Sunday, March 11, 2012

How Do You Do That Thing We Do?

How do you do it? This is a question I want to ask. To ask and receive honest, lengthy, magnificent answers. I have been reading about four books at once over the last few weeks, some of them about the process of writing, some of them personal essays, some of them the finished product. There are similarities across the board that I find intriguing. For instance, any successful writer that I have read about says that if you want to write well you have to read a lot, you have to write a lot. Most of them say you have to enjoy it. Most of them say that it's something akin to a necessity in their lives. All of those I understand.

I read a lot. I read a lot of different kinds of things. I read a lot of wonderful blogs. But when we read, we're seeing a finished product. If it's well written, we're not really seeing the process that goes into it. The sort of writing (both my own and others') that I get tired of quickly is the sort that seems overly thought out - overwrought - writing that tries too hard. I do this to myself all the time when I'm writing and have an Unpublishable Post Graveyard and journals full of tiresome nonsense. I figure if it bores or irritates me, certainly no one else would want to read it. But there is a process, nonetheless. We don't want to see the bones of that process in the finished work, but it's there. What is your process? Do you have one? What do you do when you sit down to write? How do you do it?

These are things in which I am sincerely interested. So, it's audience participation time again. How do you write? Where do you get your inspiration? Do you wait for inspiration or do you just sit down and write because you have to? Do you compose on the computer or on paper? When do you edit? How much do you edit? How much do you just scrap altogether? Does your brain shut down when you write? Or are your senses alive? Do you know where you're going when you start?

So many of you have such great blogs with such vastly different subject matter, voices and styles. Some are storytellers. Some are observers, synthesizers and reporters. Some are more journalistic. Some read like a frank and open diary. I'm curious. How do you do it? How do you write?

Leave it in a comment, make it a post, explain it in interpretive dance and video tape it, whatever strikes your fancy - I truly am curious. 

58 comments:

  1. Ohhhh - I will be SO curious to read what people say. When I blog, I just sit at the computer and try to notice what comes into my mind. When I wrote my first blog post back in November, it was very challenging. It's still hard because I don't really know what my focus is or who the audience is, so I kinda blindly go with it.

    Currently, I'm a bit frustrated. I'd like to grow as a writer and I'd love some sort of great book or workshop that would help me develop. (I have not sought anything out, though I've considered doing that)

    When I blog, I don't revise or edit - I'm sloppy. Or perhaps not so sloppy as I just don't think I'm growing. Writing is becoming easier, but I'm not really stretching myself.

    When I write papers for graduate classes or things of that caliber, I rarely outline. I see that type of writing as rolling out the dough. The dough is created somewhere in the back of my head over several weeks where I play with the ideas and thoughts and central flavors. When I sit down to write it out, I roll it forward and then go back and roll it forward again and again - each time going back to the beginning.

    It will be great to see what others say AND to hear if anybody has suggestions on resources to improve and grow as a writer!

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    1. Funny bit is when I read your blog, eliselorraine, I think something along the lines of, "Coool. She's got it together. Great thoughts and great advice..." I would never have thought that you're frustrated, or that you feel like you're stagnating? Interesting, interesting. Thanks for your open honesty.

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    2. Hmmm - well that is a fun thing to read! Thanks for your feedback. I think blogging is an odd phenomena because one doesn't really know who is reading nor what they are thinking. Conversations are SO much easier!

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    3. I have the same struggle with blogging, Elise. It feels sloppy, there is not a whole lot of challenge to it for me. I fear the workshop and all that entails. I have read some good books on the subject of writing, but sometimes the most useful books are just well written books in the genre that you write.
      I love your blog. You are so concise and very clearly and endearingly address whatever your topic is.

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    4. And I love the image of dough!

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  2. This is a great thinking-post. I try to write daily, but it's getting to the point that I don't really think about the process much, I just do it.

    But it's nice to ruminate over the process.

    Computer, for me, when I'm story-ing, because I seem to be able to keep up with my thoughts a little better. When I'm journaling, though, or writing notes for stories, it can be anything: paper, the back of my hand, a handy cookbook.

    I've just finished the first-draft of my first novel, and I'm in the "put it in the drawer and don't look at if for a couple of weeks" stage. Then I'll go back and edit. I've tried not to edit it much up to this point. I just wanted to get it out of my head and onto paper.

    I'm attending a writing conference this coming weekend where they talk about editing and re-editing, in fact, and I wanted to write about it the week after that. Please come see then?

    And please come see now -- I started my blog originally to document the process of writing my first novel. I'd love it if you came by to see some of my thoughts, habits, stumbling blocks, etc.

    Meanwhile, I'm very much loving yours. Thanks for this.

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    1. Congrats on completing a novel. That is a feat, indeed. I'll be interested to see what you glean from your editing workshop. It seems editing is the harder part sometimes.

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  3. One of the biggest benefits I've received from blogging is completing pieces. Most of my posts are pretty short given the subject matter of my blog but I have done the occasional essay piece too. Like you said, I have a graveyard of unfinished work (regretfully some are forever lost due to a non backed up macbook hard drive mishap two years ago...I'm a diligent backer upper now). Blogging also taught me to write when I don't feel like it. I just write, even if it's as dry as the desert and then go back and edit, and edit again.

    I'm still struggling with the novel writing and am debating on doing something like NaNoWriMo to break that block (write a novel in a month with abandon, no backing up and deleting or abandoning the project, just write, write, write).

    Have you read The Artist's Way? I haven't finished yet but it's a great source as well.

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    1. I have read the Artist's Way. It has been a long time, I should probably revisit it.
      I am fascinated by all of these thoughts and processes. Thank you so much for sharing yours.

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  4. You may have inspired a blog post, Missy! In the mean time, thank you for gathering up the collective advice to read a lot and write a lot, to enjoy it and accept the cellular importance of reading and writing! : ) Have a great day, talk to you soon.

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  5. Haha, since my blog is so trivial and random, I just sit down and start typing, not really knowing what will come out! If I were a more serious and prolific writer as you are, I would have a more serious and profound answer!

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    1. Weeds proliferate, too. Doesn't mean that very many people want them around. :)

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  6. What a great question! Something we all probably wondered. I know I did.
    Sometimes the ideas for a post just come to me (late at night is very common). Others, I have to go looking for. I tend to find inspiration by reading other's blogs (yours, cjane), not so much for subject matter, but because reading really good writing sort of sets my mind into writing mode. Does that make sense? I do read A LOT, but since reading Stevie's book, I can now call it research. =0) Many times, I'll start a post with one idea and it finishes in a completely different way. I love those kinds of surprises.
    I don't edit my blog posts too much, though I do try to let it sit, and then read it over, and over, before I hit 'publish'. When my husband sees me doing this, he thinks I'm strange. "Are you reading what you just wrote?" Yes, yes I am.
    As for fiction, I'm a 'fly by the seat of my pants' kind of girl. (As you probably noticed by reading it.) Then, I go back and look at it with a more critical eye.

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  7. It's a cool question. I am in my second month of NaBloPoMo. Posting on my blog every day is showing me my own process, clarifying to me what I do and how I do what I do.

    I've been trying to explain that process in my blog as I go along and get these insights, since my blog is mainly about writing and editing.

    I do a fair amount of revising and editing for most posts, because although I believe great writing comes from talent, that talent can always be polished, expanded, nurtured, explored, and pushed to the edge. Isn't that the fun of being a writer?

    I wind up spending way more time on my posts than I ever expected to. I know there is nothing wrong with them the first time around, they speak clearly enough. But I like to work them until they sing...

    I'm planning to post a "before" and "after" one of these days -- explaining why I changed what I changed, and how my creative process worked. (I do editing professionally. I think learning to self-edit is the most important skill a writer can develop.)

    I'll let you know when it's up there.

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    1. Leslie, you have so many good ideas. I'm with you on the whole spending too much time on posts thing, but I also know what you mean about wanting them to sing.

      There's good writing, that makes you think. And then there's art, that makes you think and wonder and cry. And let's not forget, smile.

      I so want to see your "before" and "after." Again, what a good idea.

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    2. Love the before and after idea. I agree with you about the self-editing. It's a challenge at times.
      "But I like to work them until they sing..." that's the whole point, isn't it? I love that image.

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  8. Great post! Thank you! I started my blog late last year when I was going through a HUGE transition in my life. I couldn't find any support for myself and I had heard once "if you can't find what you are looking for, create it yourself". It's scary though to put myself out there yet I force myself to so that I'm not alone. My thoughts for blog posts come from trying to let the rest of the world know what it's like to be in my spot. To help others understand. To help me understand. This month is the first time ever I ventured out further in the blogosphere by participating in NaBloPoMo and it's giving me a chance to know other bloggers and having others know me!
    I'm glad I found you today... I need to read what you and others had to say!

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    1. You have a very unique blog and I'm so glad that you started it! I'm sure it was quite a risk, but I'm fascinated by how much is universal across all relationships, even ones that seem uncommon. Thank you for heading this way! I'm so glad you did!

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  9. Writing to me is .. well. It's something I never knew I craved and needed but that I now enjoy immensely. Some weeks there's an abundance of juicy post worthy words and thoughts that stumble into my brain sometimes one by one, others in a stampeding way. I've noticed the more I write, the more my brain produces these juicy thoughts and words. I don't edit until I'm finished. Then I read it all, and edit it all. Sometimes twice, sometimes thrice. But only for spelling or grammar mistakes. I don't like editing my thoughts, I feel it gets overworked and strays from the original too much. For inspiration, I choose photos, or read a blog post or two, or simply stare at the blank screen and type. Sometimes I go to a Thesaurus to find a pretty word or two. Sometimes I mutter, stutter, and spew out random thoughts and those turn into "just because I had/wanted to" posts. I feel those are necessary. And sometimes, they surprisingly bring about much feedback. I don't like reading, or researching/studying about writing. Perhaps that means I'll never grow or evolve. It doesn't matter. Writing is a form of creative outlet. I don't want to begin adding techniques and scientific names to what I do. I write. That's label enough. I don't plan on writing a novel. I'm selfish. For now I want to keep any small story I make up in my head to myself. I write little things here and there. Bigger things would bore me. Who knows, maybe someday they won't.

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    1. I agree with you so much on so many of these things. Thank you for chiming in! I'm fascinated!

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  10. I feel a little bit like I shouldn't answer this question, like it's not directed toward me. Regardless, that doesn't mean I don't have an answer of my own, or that I don't want to explore and find out.

    I *want* to write something every day. Some days, it's a note to myself. Some days, it's something I want to share with my bloggy peeps. Some days, it's just a list.

    I think this does launch its own post. In short, my inspiration often grabs a hold of me and shakes me until I let the words tumble out of my brain onto paper or keyboard. Once I give in to that inspiration, it keeps following me. It's very much like a craving for me. I think I want a piece of chocolate. If I have a piece of chocolate, I'm just going to want another and another. But this craving is much kinder to my hips. Maybe. ;-)

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    1. great analogy -- the chocolate bit -- though for me it's not so much kinder on my hips because, due to my craving, I end up sitting a lot more than I need/should.

      Though certainly the chocolate I'm eating while sitting isn't helping the situation either. Heh.

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    2. I'm with you, db. I sit way too much. One great thing about blogging, no one sees how big your hips actually are.

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    3. You're crazy, M. Why wouldn't it be directed at you? Do you not write?! I think not.
      It is a craving, isn't it?
      I don't worry about my hips as long as they keep walking me around like they should.

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  11. To write fiction, I banish my internal editor and give myself permission to write whatever the hell kind of crap I want. I write anything that comes, all sorts of false starts and dead ends, until eventually something begins to make itself known more tangibly. There are good days and bad and I don't worry about the bad. I use "The Writer's Book of Days" sometimes for prompts. When I blog, I try to find the humor or the truth, and write toward that. And I always remember Martha Becks's advice that "to rest when you are tired is as important for creativity as to work when you are inspired". (I quote loosely). How do YOU write, Lou?

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    1. I shall have to check out "The Writer's Book of Days". Sometimes I find prompts itchy and confining. Other times they are just what I needed.
      I agree with your loosely quoted quote. I think I have read that in some form somewhere, too.
      I will write a post about it, I suppose, but I write like most other people.

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  12. I compose on a word processing program and just write, usually using a writing prompt to direct my thought process. Then I edit, edit, and edit some more until I get something that pleases me. :D

    Kathy
    http://gigglingtruckerswife.blogspot.com

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    1. So simple and direct! That's how it works most of the time, isn't it? Thank you for sharing!

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  13. I thought this would be easier to explain than it is! When I have an idea, I must write it down. I could be at work or church or in the car, and that is why my purse is full of wisps of ideas, in the form of crumpled paper with smudged writing. Sometimes it is not just a brief idea, and I have been known to write an entire blog post on the back of my church bulletin. Slightly ashamed of that but the sentences just formed so perfectly in my mind, I couldn't risk forgetting them! I had the "flash" as Emily of New Moon said.

    I edit; I delete; I add the phrase I just took out; I spell check a million times; I save it as draft if it just isn't quite working. I have about 40 drafts and from time to time I go back and force one of them to come up to par. And I have once permanently deleted a post on my blog after several months of secretly hating it.

    And as my daughter can attest, it's not just my blog posts that I spend so much time on. It's commenting on fellow blogs too! I write, I delete, I ask her how to spell something.....whether it's a comment, a blog post, a letter to my Grandpa, I care about the words I write and I try to find just the right ones to express the feeling in my soul.

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    1. Ditto. It reminds me of the Thomas Mann quote "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."

      I have a reputation at work for writing the "best" progress notes and other documentation, but anyone who has actually SEEN me doing it has teased me mercilessly about all the deleting, backspacing, and rearranging I do before I hit print. I just care a lot. Maybe too much. :)

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    2. So glad to know I'm not the only one who edits comments on other blogs!

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    3. Such interesting stuff. There is too much to respond to here only in the comments. I am loving this interaction and discussion so much! I will have to turn it all into a post. Thank you so much for all of the openness and sharing! This is wonderful!

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  14. Great question. Because I made the decision to blog every day for a year (I only had a couple of lapses), I've gone the range. Some days I sat down with notebooks full of ideas and half-cocked entries. Other days, I sat down without any idea of what I'd be writing. No matter what, the best advice I ever got about writing was: "keep writing. every day. until you die."

    My only question: do grocery lists count?

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    1. I ask myself the same question some days! I think sometimes the grocery lists are a work of art in themselves.

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  15. It's always different. Sometimes a perfect, clean post comes and other times it's best left to simmer and reflect upon before I push the publish button. Sometimes something funny I think of will expand into a post and sometimes I get out a drawing I've done and write a story but there is always emotion to begin with. Writing every day is a good idea, even if it isn't published. Now I'm writing less it seems more difficult.

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    1. I do find that, as well. Some days it seems like a drag to write, but it ends up being more of a drag if I don't. You are lucky to have your drawings to draw from. My stick figures don't have much inspiration in them most times. :)

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  16. You made me have to write a whole post to answer you. http://faithinambiguity.blogspot.com/ Thanks, Lou!

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    1. http://faithinambiguity.blogspot.com/2012/03/writing.html
      I guess this URL would be more useful. What a dork.

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    2. Such a lovely dork you are. I love your post! So many thoughts and this comment box is so small.

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  17. This is a great post (and excellent comments)! My own response is percolating and will probably emerge as a blog post of my own.

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    1. Excellent! It is a fascinating discussion, isn't it? I'm excited to see what you come up with!

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  18. My blogging is usually done by just sitting and typing about either what pops into my head, or what I've been mulling over for a while. It's a frustrating process though, because I often think of a post idea and then compose half of it in my head- while driving or doing something/being somewhere that prevents me from writing it down, getting it out. And it's never as good the second time around.

    With writing (as in academic work, random articles, pieces for other people, etc.), I always go from beginning to end, which is the most time-consuming way to do things. Most people I know will come back to the introduction at the end. I need to sit and stare at a screen for hours sometimes...it all has to be planned out in my head before ever beginning to type. And the introduction has to be perfect before I can move on, even if that page alone takes me several days. Once I'm over that first section though, everything just comes pouring out.

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    1. I can certainly relate to that. Introductions are so very, very hard for me.

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  19. Part of my process must be stewing over certain topics because I've been thinking about this one since I first read the post yesterday. I think I have more than one answer based on whether we're talking about blogging or other writing. I will try to answer it a post sometime this week. Great topic. And like several others, I look forward to hearing your answer to some of these questions as well. :)

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    1. I look forward to your post. I am truly intrigued. Re: your earlier comment: I used to get so behind on my reporting at work for very much the same reasons. They had to be readable, interesting, and true. I could not just toss something off in the same words week after week.

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  20. Arrrrrgggh! The urge to print out the comments page and take data on various writing practices is overwhelming. This is why I can't ever get to cleaning my baseboards. What mental disease is that??? Also, I am too busy carefully editing the comments I make on other people's blogs to do such things. Because the written word is a sacrament to me. A sacrament that involves cussing and whining and artfully dissing my loved ones. Sacred work, I tell you.

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    1. Sacred indeed.
      Baseboards? You're supposed to clean those?! Another failure as a human being for me.

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  21. That was a LOT of fun. Thank you! :)
    http://www.alphabetsalad.com/how-i-do-that-thing-i-do/

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    1. This is fabulous! If it's all right with you, I may link some of these up in a post.

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  22. Finally, I wrote a response to you:

    http://sebtown294.blogspot.com/2012/03/why-write.html

    I had fun writing it!

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    1. I had fun reading it! I'm thinking of doing a link-up post with these responses if that's all right with you.

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  23. Good post and great responses too.

    I can attest to Tara's spending hours writing and editing her posts...but then it shows in her writing, which is, in my opinion, fantastic.

    I on the other hand let good ideas carry my writing, which is, I think, OK.

    I read as much as I can, but have a "reading disability" and I know there is no such thing, technically speaking, due to the fact that reading is a newly evolved skill and not one that we are "designed for" so therefore we can't be disabled in that arena (squirrel)...anyway, I spend a lot of time talking with people about interesting ideas. I argue with them, solicit their feedback, ask them if they've considered some point of view that the person down the hall shared with me and from that, I get some idea of what I want to write about.

    Then I sit down and write something...I work on it as I go catching as many errors as I can (thank the spirits for spell checker). My wife claims that I don't know how to use commas (she is probably right...but I prefer to think that after she removes my commas, Strunk and White are turning over in their graves!)

    Then, I click publish...at this point, I re-read it, in a self satisfied sort of way and find dozens of errors, so I go edit it and fix things...invariably, I re-write some stuff. A bit of copy and paste, some thesaurus.com and publish again. Re-read...oh crap more errors, new ones from my re-write. You get the idea!

    My writing isn't as polished as most "real writers" but I do believe the ideas carry it to a place of being worth reading.

    When it really shines, is when I get to speak publicly though...there is where my talent lies.

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    1. Public speaking is a talent that few have. It is closely connected to writing, but in a very different way than some other things are. I enjoy public speaking way more than private speaking, actually.
      I like the idea of letting the ideas carry the work. Written like a true speaker!

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  24. Lots of interesting things on your blog. I will definitely have to spend more time here!

    My process is most similar to Micheal Adams (with the exception of discussing with people). I am a bit more of an isolated mommy introvert. I do keep a running list of things I want to post about but I don't always use it. I am inspired by my kids, nature, and what other's create. I am also dyslexic and think of what I do as sharing ideas more than writing. I have to proof read at a snails pace multiple times to find mistakes.

    I do love it more than anything though (even the writing)!

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    1. Glad you are liking what you are reading! Your blog is beautiful. I love your drawings! Thank you for stopping by!

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Thanks for reading and taking the time to say hello!