The Process

First, it’s a feeling. Then the ideas come, maybe fully-formed, or maybe in pieces, sliding ghost-like into your head and playing in front of the walls of your mind for awhile before disappearing again. You watch them, or listen to them, or watch and listen to them, thinking about how to turn them into words. Sitting at a desk chair with one knee drawn up to your chin, staring ahead at the blank document on the computer screen, waiting until you’re sure you’ve got it before finally beginning to type.

Or maybe it’s a daily practice. Sitting down at a computer or typewriter or at a table with a stack of paper and a cup full of sharpened pencils. Carving the words out of the raw blocks of space into something recognizable and — you hope — real.

Perhaps it’s a series of stolen secret moments, notes hastily scribbled on desk calendars, scraps of paper, napkins, matchbooks, the back of your hand. The images and lines come at the strangest times, and you’ve learned from experience that you’d better write them down when they show up, because it’s no good, trusting your memory to keep them for you to write when it’s convenient.

Could be it’s like this, or maybe it’s entirely different, but each of us go about writing in our own ways. How do you do it? Longhand or typed? Late at night or early in the morning (or whenever you have time)? Do you write every day or just when the mood or need strikes you? Do you have any rituals for writing? Lucky writing shirt (or pants or socks or whatever) or do you write naked? Do you know what you’re going to write before you start or do you start writing and hope your ideas catch up with you? Do you try your best to get everything down in one go or do you write in fits and stops? Do you edit when you’re done or as you go along (or not at all)?

We talk a lot about books and what’s going on with literature, and we talk some about different aspects of being a writer. But being a writer happens differently for each of us. How do you create? What’s your process?

25 Responses

  1. 2:49 AMi mainly write in
    2:49 AM

    i mainly write in 5*3in. Mead memo books. usually i put everything from phone numbers, grocercy lists, poems, song lyrics, lines, images, names for fictional characters, driving directions etc. in them. i got this from something i read about w.c. williams and about how he wrote poems on his prescription pad or something.

    for poetry, i usually just take everything from these notebooks and after a while and try to put something cohesive together. it either comes out as a huge 10 page poem or 50 4-line poems.

    write the best at night while i’m listening to good music. dylan, neutral milk hotel, and radiohead have always been motivators.

    i usually write all day, but i do the best editing and compiling after midnight. also, now that i’m on medication it seems to be the only time when i can get my mind to race faster than my fingers.

    and i might edit a poem for a year before i’m fine with it. prose is easier.

  2. The Art and Craft of
    The Art and Craft of Writing

    First, I eat something. I love to eat. Then, if it’s Tuesday night, I watch House. Hugh Laurie is English, you know.

    The next morning, in the shower, a brilliant idea comes to me. I realize that I had the same idea yesterday morning in the shower, but had forgotten about it all day. While still naked, I jot down my idea on a pot holder with a quick-drying permanent marker.

    I go to work. I wasn’t going to tell you that, as I want everyone to think I am a full-time writer with no need for the 8 to 5 grind. Fuck it. My true friends will understand.

    That night, I log onto AOL.Radio and fire up some jazz. On Microsoft Word, I pull up three files — all different stories that I am working on simultaneously. That way, if I get tired of writing one story, I can move on to another one, and still get something done. I minimize Word and play a few games of solitaire to get loose.

    Check MySpace. Wow, friend requests. Three bands, another person with H.P. Lovecraft or Cthulhu Mythos in their name, and still another dragon-fantasy-unicorn motif. Approve them all.

    Hey, there’s Christian Crumlish on my Instant Messenger roster. I’ll badger him for a couple of minutes.

    Check my book’s ranking on Barnes & Noble. Stupid, useless mother-fucking ranking system. Nasdijj is right. The whole industry can kiss my ass.

    What was that idea I had this morning? Oh, yeah. Need more dialogue.

    Put quotation marks around shit I’ve already written and insert “said so & so.”

    I think somebody famous said that they only wrote a few sentences per day, so I’m satisfied with my accomplishment. Great lit cannot be rushed; it must be fermented in casks like fine wine, only different, because you can clean your computer with a can of compressed air, but to clean cobwebs off old barrels, you would probably use a vacuum cleaner. Make a note to incorporate this observation into a detective story.

    Now I have four stories I am working on simultaneously. The theory of probability says I will eventually finish one of them. Once that happens, I can tie the other three into the finished one, and call it a novel.

  3. processingI hope blog-writing

    I hope blog-writing counts as writing, because the sad truth is that I haven’t written much poetry or fiction lately. Just blog posts. Lots and lots of blog posts. But this feels like creative writing to me (most of the time), so I’m going to answer the question on that basis.

    The hilarious thing about my writing process is that whenever I get an idea, or come up with a good phrase or line or concept, I immediately think “I better write this down so I don’t forget it.” I then scribble it down somewhere, in a notebook, on scrap paper that I shove into my pocket, into an email I fire off to myself … and then I never, ever, ever look back at what I’ve written because, strangely, despite my fear of forgetting a great idea, I never forget a great idea. It’s as if the process of scribbling it down imprints it indelibly in my memory. So, the first step in my process is to scribble down my idea somewhere where I will never again look at it.

    Then, I let the idea germinate for a couple of days (yes, the pathetic truth is, these blog posts often involve days of advance thinking, all evidence to the contrary). I very much enjoy the process of feeling an idea take a larger and clearer shape in my mind, and letting a good line or phrase gather other good lines or phrases around it. This is probably the most satisfying part of the writing process.

    Then, finally, I sit down at my PC, usually with the TV on or a CD playing (though I won’t notice the show or the music) and bang the piece out. Then I proofread it and slave away gathering links, and then I post it. Then I read it and make a bunch of changes and fixes (for some reason, as the more eager LitKicks readers know, I always feel compelled to post a piece first, and then apply my final fixes after).

    Strange thing, when I used to write more fiction and more poetry, the process was exactly the same.

  4. If you know a better way to
    If you know a better way to carry hot wax from the Bunsen burner to the tub, I’d like to hear it.

  5. fascinatingI am fascinated by

    I am fascinated by the writing process; very pleased that Jamelah brought this subject up for discussion. I don’t have a lot to add to the discussion, other than I want to learn how people write. I wrote my last book in a few months. The process being, make characters that I want to vicariously exist through, and let them do as they please. That was fun, delightful.

    My current book is taking much longer. The characters aren’t who I want to vicariously exist through. They suffer extreme personal loss and pain, and don’t readily attract my attention. Before those two, I re-worked an old autobiographical novel. That led me to be very depressed and suicidal for quite some time.

  6. Note to Sylph: Send Bill pot
    Note to Sylph: Send Bill pot holders for Christmas!

    (just don’t forget to send me an autographed pot holder when the novel is complete)

  7. still figuring it out…But
    still figuring it out…

    But here’s the best I’ve got:

    First novella, age 19-20 – Average of five nights a week at the 24-hour university library, usually from midnight until 4 or 5. Heavily caffeinated. Tended to leave things unedited, assured that any tampering with my muse would obscure the transcendent and effortless genius of my output.

    First full-length novel, age 21-23 – Sitting on the floor of my barely furnished Las Vegas apartment with an increasingly warm laptop balanced on my knees. Strictly-regimented two-hour nightly-sessions (so sue me, I’d just read A Moveable Feast) starting as soon as I returned home from my waiter job on the Strip. Chain-smoking like crazy and leaving the ends in empty beer bottles, as I couldn’t afford such luxuries as ashtrays. Would stop as soon as the two hour-period ended, immediately reread my night’s work, become hideously depressed at how bad it was, decide that it needed endless tangential elaboration and long strings of free-associated adjectives to pad out the relevant material. Would put this off until the next night.

    Short stories and newspaper articles, current – For the latter, get up early on the day the article is due and write out all factual info and relevant quotes. Realize that I’ve written twice my word-count. Subsequently realize that half of what I’ve written is irrelevant, potentially libelous, or both. Halve article, throw in a few five-dollar words to make my readers think I’m better than what I’m writing, turn in to editor. For the former, sit on the patio of a particular cafe near Griffith Park with pen and notepad, taking unfair advantage of the endless refills on coffee, moderately chain-smoking and hoping some cute girl will be impressed enough with my industriousness to come ask me for my phone number. Upon deciding that last event isn’t going to occur after a few hours, return home and type what I’ve written on the computer, editing throughout.

    I’d like to think that’s progress. But I’m not always sure.

  8. Business As UnusualUsually, I
    Business As Unusual

    Usually, I just plunge into these things. But not this time. It took a day or two.

    I try my best not to write.


    I hate writing. I hate everything about it. I despise books.

    But I lead a very bizarre life. Beyond anything you could possibly imagine. The pieces of that particular jigsaw puzzle have never been assembled nor will they ever be. Not even by an army of Boy Reporters.

    It begins looking out the window. There is always a window. There is always something going on outside the window (to stare at), and there is always gin.

    Bombay Gin.

    I blame Everything on Queen Victoria. It is all her fault.

    After a while, everything has gone dark outside the window and the excuse that you are staring out the window (at something) holds no water. After a while, the gin goes.

    I shrug.

    You’re either going to write about it (all writers are scum) or it will surely write about you.

    It’s usually a tale far, far more twisted than anyone sane could readily believe. So I unfold the thing and turn it into simplistic lies.

    To try and understand it.

    Which is absurd.

    Writing as an act makes no sense. It is insane. Hemingway was right.

    It’s that or the gun.

    Actually, it’s often that and the gun.

    I write the thing. I change my name. And then I move to some other country.

    Most of them sell gin.

  9. Well, I love both books and
    Well, I love both books and writing, and I really like the way you wrote this. It comes across as a concise, self-aware summary of your unique personality. A top notch job, even if you didn’t like doing it.

  10. I think blog writing counts
    I think blog writing counts as writing, because if it doesn’t, then I don’t really do any writing anymore.

    I email stuff to myself that I can’t be bothered to look at later all the time. I really do think that the act of writing things down does help to cement our ideas, though my problem is that I often don’t do anything with the ideas I have (and write down) so I come across them six months later and wonder why I’ve been hanging onto a scrap of paper that says “MUSTARD!!!”

  11. Mustard, huh … maybe you
    Mustard, huh … maybe you were going to compose a comment on Buddha’s famous Parable of the Mustard Seed. Or maybe you were hungry.

    It’s altogether possible that this writing down of ideas or emailing of ideas (which is then never looked at again) actually helps us remember. That is, if I never write it down, I won’t remember it, even though once I write it down I won’t need to read it to remember it. Because I think I may have forgotten some things I haven’t written down (and they were great, too). I just never forget stuff I do write down.

  12. Good response, thanks. I
    Good response, thanks.

    I think that processes change, perhaps as a reflection of maturity (seems that not editing effortless genius is a side-effect of being 19), and also perhaps because of the types of writing we’re doing at any given time.

  13. To demythologise thenI have
    To demythologise then

    I have to be angry. Politically. And yet the motivation has to be _sub specie aeternitatis_; to do with the relatively eternal: method or canons of practice or &c.—Reason drives me and is lame.

    If I’m particularly demotivated I have to smuggle my writing into a letter. I have a vast archive of letters and about 30 pages of solid writing from the last two years. I am often demotivated.:) (Of course epistly maintains the function of contradictory address – even if only tropically.)

  14. We should call it the “Asher
    We should call it the “Asher Uncertainty Principle” to go along with Heisenberg’s quantum uncertainty principle.

    “Whenever you remember something you wrote down, you will never know if you would have remembered it otherwise.”


  15. Insomnia and CoffeeI am
    Insomnia and Coffee

    I am suddenly awakened by a keen idea and I rush to the dining table where I write and scribble down a few lines. If I am absolutely bursting I’ll make up a boldly roasted pot of coffee and start pecking away at the laptop. It is hard for me to define a particular process- the creation seems to be based on (usually gleeful) emotion.

  16. processGreat topic,If an idea

    Great topic,
    If an idea hits me and I carry it around for a couple of days and it wont go away while I`m doing other things, I know it`s good enough to consider.
    Then its time to write it out, as fast as makes sense. Sometimes I smoke a joint.
    Then I go back, proof it, save it for a couple more days, read it again(sober) and ususallly “do it.”
    I know thats probably not very sophisticated, but I dont give a shit about that, in process.

    I prefer NOT to be a craftsman with this process.

    Nice thoughts and feelings, btw

  17. Constant PracticeI carry pen
    Constant Practice

    I carry pen and paper and take notes. I try to write a thousand words a day in my notebook. With my new schedule this will be much less, but I fill up the notebooks. My first edit is tearing the pages out. My second edit is when I type them up on the PC. Third is an F7 spell/ grammar check and then another read. What’s life is dreck that’s not absolutely dreadful.

  18. Bill, funny. I usually have
    Bill, funny. I usually have half a dozen “themes” going at once too.

  19. First Thought, um,what was I
    First Thought, um,

    what was I thinking?

    Almost exclusively these days I write on my iBook G4. I try not to edit until later, except for sense–the right word instead of the typo–keep my hands moving and write the images that glow in my mind. Which I thought was odd until I read Linda Gregg and Margaret Atwood did it. I thought I was really nuts. When I am not drinking at the keyboard I walk and chant and take a few notes drinking coffee as I go.

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