Monday, April 7, 2014

The Writing Process

Every time someone learns what I do, I get the question of "but how?" along with bewildered looks.  I also get the inevitable string of "I have a great idea…" or "I keep thinking I'm going to write a book someday…"  But the question of "how" is always the one that seems simple to answer, but really isn't.

The simple answer is "put ass in chair and fingers to keyboard and get to it."  But there's actually a lot more to the writing process than that.  So I thought I'd take this opportunity (it being my blog and all) to describe the process I go through to write a story (Book-length, novella, short… It doesn't matter.  The process is the same.) in hopes that maybe it'll help some aspiring writer, or that others might realize that their own process isn't that bizarre.  Keep in mind, this is just my process, and there is no "correct" way to do this.  This is what works for me.

Step One: The Idea - Ideas come from anywhere.  Things I see, things I hear, something I ate just before I went to bed, some random bit of disturbing flotsam that comes up in a conversation… There's no telling where they come from.  I seem to live in a different world than most people, as writers do.  Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to see the things we do and write what we do.  So, for example, while walking across campus, I see a large grouping of squirrels.  Fluffy-tailed rats on meth, that's what I call them.  And as I walk by, one lifts his fuzzy head and glares at me.  Big deal, right?  But… What if they all did it.  In unison.  And they they stared as I walked past?  How creepy would that be?  Why would they do that?  What could control a bunch of crack-addled rats with such a hive mind?  Holy shit, why are they staring at me?  What do they want?  

Pictured:  Pure Unadulterated EVIL

Once that sense of dread has taken a good firm root in my psyche and I obsess over it for a few days, I move on to step two.

Step Two:  Brainstorming - Also known as daydreaming or mucking about while you get your head around the story idea.  See, the fuzzy bastards that stood up and stared… why would they do that?  Well, now's the point where I come up with my story.  Having a group of squirrels stand up and stare at you is creepy, but there's not really a story there, is there?  Why they stared…Ah, now there's the story. It's usually during this point that I'll start researching squirrels, mind control, magic, demons, and any other thing that possibly jumps into my head when I think of squirrels.  It's also about this time that I'll start driving my friends insane with weird questions about "have you ever seen a squirrel?" and "don't they creep you out?" and "what if..?" and "would you rather fight one horse-sized squirrel or a hundred squirrel-sized horses?"  and other things that insure they'll become uncomfortable and leave me alone for a few weeks until this new obsession wears off.  It is also this stage that insures that, while I don't have many friends, the ones I do are incredibly resilient and often live in the same cockamamy fantasy world that I do.  Or at least they don't mind visiting from time to time.

Step Three:  The Draft - This is the point where I'll actually put butt to chair and fingers to keys and bask in the cold pale glow of my computer as I begin to type out my opus.  I will spend hours and many late nights working on this singular idea until I'm sick of it (more on that later), often neglecting my own sleep habits and health to do so.  One thing I never do is neglect my family.  My daughter comes first, always.  So she has this annoying habit of wanting to eat or something, so I first feed her.  Then I make sure her day is complete with everything she needs.  Homework?  Check.  Parental interaction?  Check.  Dinner?  Checkity-check.  Then she goes for her nightly shower, and that's when Dad can become the writer.  I set my goal (1000 words) and stick to it.  This is where the late nights and sleep deprivation begins.

Step Four:  The Loathing - There comes a point where all us writers look at what we're writing and think "this is the dumbest thing ever."  We'll want to throw it away, trash the file, and forget we ever had such a goof-ball idea as a bunch of mind-controlled crack-rats.  But, because I've already come so far, I push on to the end, which leads to the next type of loathing.  Type one is "Loathing of the Material" or "Matloathing," if you will.  Type two is "Self-Loathing," in which all writers think "the idea is great, but I'm not good enough to write it."  It is not uncommon for writers to be found under their respective desks with a plate of Oreos or/and a bottle of rum to comfort them at this stage.

Pictured:  Actual Thoughts

Step Five:  Determined Resignation - The cookies are gone, the rum is drunk, and there it sits… The cursor on the screen.  It blinks.  It mocks.  It taunts.  The writer's temper flairs as he climbs out from under his desk and say "GODDAMMIT, THIS IS MY STORY!"  In his mind, trumpets blare and lightning crashes as he plants his butt back in his chair and attacks his keyboard.  Every stroke is hit with such force that the keyboard might explode beneath its power.  Every word is carefully considered with determination.  Every negative thought is met with hatred and spite.  He may smile during this phase.  He may cackle maniacally.  He might even shout at the screen.  But he continues on, maimed but not crippled.  Hurt but not beaten.  He works with manic abandon until, at long last, he types the words "the end."

Step Six:  Masochism - Also known as "peer review."  There is no more humbling an act that that of throwing something you've written out into the wild to have others (whose opinions you trust and respect) rip it to shreds.  Your brilliant opus then turns into a page that drips with ink-blood and lays coughing on your desk.  Do you have the faith, the fortitude to try to save it, or do you just let it die and lament its passing?  This is also where Oreos and Rum come back into play.

Step Seven:  Rewrites - Of course you're going to try to save it.  Why wouldn't you?  So you repeat steps three-through-six.  Sometimes multiple times until you get to…

Step Eight:  Submission - Your opus is perfect, beautiful in every way, and now it's time to throw it out into the wild to let the world know how brilliant you are.  You choose your venues carefully (often with a dart and a page from "Writers Market") and begin to send.  Then you wait.  As you wait, doubt creeps into your head and prompts you for more Oreos and Rum.  What if no one likes it?  What if you really are just a hack?

Pictured:  Writer in her natural habitat

Step Nine:  Rejection - Any writer will tell you that rejection is part of our way of life.  It's true.  It's also why a very large percentage of us suffer from depression and deep psychological disorders.  And yet, we keep doing it.  We keep throwing ourselves out there screaming "love me!" at the top of our lungs, and a cold world whispers back "no."

Step Ten:  Acceptance - The step that makes all of the preceding nine worth every moment.  The moment when the magic envelope (or e-mail) arrives that says, yes, we are good enough.  We are loved.


And that's my process.  What's yours?

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Scott! I can relate to the loathing and self-criticism. But then there's also the delight when you read something over that you've written and think, "Hey, that's pretty good!" I can't wait to read more of your posts!