I have come upon many articles, blog posts, comments, essays and other documents on the curse that is known as the process of writing. That process, no matter how simple some people think that it may be, is one hell of a process that can make or break a piece.
Many writers, myself included, usually sit down with hundreds of ideas running through their mind. It is up to the writer to determine which idea will get to be put on the pedestal. That idea, whatever it may be, undergoes a process so drastic that it can only be compared to liposuction, pumping creatine and steroids, using bodywraps to chop some of the weight, and then being filled with unnatural substances that will enhance the overall appearance.
Sure, you may laugh at my description, but each writer that reads this will likely nod their head in a manner of agreement, lightly utter the words: ‘So true,’ before giving a sigh, and then move on to read what comes next.
Non-writers think that we writers come up with the thousands of words to describe our ideas and thoughts so easily. We must have some kind of a trick up our sleeve that allows us to write whatever it is that comes to mind, whenever we like, no matter how we feel. I’m here to say, loudly and proudly: Like hell!
What we writers do is not just something that happens as naturally as breathing and thinking. It is a process that we began many years ago when we learned the alphabet and have since been crafting toward perfection. Still, many of us may be complete novices, unsure of what direction we want to take our writing in or what we ultimately want to write about. We may know how we want to write, and sure, we want everyone (or just about everyone) to love what we write, but we know, as writers, that it’s impossible to please everyone, all of the time.
Many of us have our own way of doing what it is that we do. Some of us have a routine that we have come to respect, though we may not understand why it works for us. Some of us sit down with no intentions at all, and happen to spout off the next best article that will be read in the New York Times newspaper. Sure. We wish it was that easy.
There is a process that each of us go through in order to take what we think to ink on the paper, or pixels on a monitor. Without this process, the thought remains a vague idea that others will never know about. Each process is as unique as the person who employs it, which is the sole reason, I think, that each writer is unique in their own way.
I have personally sat down many times to describe the process that I use in which I come up with ideas in a creative manner to figure out what I am going to write about. I have thousands of ideas per day; maybe even thousands per hour. Still, I have found it nearly impossible to cover every aspect of how I come up with ideas; how I turn that abstraction into words; how I turn those words into something meaningful, and then into something that can then be delivered to others in an understandable fashion.
In the next few paragraphs, I will try my best to keep from rambling. I will focus as best I can to get to the facts of the process that I use, and I will try to explain it in a manner that you, as a reader, will be able to understand once your eyes lay upon it. Ready? Then, let’s get started. Umm. After I take in a deep breath and slowly release, that is.
Being a creative writer, a writer of mostly poetry and fictional stories made up of characters who introduce themselves to me when they choose to do so, I usually find it easiest to sit back with as clear a mind as I can produce. This usually allows my mind to wander in order to meet the characters and it allows me to see them in the situation that they’re currently living.
Once I have been introduced, I consider their story and what it entails. If it’s interesting, I may take notes or jot down some ideas that I have. I may also sit back and let their story unfold, watching it much the same way people watch a movie in a theatre.
Ideas begin mixing with other thoughts. Characters come and go, introducing others shortly after their arrival. Then, the whole plan comes to mind, I can hope.
Once I have a couple characters, or at least a reasonable scenario that lacks characters, I have something to work with. I have a starting point. From that point, it’s time to search for whatever it is that I am lacking. If I have a stage with no entertainers, I know I need entertainers. If I have entertainers without a stage… exactly; I need to find their stage.
At this point, it likely seems rather boring because it would seem that I know all of the characters in play; I know where their lives take place and what will soon come to pass. However, boredom is not at all the case here. Actually, I know very little about the characters. I know very little about the location that they’re in and what’s actually going on in their lives. This is the part that all of it comes together to make more sense, even for me.
So, I sit back and allow the story to control itself; the pages fill with words on their own, and shortly, I’ll be able to file it away without ever even reading what the characters wrote. — Ahhh. Yeah, right. If only it were that easy.
It’s at this time that I can expect my characters to do something. I then have to pay attention to what they do and how they do it in order to learn more about them. Questions begin rising from that dark void in the back of my mind, and I have to find answers to questions that will ultimately tell me who these characters are, where they come from, what type of background they have, and what I should expect from them.
I try to get to know my characters just as I would someone I’ve met in person. I look for their flaws, their quirks, the way they handle themselves in various situations, and finding these things slowly unfolds who they are and where they’re going.
At times, I have no choice but to begin writing on a blank monitor or a blank sheet of paper, beginning with the only things that I know about them. In some cases, I have a first name; in others, I know only a little bit about where they are currently standing. From this point, I listen to the character and watch their actions, come whatever may.
Forcing a story onward is one way to handle writer’s block, but forcing anything usually turns out to have a negative impact on the whole. So, I think it’s better to relax and allow the story to unfold in its own time, in its own way. I steadily wait, watching and listening.
Once I have several paragraphs and it feels like a good time to stop, when I know what happens next, I will scan back through everything that I have written. I will naturally look for misspellings and the like, but I also look for places that seem inappropriate to the story – those sections that jump out and beg the question: How does this fit in?
Editing is usually best done after the first draft has been completed. The rough draft is named so for a reason. It’s there to simply guide what is going on; it’s not concrete stonework that is no longer malleable. It also doesn’t hurt to do minor editing on unfinished pieces, in my opinion, because it’s better to catch them early on.
If the story seems capable of reaching several chapters, then I will pause every few chapters or so to go back through the course of events to see if there is something that jumps out at me. My critical eyes scan and spot the could-be-mistakes and my writer’s mind determines on the fly whether it should stay or go.
It’s not until there is quite a bit of work that has been written that I sit down and change my hat. I’ll take off the hat labeled ‘Writer’ and leave it rest for a bit while I wear the ‘Proofreader’ hat, and continue looking through the piece for spelling and grammatical errors. Another pass through the piece wearing my ‘Copyeditor’ hat, and I should have the green light to begin writing the story again, listening mainly to the characters instead of trying to force the story along.
During any breaks, whether they be rest breaks, coffee breaks, or snack breaks, it is always best to step away at a point when you, as the writer of the story, knows what is going to happen next. After a break of even five or ten minutes, allowing your mind the time it needs to think about other things, it can be very frustrating to return to a piece and know nothing of what comes later. So, keep in mind that you will always step away when you know what will come next.
This, as I have explained so far, is the basic routine that I follow when I sit down to write my poems, essays, short stories, and just about everything else. Of course, with my own personal journals and the like, I’m more relaxed about spelling and grammatical errors, especially while I’m writing during a period of exhaustion. I will go back through to read and look over it at a later time, but I will not change anything; usually. I leave personal notes and journal entries alone, though I take a mental note of any mistakes that I have found, so I will know to keep an eye open for them when I sit down to write the next time.
I have spent many years writing, in and out of school, and have gathered many tips and tricks of the trade during my lifetime as a writer. I’ve molded and shaped many of the tips that I have learned so that they may better suit my needs and purpose, and have done away with the tips that are of no use to me. As writers know, there is just some information that is of no use when it comes to specific details; they’re either helpful or they hinder.
As a writer, I suggest to other writers that you find what works for you. Shape and mold the techniques to better suit your needs and purposes. Use them as you need them and do away with what doesn’t work for you. Always keep your audience in mind while you’re writing; they’re the true inspiration of any written work. If the ideas and thoughts that you’re writing about are worth telling others, then they should be presented in such a manner that readers won’t have to struggle in order to understand the information you’re trying to provide.
With all that I have written so far, let me just add that you, as a writer, should continue to polish your craft learning what you are able to learn when and how you’re able to learn it. May you have many happy days of writing.