out why the Anti-virus I installed on my MacBook Pro has rendered it non compos mentis and eventually needing to do a full restore (thanks, Time Machine) or it’s watching NFL refs mess up the SuperBowl lineup).
“The most important thing a writer can do after completing a sentence is stay in the room.” This is brilliant. Let’s have it tattooed on our foreheads so that when we wander off from our screens we will see it when we pass a mirror.
What is it about the world crashing? It always happens at the wrong time.
Isn’t it funny that we both think of ADHD in terms of an excuse for not having a schedule? It kind of implies that there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing things. I know I definitely hold up the very idea of a schedule as the brass ring, the gold at the end of the rainbow, etc. But what if that’s wrong, and we’re the ones who are doing it “right?” How weird would *that* be?!
I think we were separated at birth. An idea: Let’s exchange first three chapters on the new project and see if we can kick-start each other’s book.
I’m game, sis. Hit me up anytime!
Regarding my writing (and increasingly my whole life as I grow older), half my brain is scattershot and the other half is detail-fixated, so whatever works that day is how I roll. Knowing others are also unregimented makes me feel less like a fraud.
Ugh, that fraud feeling. I hear you. So, I’ll tell you what I tell myself now when it comes over me.
Stop it! Stop it, now!
Yes, we’re out here, and we are legion. ?
I KNEW this was your post when I read the title! And I knew it’d be a fun read.
I am 100 percent sure that your un-process is what makes your books sing with their particular rhythm and notes.
I ate a fly once. I was a kid on a dare. I didn’t die, but I don’t want to do it again.
Pecans, chocolate, coffee, warm socks . . . are we kinfolk?
You went there, Priscilla!!! I love that, and I’m delighted that you didn’t die. I’m honored that you shared this here. Though if I had actually done it I would tell everyone about fifteen minutes after I met them–the way I tell people I killed a baby copperhead in my bathroom with a hammer.
I’m so glad you got a kick out of the piece. Have you checked yesterday’s blog post at my website this morning…?
Lordy, the copperhead was INSIDE the house? You brave woman, you!
Hahahahahahaha. I can’t convince my husband to hop around the yard, either! And I wear a similar uniform — long johns with an oversized T-shirt and fluffy socks.
I’m right where you are, girlfriend. Only I can’t write at night. Instead, I moved my office into the loft. With the sub-degree temps, the hubby’s hanging around the house more than usual, and that’s no bueno for my writing. I love my new (quiet) digs; he hates not being able to interrupt me anytime he feels like it. Every morning I get the pouty lip as I climb the stairs. Thank God he gets it. If he was serious, I may feel guilty. Or not. 🙂 Deadlines are a powerful motivator!
Ha! That’s a great image of you going off to work, leaving pouty Husband pining after you. You’re so prolific, so you must be doing it right!
The late-night writing is the one thing I definitely want to change. Mostly because irregular sleep shortens the lifespan and I want to live forever!
“A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all.”
― Rita Mae Brown
I grew up when detective and action shows filled all three channels available. Lots of cars blew up. Lots and lots of cars. By the time I was old enough to drive and seat belts actually existed, I had a fear of my car blowing up. So, first I get into the car, then I start the car, then I put on my seatbelt. That’s become my muscle memory when I get in a car. Can’t change it. (My engine caught on fire once, a Ford motor defect, so I got out fast since I wasn’t strapped in and put it out. Paranoia and muscle memory for the win!!!!)
Anyway, my point is that process is part of our creative muscle memory after we’ve done it for a while. If you are finishing your books, then you have a process whether you recognize it or not.
Whoa! A car that you put out? I’m very impressed.
Yes, our muscles have very loooooong memories. I appreciate that reminder.
I grew up then too. I often have the tv on in the living room when I’m in my office writing at night and sometimes wander in to find the cats enjoying Mannix, The Night Stalker, or Miami Vice!
Car fire extingushers are worth their price, even if you don’t ever need one.
This is my favorite post of yours ever.
There are many ways up the mountain. As you said, you get there over and over again. That’s what matters.
“There are many ways up the mountain.”
It helps a lot to have a good friend give you a hand up when you’re stuck in the ice and you forgot your ice chisel (?) in your purse back at base camp. xxoo
Hey Laura, I see you have no bunions! That’s a big win.
Ha! If I did, you would not have seen that photo. A girl has her limits…
Thank you, Laura. Once again you have proven that there are many paths up the mountain. Only yours sounds more fun.
Thanks so much!
Thanks so much, Steven!
Scrounging for chocolate. Oh yeah. My husband hides a chocolate stash for me (because I can’t be trusted) and only accesses it when I’m desperate. Like grabbing his collar in my fist and saying, “I’m not kidding!” desperate.
Loved this post. 🙂
I have a good friend whose husband does that. You’ve both got keepers!
lLaura, I so hear you. I’ve stopped writing and speaking about process entirely (it’s a lot like politics, we’ll never win the argument nor will we never change anyone’s mind). Instead I write about “product,” which is less flexible thing, and because of that, you can find lines and lanes and expectations to help us. But I love the sausage metaphor, and it reminded me of something I often repeat: readers don’t give a hoot about what our process is, they care only about their experience with the product. So as I try put forth ideas about how to elevate their experience, I keep the sausage in mind.
That said… first drafts to NOT have to suck. When they do… THAT is process getting in the way.
Thanks for a great piece today. It’s sausage and eggs for me this morning.
I know that as a reader I have zero interest in a writer’s process. I just want to enjoy the illusion!
Happy sausage making—glad you stopped by, Larry!
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