Writing Process – Starting Out

A page from my writing journal with rough map at top.

A page from my writing journal with rough map at top.

Since I’m having so much trouble writing today (in other words I’m having one of those days when I can’t keep my butt in a chair in front of a blank page), I thought I’d write about my writing process.

Writing is the first thing I do in the morning. Before eating, before my gratitude list, before turning on the computer….Yes, I write longhand for the most part. I spend too much time on the computer working, which interferes with my creative process most of the time. Plus it’s so easy to get distracted. Email, games, Facebook, and I need the extra help with discipline to get started.

So I write longhand. If I’m stuck, or I’ve been away from writing for a day or two or more, or I’m trying to solve a problem I’ve created for myself, I’ll journal beforehand. Either free association (a la An Artist’s Way morning pages) or posing the question I need answered. For some reason this method always brings me a solution. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. Sometimes the solution is that I don’t have enough info to fill in this scene at this point and I need to skip ahead. I can figure that out if I go a week without getting past that sticking point. Since I’m writing in the dark (I don’t outline or have much idea where I’m going when I start) it’s usually because it’s an important point but I don’t know why yet or I’ve left something important out earlier in the draft that I need. Sometimes the story just has to progress to a certain point before I can fill everything in.

After journaling for a while I’ll write. My writing goal each day is 300 words. Most times I’ll go over that. Sometimes I won’t get anywhere near that. If I’m on a later draft I may wind up with -300 words instead. As long as I’ve sat and tried for at least an hour I give myself credit. Sometimes I write for as much as four hours before I run out of steam. The longest I ever wrote in one stretch was 8 hours.

I don’t go back and re-read or edit what I’ve written for the day, unless I’ve left the draft for a really long time and I don’t remember where I was. My first drafts are so sucky they make me really depressed and I completely forget that every first draft I’ve ever written was the same. At some point the miracle of many revisions occurs and then my final draft looks as much like the first draft as a butterfly looks like a caterpillar. Right now that’s a long way away.

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Some Quotes from Anne Lamott Today

Because this is where I am today:

E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.

And here, jealousy living inside my head, while I wander lost in the morass of a first draft. I was looking for the quote about shitty first drafts:

I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said that you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)

Those are both from Bird by Bird. I don’t know where this one is from, but it’s where I want to go.

This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of–please forgive me–wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds. When this happens, everything feels more spacious. Try walking around with a child who’s going, “Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog! Look at that burned-down house! Look at that red sky!” And the child points and you look, and you see, and you start going, “Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge! Look at that teeny little baby! Look at the scary dark cloud!” I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world–present and in awe.

And a bonus interview with Anne Lamott on the Powell’s  website