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My Writing Process on Display

Now that I’ve just completed (yes, completed!, for now…) the revision to my short story and sent it in to the editor—two days ahead of deadline—I’ve come to recognize the patterns in my writing process. Each time it seems new, the struggle. But I need to get myself used to it because it always will be a struggle, no matter what I’m writing.

I had this idealistic view of writing as involving many lovely moments of inspiration, and we all know inspiration can never ever be planned, with happy bursts of lines and a high better than any drug ever and when the finished work is produced, it is a feat in itself and many exclamation marks follow: Writing! Is! Always! Gorgeous! And! Fun!

Not so.

This theory also came about during my naive decade, when I was determined to never ever write on assignment and to always always write for my own self. The rules imposed were made hard to break because I was especially good at giving myself guilt trips.

Now that my naive decade is over, and I am writing on assignment sometimes, and off-assignment other times, and now actually in fits and starts getting published, I’ve come to see this pattern:

  1. The idea comes. So private, personal, it can’t even be spoken aloud or it will be ruined. This is okay. I don’t need to tell people what I’m writing about. They can ask “What is your new novel about?” all they want, but I am under no obligation to tell them until I’m ready.
  2. Then I’m ready. I like to get the words down on the page first before talking, and the process of getting the words down on the page would be a whole other post itself. Step 2 could take years. But once done, I have a:
  3. First draft. Always my first draft feels SPECTACULAR. It’s the prettiest thing in the room and I just can’t look away from it.
  4. That’s why it’s very, very important for me to look away from it. Drop it on the floor and leave the room, actually.
  5. I need perspective. And feedback, of course. Although I’m less inclined to rely on a workshop of twelve talking heads than send it to a couple of well-trusted people.
  6. Then I take the feedback in and do a second draft, even a third. In my other life, I’d call the thing done and throw it out into the world and, honestly, not even be able to read it again.
  7. But lately I’ve had to deal with editors. And, get this, editors have edits. Sometimes those edits are not easy to make.
  8. So I am back again to a revision, a revision Not of My Choice, a forced occupation: me and my story locked up in a hot little attic room.
  9. First I feel overwhelmed. I like to use metaphors that involve being buried. I look at days on a calendar and whimper to myself about how I have too few days and I’ll never (never!) finish in time and how in the world will I be able to do this! The overwhelming stage reaches its manic climax until…
  10. I can’t think about it anymore. If even the word revision is mentioned I will hide under the couch. My silence could last an entire night. It has lasted days.
  11. Then I force myself to do it. Complaining a lot all the while. It’s like when I was 13 and my stepfather forced me to do the dishes. Oh, the horror of the dishes, like that was the worst he ever did to me. I am very dramatic, flouncing around and letting out loud sighs.
  12. So I set to work on the revision. Because it feels forced I become very very angry. I want to scream! If I didn’t write in a public place among other writers I just might scream!
  13. I hate the story. I hate every word I am typing. I hate typing. I hate my own hands. You get the idea. (I’ve written here about my “I HATE THIS” stage before.)
  14. Somewhere amid all the hate I type a decent line. I think: Maybe this isn’t so bad after all. Maybe I can do this.
  15. Oh, but don’t be fooled. Because that one moment of confidence is always followed by double the moments of major doubt. The “I suck” “Everyone knows I suck” “Why do I even call myself a writer? I’m a no-talent hack” and et cetera and beyond.
  16. (I might cry in frustration around here.)
  17. But I have to face the doubts. I have to move through the Suck Stage into the beyond, whatever comes after sucking. The doubts can’t last forever. Dig deep down and if you really and truly want to be a writer you have to have one small ounce of confidence that allows you to keep trying. Each time I think I’ve lost it, but each time I am somehow able to find it.
  18. It could be the tiniest thing—a compliment heard in the fifth grade; a kind letter from the editor; the words of your other half—and then, snap, I’m back in.
  19. I’m typing.
  20. Then, and the moment it happens can never be planned for, I am suddenly well into it. I don’t really hate the words anymore. They’re okay. They’re not so bad. I build from there and soon I am finished and I feel like collapsing under my desk due to the emotional roller coaster I just put myself on, but it can’t be denied: the work is done.
  21. A moment is taken here, a breath.
  22. Then I send it in. And I forget the overwhelming depression that came before, the anxiety, the utter hate. It’s easy to forget when the thing’s done. It feels sort of nice now.
  23. I like it now, I really do.
  24. I hold my breath here, waiting for the response.
  25. I get ready to do it all again…

So you see I should be used to all this by now. I’m in the forgetful stage. The beating of my heart has slowed. Sure, I’m only on Step 2 with the YA novel due early October, but I’m hoping this time I remember the pattern. When I start to hate it, I just need to remind myself that it will pass. It always does. Hate can’t last forever.

I would hope.

6 thoughts on “My Writing Process on Display

  1. Reading your process made me feel very anxious! I also write on assignment, though pieces of journalism not fiction, and I go through similar phases. I loathe adding the edits, though afterwards I usually have to admit that they make a piece of writing better.

    And now, let me get to it. I’m on, let’s check, Step 3.

  2. oh, you do such a wonderful job conveying writerly angst. I recognize all the stages (perhaps because I too write on assignment and for my job and for myself?) I’m particularly well-acquainted with the “I hate this, I hate this, I hate these words, I hate my hands…” stage. It’s not a fun stage, but I’m always thankful to arrive on the ot her side of it. Good luck with all your work. Courtney

  3. On the verge of the I hate this stage right now. Reading this, I tried to focus on the “I like it now” stage at the end. Oh, the anxiety.

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