I like to read and write, but have struggled to rekindle the passion and find the time for (more thoughtful) writing with my corporate, full-time job. I started this blog not only to encourage me to write at least weekly, but also as a home to express and articulate the observations and thoughts I’m always thinking to myself, scribbling down somewhere, or telling to my family and friends. With this blog, you’ll hear my thoughts about a range of topics, from politics to how to survive in the capitalist workplace to Shakespeare. So on to the writing: I’ve decided to start with a post on how I write.
Some write with pen and paper. Others write with speed. I write with difficulty. I know that must sound strange coming from someone with a B.A. in literature and from someone who wants to be a professional storyteller (i.e. a journalist). But it’s true.
The experiences I have had as a student-writer for my undergraduate literature courses and the experiences I’ve had as a reporter for a couple of newspapers have taught me two lessons: good writing—that which is clear and easy to follow—is always a struggle. Great writing—that which hooks your reader and begins to put them in a conversation with you—is rare.
I can say definitively that the best writing I have done has always been the product of deep thinking and brainstorming. I like to immerse myself, or drown myself, in my thoughts so that they can become germs of ideas I can use. This immersion happens at different points during my days, (emphasis on the “s”!) at different places, and with different people. I brainstorm sporadically along the trail of my morning run, slowly in between shampoos, and dreamily at my desk in the afternoon. And after each brainstorm, the minute I have access to my notepad, I pen the keywords or phrases that were in my head. The journalist in me wants to document my own handwritten record.
However, as much as I am a recorder, I am also a talker. After incubating my ideas, I have a hunger to verbally communicate them with a person I trust. Talking is an essential element in my immersion process. For me, having a dialogue with my mom, a close colleague, or friend lets me hear how my ideas sound. If I can effectively translate my thoughts to someone else, then I have a confirmation that their construction and expression is going somewhere. This dialogue helps because talking out loud immediately gives me a physical audience which keeps me conscious of my reader-audience. So, I guess I find that my writing process is sensory via sight and sound.
This pre-writing stage is probably the most fun period because it is the only time where I feel free-er in my thinking and less inhibited. The actual writing period is definitely the most difficult because as I write I critically (and some people have said unnecessarily) examine the choices I am making–from the order of my ideas down to word choice. I do this because I am constantly thinking of my reader, my audience. So, as I write I continually ask myself a series of questions, both before and after I punch out an idea: “So what? Why is this idea so crucial to communicate to my reader? And why am I putting it in this particular paragraph?” This repetitive series of questions is the reason why the writing process for me is more like encountering a bunch of dams rather than sailing down a rushing river. The process I implement is to construct, deconstruct, and then reconstruct my ideas while I write them. I am a lingerer! As a result, my laptop’s “backspace” key is now very faded from all the abuse it has received over the last five years.
I’m not exactly sure where my revision process starts and where it stops because I am continuously re-writing and re-thinking as I journey through the work I produce. Whenever I do decide I’m done with my first draft written and edited by me, I depend on having a reliable source to read through it with a fresh critical perspective that is different from my own. I find that enlisting this kind of aid is the best way I have of stepping away from my work.
I’m also unable to pinpoint which parts of a piece are the most difficult for me to compose. Beginnings? Endings? The marshy middle? It’s all of the above!
Polonius’ aphorism is the best way to describe my seemingly crazy writing process: “[t]hough this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.” Shakespeare, himself, must have had a pretty crazy process of his own. But it worked—really worked. And that’s the only reason I stick to this messy process—it’s worked so far.
What’s your writing process like? How do you deal with the blank page? Got any tips? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.