The Five Truths of My Writing Process

The writing is not happening. Even though I try not to get caught up in the New Year’s resolution “live your best life” hoopla, every January I still secretly think maybe this is the year I will finally get my shit together. But here’s the thing about shit: it likes to spread itself around and stink up everything. And once it gets into the carpet, well, it’s never coming out. Too much? Right, too much. My point is, I will never have my shit together because life is messy and unpredictable and I have to learn to deal with it. (A zen master I am not.) However, I’m not a victim of circumstance either. I can buy some bleach and get a new carpet. What I need to do first is get real about my writing process and what I need in order to make the writing happen. So I made a list, and I’m sharing it with you here because the Internet loves lists almost as much as cat videos and trolling.

  1. I’m a ruminator. Before I ever sit down to write I’m reading and thinking and reading some more. For me, ideas come together over the course of days, weeks, or months depending on the length and complexity of the project. All writing requires some amount of research and reflection but my process is on an extreme end of that axis. I remember sitting on the floor of the stacks in the college library surrounded by books and journals, one of the few undergrads in my cohort who spent weeks researching a paper topic and ruminating over the results before ever committing a word to paper. After 25 years of writing this same way, you’d think I’d have made peace with this part of my process but I haven’t because it means…
  2. I’m slow. I will never be prolific. Or efficient. Or productive. Or any of those other words that our capitalist brains equate with success. Whenever I hear someone say, “I need to find an hour to sit down and bang out a blog post,” I start to feel like Veronica in Heathers. For me, writing has never been about broadcasting what I already know to be true. Instead, it’s a process of mulling over ideas, bringing them together in the same space like a chemistry experiment, and watching what happens. Sometimes the results are reactive, producing exciting results, and sometimes the words lie inert requiring me to begin the experiment again. No matter what the result, the process is never quick, thus…
  3. I require long stretches of quiet, uninterrupted time. I am writing this at a coffee shop, desperate to finish in the 30 minutes I have left before I have to pick up my youngest child at preschool. I started writing this the previous afternoon and worked on it again for an hour before bed but was too exhausted to finish. The idea for this post has been percolating in my head for about a week (the ruminator at work), and all I wanted was a solid afternoon to work it out on paper, but as usual I didn’t get that uninterrupted time. I feel disjointed, pulled apart in directions that serve others but not me or my writing. The pressure of only having 27 more minutes to finish this post is stirring up all sorts of anxiety because I am already behind deadline, because the writing feels rushed and strained, because…
  4. I’m a perfectionist. When I was working as a professor and giving presentations at conferences, I would inevitably end up revising my talk up to the moment I walked in the door of the conference hall. No matter how hard or how long I worked, I couldn’t let it go until the moment I had to open up my mouth and speak. I needed to know I had taken every opportunity to make it as perfect as possible. This is debilitating when there is no precise moment in the space-time continuum that requires me to release my writing to an audience. I hold on to it because then no one has to see the flaws but me. I convince myself the writing’s not ready, but really it’s me who’s not ready. Perfectionism is born out of fear—the fear of judgement, of ridicule, of not being enough. But despite all I’ve that, this is the truest item in my list:
  5. I’m happier when I write. Once this post is finally finished, my mind will be clearer, my body calmer, and my spirit lighter. It doesn’t matter if only one person reads it (hi, Mom!), my world will be better. And a body in motion tends to stay in motion, so the more I write the more likely I am to continue. And the more likely I am to conquer my other fears too. For example, after a successful writing session this week, I got in the car and went to my doctor’s office for a walk-in flu shot (something I hate and should have done in November) and scheduled my annual physical (something I’ve been putting off for a month). Writing is a way of asserting ourselves, of saying “I have a right to be here, to say things, and be heard.” When we assert our right to exist, self care and self-interest follows. Women have internalized the message that we should not value our own needs or ideas, and that internalization relies on our silence. Writing is a weapon we can use against the patriarchy. Every time we write we get a little bit stronger, a little bit braver.

This weekend, take some time to write (however you can get it), and assert yourself. I’ll be right there with you wielding my pen.

6 thoughts on “The Five Truths of My Writing Process”

  1. I’m a ruminator, too. I often think about blog posts or my book when I’m driving, showering, walking, or vacuuming. I have conversations with people about what I want to write about.

    One of my favorite parts of my recent writing retreat was having so much quiet alone time to ruminate on my ideas about my book – not just the content, also the book itself. How I want readers to approach it, think about out, read it, use it. I don’t often give myself that much uninterrupted time. It was glorius!

    1. I always think of the best lines when I’m in the shower where I can’t write them down, and then I can’t remember them by the time I get out! When I was writing my dissertation (my last book-length project), I relied on mini writing retreats to get things done. So glad you are able to give yourself that time. Your book is going to be amazing!

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