The Deliciously Maddening Process of Writing

Writing can be a maddening process, as many writers will attest to.  Finding the right word or the right sentence that captures perfectly the ideas in your head can be time consuming, frustrating, and seemingly hopeless, but that is precisely what makes it so deliciously rewarding when we know that we’ve chosen the right word or nailed the sentence we’ve been stressing over.

The ways in which writers go about writing are incredibly varied and sometimes strange.  I often tell my students and tutees, in the midst of discussing and exploring pre-writing strategies and drafting/revision techniques, that one of the most important lessons writers need to learn is how they work best.  And while this includes the various pre-writing, drafting, and revision practices, it also includes such factors as when they write (Morning?  Night?), the environment in which they write (A dark basement?  A bustling coffee shop?), how they write (On the computer?  With a pen?  Pencil?), what kind of stimuli they might need or need to avoid (Music?  Television?), and even how they deal with the inevitability of the days in which the writing simply isn’t working.

For me, there are certain constants that must always be present in my writing process, while others change depending on the needs or purpose of the assignment.  Pre-writing is a strategy I often use, mostly in the form of freewriting, brainstorming, or clustering, and questioning.

I need to write in complete solitude and privacy, but usually need some kind of music set to a low volume (Old Delta blues and classic rock work best for me).  On rare occasions I may put a baseball game on TV to listen to in the background, but I find that any other kind of television is a major distraction for me.

Now, the interesting part of my writing process is that I still write my first drafts by hand (pen with black ink, thank you); I simply feel as though I can organize and articulate my thoughts more effectively this way.  Though some writers still write this way, the majority find the ease of writing and revising on a computer to be much more effective for them.  They find my process strange and amusing, and when I tell them this they look at me as if I’d just told them I’ve never heard of a computer.

After the first sloppy draft, I then type what I’ve written onto the computer, making small revisions and edits as I go.  After typing my draft up, I print out a copy and read it aloud, marking the paper with question marks, underlined and crossed out phrases, chicken scratches that are supposed to be words, and an extremely primitive symbol and arrow system that tells me how I need to reorganize my thoughts.  I absolutely must see what I’m correcting and how I’ve corrected it, as opposed to simply copying and pasting in Word, or cutting something and having it disappear into the sad, dark void of the computer, never to return again (unless of course, I undo changes).

I set back to work on the computer, making the necessary revisions and edits.  Now comes the obessive part of the process:

Repeat…

Repeat…

Take a day—or a week—or a month—off and then…

Repeat…

The thing about my writing process is that it takes far more time than it would if I simply drafted, revised, and edited on the computer.  But that process does not work for me; this one does.

And again, this is the key for all of us: find an environment, a schedule, and a process that works, and follow it.  Of course, we might procrastinate, and we might force ourselves to work under stressful circumstances, particularly on the night before a paper is due, but then we’re only experiencing the maddening part of writing, and we miss the process, and we miss what’s so delicious about it.

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