I was asked by a colleague to contribute a short essay on the writing process. No more than 4,000 words, she says. I wrote something, sent it out with some misgivings, got some positive feedback, and then was free to move on to the work that really has been at the center of my universe: my novel.
The thing is that even days after I submitted the piece I was still asking myself, what is my writing process? Did I answer the question? Is this right? I wrote another essay, this time 12 pages long, and I realized that for me, the process of writing is much like the process of attempting to find god through paths of self-examination and dedication. The writing process is an excruciatingly painful process for me, tossing me from guilt to introspection to painful, angst-riddled procrastination, boredom, self-loathing and despair, punctuated occasionally with those moments Csiksczentmihalyi terms ‘flow’ or ‘optimal experience.’ The thing is that once you get the writing bug and you are flowing through the writing, you get so addicted to it that you’ll do anything, anything to bring it back.
For me, it takes a lot of caffeine. Also, for some reason, no matter how early I start, I can only write well past 8pm, after dinner. It’s a bit of an inconvenience since this is the time that my family life demands its attention.
The writing process for me compasses more than the time I spend writing, but if I had to trace what it takes for me to form a novel, short story, or collection, it goes something like this:
1. First draft, truly disorganized, written in detailed prose, over-explaining and vague on action and dialog but thick with psychological motivation. The first draft tends to get much more fragmented towards the end. This is the time that I usually hit my crisis and begin long months of loathing and procrastination.
2. I reform the novel, restructure, cut and paste. This work is unnerving. It makes my stomach twist and turn. Sometimes it feels like I’d do better as a carpenter. It is honestly so clinical that it bores me. But it’s necessary. When the novel or story begins to have a more organized form, we go to a much more pleasant stage.
3. Fill in the details. Up to now it feels like the work was scaffolding and hammering. Now I go into the scene, work on a line of dialog for hours at a time. I am like a tuning fork humming for the right “emotional pitch.” It’s the only way I can describe whether or not a line feels right, in character, with the accurate mood and attitude I want every page to exude. This stage can go on forever. I subscribe to the idea that work is never finished, only abandoned.
4. Hate stage. If I’m lucky, this happens when the work is already published. I’ve learned the lines by heart and know every sentence so intimately that I can no longer “see” it, or if I have to remain consistent with my tuning fork metaphor, I can no longer hear it. I hate it at this point. It no longer holds any surprises for me and feels like dwelling on it is beyond its purpose.
When I look back on what I just wrote I think, well, all of this is true, but it’s not all of it, and this doesn’t really paint the whole picture. I’m going to stop now.
But it would be really cool to hear from you. What is your writing process? What do you think it all means?