Finding Your Process
In our writing classes this week, the inevitable discussion concerning how you write came up. People have been wondering about the ‘right way to write’ since people started writing. Hundreds of books have been sold telling you the ‘right way’ to do it. And I suppose even weighing in on this process means I’m telling you what to do.
I think whatever works for you is the right way. The only downside is that there’s a line between establishing a process that gets you in the right mindset, and setting up unnecessary barriers that encourage procrastination and doubt.
Writing because you HAVE TO
This doesn’t mean working to a deadline (although that works for some) but writing because you absolutely can’t not write at this very moment. This poem ‘So you want to be a writer’ from Charles Bukowski sums up his way of thinking about it.
I agree to an extent, about not writing for fame or congratulation or love. But at a certain point, we have to work hard at it, correct it and edit it. There should be a level of work at creating something brilliant. Charles Bukowski also had ‘Don’t Try’ written on his gravestone, so to be honest, there are moments when we disagree.
I’ve reached the point where I trust my own brain to know when it has to write. Sometimes, I’ll be sitting and just have to do it. But often if we don’t give ourselves the time or space to daydream and pick up a pen, we’ll miss the window.
The Beauty of Process
There’s a reason that people associate writers will coffee. Mainly because it makes your brain work when it doesn’t want to, but also because there’s a process behind getting a cup of coffee. Whether it’s clearing your desk, making a caffetiere, walking to your local spot, or setting out your favourite cup and saucer for tea, there’s something to be said for creating a ‘ready to write’ process. If you do the same routine for weeks before writing, eventually your brain will see the pink floral tea cup and go ‘okay, better get writing then.’ You’re creating a precedent. Also, associating writing time with ‘you time’, making it enjoyable and comfortable means you’re more likely to actually do it, instead of writing blogs about how to do it for other people, like I’m doing now.
A lot of people are into this one. As above, if you associate a place with writing, that’s great and you’ll feel secure and comfortable. But what happens if you go on holiday? What if you do a residency or a writers’ retreat? What if you see something spectacular abroad and want to write, but don’t feel comfortable? Just as we must set up processes, we must also push ourselves to the edge of being awkward and unsure. We live in a digital age where everything is expected to be possible anywhere. The writer, with a pen and notebook always in bag, has had this advantage before anyone else.
Find your sacred space, but use is sparingly. Try writing in a coffee shop or a park, describe the people around you, absorb an atmosphere. Perhaps there’s a use for it.
What are you writing when you’re writing?
The different processes will change if you are working on one specific project, or are still looking for inspiration or splitting your time between projects. In which case, if you’ve been working on a novel for a year, and all your notes and charts and character details are at your desk, stick with it. I completely understand after a long time setting up a process that it feels your characters live in that room and can’t explore outside until completion. But if you do find yourself lagging, changing it up is always a good option. If you’re working on smaller projects, there’s no reason you can’t carry your writer’s room in your head (or your pocket). Often working from home can be seen as ‘I’m available for you to talk to’ or as if you’ve got a day off. It’s worth escaping that environment when possible, putting yourself in a situation where you have to be up, dressed and out the house encourages productivity and energy. (I also find it’s better for my biscuit tin).
Ignore Other People (Yes, me too)
If something works for you, then it’s working. Don’t fix it. If you want to work more regularly, then perhaps you can employ some of these ideas. If you enjoy waking up at midday to write until 6am, then go do it! If you enjoy setting aside an hour a day with a cup of tea to revisit your stories, then do so! Writers are naturally competitive people when put together, and as supportive as your fellow creatives can be, we try to believe that our way is the right way. I was convinced as a writing student that because I wasn’t writing all hours, listening to free jazz and wandering wide-eyed into the night looking for characters, that I was probably a fraud. Here is the truth of the matter: a writer writes. If you are writing and you are committed to it, then you are a writer.
More Scribble, less Drivel
I’m personally trying to adopt the theory that how much you talk about your work should be proportional to how much you actually do. There should only be ten percent ‘talking about it’ and ninety percent ‘doing it’. Mainly because no-one cares. I say this as someone who is extremely nosey and wants to help people with their creative endeavours. But if you’re talking about what your minor character-who-only-appears-in-chapter-forty ‘s family history and how it relates to nordic folklore…honestly, no-one cares about the book you haven’t written yet. Mainly because if you’ve got the energy to be explaining it to strangers, you’ve got the energy to be getting on with it. Keep your story yours, until it’s ready to be unveiled. It’s like being friends with a pregnant woman. Are you excited for her? Yes, it’s amazing. But do you want to be inundated with ultrasound pictures and baby name possibilities and all this stuff for something that isn’t even here yet? People will invest in your story (or your baby) when they arrive to speak (or be cute) for themselves. You should be creating a story that people will love because it’s good, not just because it’s yours.
So, I hope that helped those of you searching for your writerly identities. You can put down that ancient ceremonial vase and jumping around on one foot in an anti-clockwise direction now. Put down the bongo drums and throw away the roll neck jumpers. You can be who you are, and do what you do, and as long as you actually write, you are a writer. Whether you write at a desk, on your bed, in a coffee shop. Whether you type or write in expensive moleskines or scrappy pieces of paper. As long as you write, it’s working. So get going.