the writing process

The Benefits of Writing Crap (A Reminder)

DeskbytheseaLast weekend, I was at my desk.

I had just started a new chapter.  (I'm almost to the halfway point in my WIP, so I'm well into the dreaded muddle of the middle.)  And I was throwing horrible combinations of words at the page.   Really, when I say horrible, I mean horrible.

Feeling a little, um, less than happy with my work, I took a break to check email.  And, wouldn't you know it, there was a message from some publisher or another trumpeting an author's "masterful literary debut."  Which made my shoulders sag and my chin drop to my chest.

Because of course, I immediately started comparing myself.  And what I was writing was not masterful, in any way, shape or form, as we used to say.  I imagined the process of the author of this masterful debut.  No doubt, she wrote beside a window, looking out at the sea, with gentle ocean breezes ruffling her hair.  Which was styled, unlike mine, since I still hadn't showered.  And her desk was clean, unlike mine, the surface of which hasn't seen daylight in months.  And most especially, no doubt every word this author wrote was a gem.

Unlike my horrible combinations of words.

I went to that imaginary scene of this masterful debut author writing despite the fact that I know better.  (Exhibit A: the gazillion articles I've written about this over the years on this blog) I know that this author went through a process, just like me, and that she no doubt despaired over her Shitty First Drafts (not to mention subsequent drafts) as well.  

But my mind went there anyway. (For some reason, I'm particularly prone to thinking this about female English novelists.  Maybe because they always seem so accomplished and efficient? And also, Isabel Allende, whose fingertips seem to produce incredible novels like clockwork.)

And so I was forced to remind myself that writing is a process.  And that process does not start with perfectly formed sentences, despite what my runaway imagination was telling me.  And so, I reminded myself:

–When writing a first draft, you're laying down the spine of the story.   Because you most likely do not yet fully understand the spine of the story, your scenes will not spring, full formed onto the page. Rather, they will of necessity be somewhat sketchy.

–Not only are you figuring out the spine of the story, you're still deciphering the story itself.  Yeah, so you think you know how its going to go–and then that new character walks on.  Or your heroine says something that takes the chapter in a whole new direction.  This is why we write first drafts–to let the story have a life of its own.

You'll figure out things about the story only when you get some distance from it.  For instance, last night I met with my writer's group and reviewed an earlier chapter from my WIP.  And realized that there is a thematic element I need to weave in through subsequent chapters.  This is what God made second drafts for.

–A first draft gives you something to go on in the future.  Because you will rewrite this draft.  And you'll rewrite it again after the first time. 

So, don't rush the process.  (And I'm talking to myself as much as to you.)  At the same time, I think its important to acknowledge that writing "masterful literary debuts" does not have to take years.  (For instance, the above-mentioned Isabel Allende started her latest book, Ripper in January of 2012 and it is available now.  Given the glacial pace that legacy publishing moves at, she wrote that baby–nearly 500 pages of it–fast.)

And remember: writing crap is good.  Writing crap is glorious.  Writing crap will get you where you want to be.

So….what about you?  Do you have to remind yourself to write crap?  To let the words be awful on the page?  Or are you one of those rare breeds who polishes every word of the draft before you move on?

As a reminder, my short story Blue Sky is up on Amazon.  (I'm trying to get to making a new book page, on this blog, stay tuned for that one of these days.) It's a quick read, and just 99 cents!

Rewriting: Print Out Your Work

Aelse_ilovenature_glow_5663_hSorry, trees.

The topic of today's post impacts your health on this planet, and for that I'm truly sorry.

But I'm rediscovering the helpfulness of printing out my work in order to rewrite and revise it.  (I like to make a distinction between the two words.  To me, rewriting is what you do on the second draft, when you're looking at big stuff like character arc and plot.  Revising is what you do on the final draft, when you're looking at every word, and comma and period.  Big difference.)

This all began when I saw Anne Lamott last Friday night.  She spoke in Portland at the Baghdad Theater as part of her book tour for Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son.  The theater was packed, I'm happy to report, full of happy fans eating pizza and burgers and drinking wine and beer.  Which was just the wee-est bit ironic, seeing as how Anne is a famous recovering alcoholic.

But it didn't seem to bother her and she had some great things to say about her life and her writing.  (She delivers her lectures in almost a stream-of-consciousness style that appears effortless and is very entertaining.)  She talked about writing as a radical act (hear, hear) and also that she likes to repeat the mantra, "it could happen," after a character in an old movie, Angels in the Outfield. (Such as, bestselling novel?  "It could happen."  And so on.)

What really struck me, however, was when she talked about printing out your work in order to edit it.  Yes, we live in an electronic world, but it is still important to make a hardcopy of your writing and see it on the page.  Use the electronics to communicate with the world and tinker with your work on the page.  The real page.

I used to do this all the time.  It was the only way I could rewrite.  But lately, with the convenience of editing on the computer, I've gotten away from it.  This week, I decided to experiment and printed out 70 pages of my next novel.  Totally different experience.  You simply see things differently when you edit on the page.  Try it.

I'm not sure I recommend printing out pages every single time you edit.  So much of editing goes on as you re-read a draft on the computer, perhaps before you begin your writing session.  But as an exercise at certain key points along the way, it can be very useful.

And as for the trees? Buy recycled paper.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Next time you're finished with a draft, print it out to make your revisions.  See if it works for you.

Please comment.  How do you approach rewriting and revising?  Do you do it on the computer or on hard copy?  Which do you prefer? 

Photo by Josef F. Stuefer, and I found it on Everystockphoto.

Writing as an Act of Discovery

Here's something I forget:


 We write to figure things out. 

We write to discover what we know. 

We write to uncover what we don't know.

And yet.

We sit down to the page and think we have to be experts.

We sit down to write and think it has to come out perfect.

We sit down at the computer and agonize over every word.

When, really, the best thing to do is sit down and have at it, without concern or care toward what comes out.  Because writing is rewriting.  And the real work of shaping a story comes in the second, third, or ever fifth or tenth draft.  Which gives you a glorious excuse to throw caution to the wind and have a wonderful time writing what comes out of your head and through your fingers.

Don't expect yourself to know everything because you don't.  But you can figure out a whole heckuva lot by writing.  It's why we journal–to figure out stuff about ourselves.  It's why we write memoirs–to figure out stuff about our lives.  It's why we write fiction–to figure out stuff about the world.

I was interviewed on a radio show this past weekend (link is at the lower right, it's the Blog Talk Radio banner) and we talked about how when you are laboring over every word, you're clinched up, like you've made two fists and your entire body is tense.  When you're writing freely and easily, the exact opposite is true–your body is relaxed and so are you.  Isn't that a better way to go? 

What is your writing process?  Do you allow yourself to write freely or do you tense up and make certain every word is perfect before moving on?  Does your current process work for you?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Choose a topic, any topic.  It might be something to do with your current project.  For instance, this morning I worked on backstory for my main character.  Now take pen and paper and write until you've exhausted everything you know on that topic.  And believe me, more will come to you as you write.



Photo by Gerbrak.

Tips on Writing: Prepping For the Novel, Part Two–The Idea and the Process



On Monday, I began this series on prepping to write a novel.  In the first post, I talked about the tools you'll need to get going, and if you head on over to that post you can get caught up.  In today's post, I'm going to talk about the idea and the process–what to expect and how to schedule it.

It is important, when writing a novel, to consider that you're going to be with this baby for quite a long while.  Not quite as long as it takes to read a human child from birth to maturity, though it may seem like that.  But still, you're going to be working with this material for a long time  So make sure you like it.  I wrote a whole long post on this very topic last week, and its probably a good idea if you take a minute and go read it.





So now that you've committed to an idea that you love (or even just like), what next?  Well, that's the topic of this series, what you do to get ready to write a novel (or a book).  But before we get to character, setting, plot and writing the rough draft, I want to talk briefly about process and scheduling.


The Writing Process

It's really very simple.  Your first draft is for you to figure out the story, okay?  It is not for you to make things perfect.  It is for you to get a rough semblance of the plot and characters down on paper.  Don't worry yet about how best to present it to the reader, or how to dramatize it  How can you do that when you're still figuring out the story?

Whether or not you want to write up an outline is your choice.  I recommend it because it keeps you on track.  Doesn't have to be a fancy outline, even a rough list will do.  This way you save room for serendipity and the stray walk-on character.  You may also want to write a synopsis, which is like a fleshed-out, grown-up outline.  I don't.  But some people do.  Once you've got your outline written and done all the prep work it takes to get going on a novel, that's exactly what you do.  Get going on it.

I've written about the writing process here before, and even recently.  Here's some of those posts:

The Writing Process According to Novelist Gabrielle Kraft

The Writing Process: Letting Go

The Writing Process

The Writing Process Redux

The Writing Process Again

The Writing Process: The Three P's of Glumping

That ought to keep you going for awhile.  And so now we turn to scheduling. Or, what to expect when you're trying to write a novel and life gets it the way.

Scheduling/What to Expect

My best advice for scheduling a long writing project is to be as regular as you can, and stay flexible.  In a perfect world, which none of us live in, it is best to write every day.  If you can't, at least glance at your work, read it, or take some notes on it.  If you can't do that, think about it.  Direct your mind to it while you're walking or cleaning the house.  (Or in a boring meeting, but don't blame it on me if you get caught.)  You will be interuppted just when you're getting to the apex of a scene.  This will happen more times than you can count.  You will have to skip a writing session when your child or spouse gets sick.  This will also happen more times than you can count. 

Here's what else you can expect:







And probably a few more I've not thought of.  Notice, however, I did not mention the word boredom.  Because when you're writing a novel, you'll never be bored.  I think that's true of being a writer, period, as well.

You can also expect to be damn proud of yourself when you're finished with this project.  And to have a healthy respect for even the crappiest of books you might see in the bookstore or library.  Because now you know what it takes to write a book.

But that moment is still far in the future.  We've still got some prepping to do.  And I shall move onto that in the next post.

Please comment on all this.  What do you do to prepare? What have you learned from writing a novel or book-length process?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Make certain you've got an idea that intrigues and delights you and write a loose outline.  Okay, okay you can do a synopsis, too. 

I'm putting together either a one-on-one coaching package or a group program around this novel prep, so stay tuned!

Photos by Mai05 and Creactions, both from Everystockphoto.

PS.  Sorry for the weird type font changes.  No matter what I do, I can't get them back to normal.  Typepad is a bit wonky these days.


Activate the Power of Your Right Brain

I've written a lot lately on the writing process, emphasizing that the entire process begins with the rough draft, also known as the time when you glump it all on the page.  (In case that image doesn't do it for you, what I'm talking about is letting it rip. Write it out, without judgment or stopping.)

But sometimes you make time to glump and nothing happens.   You get yourself a prompt and write for a few minutes and everything that comes out feels stilted and dull.  But really, is this any wonder? Look at our lives–running around doing errands, picking the kids up from school, doing work assignments, buying groceries.   These are all vital tasks and they are all tasks that require the attention of the left brain. 

Ah, the left brain.  It is the half of our mind that excels in keeping us to schedules, in making judgments, in memorizing, logic, routine, and analysis. 

And really?  Not a one of those skills goes very well with glumping.

Favorites-doodles-2483231-l So the trick is to shift yourself into the right brain, that wonderful hemisphere which is responsible for feelings of love, relaxation, the new, the fresh, the global, the free-form, the dreamy, the visionary. 

Now doesn't that sound a bit more in line with glumping?  Wouldn't it be easier to let yourself go if you were in an intuitive, heart-centered, holistic state, rather than a logical, scheduled, results-oriented one?

And yet much of the time that's exactly what we do–try to write from a left-brain state of mind.  There are plenty of times when we need the left brain.  Like when we're editing, for instance.  Or marketing.  Or trying to get ourselves to our writing group on time.   It is just that it is better to shift out of it when it comes to writing.

So, how to do that?

Last September, Whitney Ferre, a right-brain expert (who will also soon be featured in an interview on this blog) did a workshop for the Writer's Loft in Nashville and she presented a couple of ideas:

Doodle.  Its as easy as that.   I'm a doodler extraordinaire, often covering my note pad with squiggles and geometric shapes while in a lecture or class.  And its not that I'm not listening, the act of moving my hand makes it easier for me to listen.  Lately I've been experimenting with doodling for a few minutes before writing, with really good results.  Doodling is no doubt the most accessible art form, because anyone can do it and the results truly don't matter.  By the way, in all of these right-brain exercises, results don't matter.  You can crumple up the page and recycle it when you're done.  Its the process that's important.

Paint.  I love to paint, and yet rarely do it.  That's because I don't have a space set up for it, and getting all the paints out and getting ready seems to take more time than I usually want to spend.  But in sorting through some old supplies last weekend, I found a container of watercolors, the kind you'd buy for a child.  Now that I can pull out and play around with for a few minutes before working.

Draw a Mandala.  This is an activity that Whitney recommends and that is quite relaxing.  Don't get all worked up about it being perfectly symmetrical or beautiful, just draw yourself a circle and have at it.  Remember, its the process, people.

Another thing that always works for me is: 561px-Rosey_Grier

Repetitive Activity.  I'm talking about knitting, or crocheting, or stitching.  Guys, you could try this, too.  Remember Rosy Grier, pictured to the right, the gigo football player?  He was famous for his needlepoint, and c'mon, he's about as manly as they come. When I'm stuck, if I remember to step away from the computer and go pick up my knitting, odds are good that the idea I'm looking for will come so fast I barely have time to get any knitting done.  (The trick is remembering to step away from the computer, but that's another story.) Other repetitive activities are gardening or dish washing.  Or vacuuming.  I would rather knit, myself, but that's just me.  There's also:

Walking.  Which has the added benefit of being exercise.  Nothing like a brisk stroll in the fresh air to get the brain going.  Try taking a walk and then coming inside and heading directly to your writing spot.  It is amazing how clear and fresh your brain will feel. 

So, right brains rule, at least for the writing aspect of the process.  How do you shift into your?

Photo credits: The doodle is by karindalziel, via Everystockphoto, via Flickr.  Image of Rosey Grier by, via Wikipedia.


Writing Process: The Three Ps of Glumping

Over the last week, I've been revisiting the writer's process.  (You can get caught up on the other posts here and here.)  As promised, today's post begins a look at each step of the process. 

And so today we talk about the fine and wonderful art of glumping. Note_creative_author_260972_l

Glumping is a word that I've always used for the magical process of spewing words onto the page in your first, or discovery draft.  (Don't know where I came up with this word, to be honest.  I thought it was a made-up word I picked up somewhere along the line, but defines glump: to manifest sulleness, to sulk.  Which is what happens to writers when they don't write.)

For many people, this step engenders the magic of writing, the truly creative time when ideas fly and words combine in fabulous ways.  (For others, rewriting is when the deeply satisfying work begins, but we'll get to that in the next post.)The most important thing to remember about glumping is this: just do it.  The act of getting words onto the page in a first draft really boils down to picking up your pen and writing, or turning on the computer and pounding away on the keys.

So simple and yet so difficult.

Because sometimes it is damned hard to glump. 

If you find that to be the case, remember the three Ps of glumping:

1. Prepare.  Glumping will go much easier if you ponder your project ahead of time.  (Okay, I'll quit with the ps now, I promise. Oops, sorry.) If you're writing a novel, make character dossiers, a loose outline of the plot, write descriptions of locations, and so on.  For non-fiction, a list of points you want to follow. Anything that will help seed thoughts for writing. 

2. Prompt.  Oh, the poor, maligned prompt.  People love to sneer at these clever sentences, when really, all they want to do is help you get your writing going.  If you're staring a blank page or computer screen without a clue what to write, they can be a lifesaver.   Use them as a way to get words flowing.  I recommend keeping a list handy in your journal or writing notebook and pick one at random ( do not stop to make value judgments about which prompt you want to use–just choose one).  Then write.  The first few sentences may be totally off topic, but soon you'll settle back into your draft.

3. Practice.  As in, practice makes perfect.  Because, it does.  The more you write, the easier it gets.  When you spend more time working other aspects of the writing process, like rewriting, returning to glumping feels strange and out of control.  But soon it will become second nature again.  That is, if you practice regularly.

So there you have it, the three Ps of glumping.  How do you glump (or should I even ask, that sounds vaguely obscene)? What are your expriences with the writing process?


 Photo by christgr, from Everystockphoto.


The Black and White of Writing

When I was working on my MFA, I attended a lecture extolling the virtues of not writing.  (I actually think I wrote a post on this topic–ah yes, here it is.) The talk was presented by one of the MFA faculty, a prolific writer herself.  Yet most of the time I exhort people to write every day, or at least as often as possible.

So what gives?

You've also probably heard over and over that you should show, not tell in your work.  Yet pick up any literary novel and you'll read long stretches of narrative, with nary a bit of showing in sight.

What gives?

Some writing experts say that all fiction begins with character, and others will tell you to focus on plot.  Some tell you to read everything you can get your hands on while working on a novel, and others tell you not to because it might influence your own work.  Some tell you to work with a thesaurus and dictionary at hand, and others tell you to think up your own words.

It's exhausting, isn't it? 

You say to-mah-to, I say to-ma-to.  You say po-tah-to, I say po-ta-to (But that's because my ancestors homesteaded in Idaho, and we know the real way to say it).  In nearly every interview with a writer there is always the question,
can you tell us something about your schedule?  Writers get asked this
question wherever they go, number one because non-writers think that
writing magically appears on the page, and number two, because writers want to know their secrets.

But, there are as many ways to write as there are writers.  Those of us who make our living at it have just figured out what works best for us, and enables us to write on a consistent basis.  We've figured out how to make time for it, how to stay motivated, how to connect our work with the public.  For some that might mean staying up late to write and submitting stories to literary magazines.  For others, it is getting up early and confining their publishing to the internet. 

The great, fabulous, wonderful news is that we live in a time when all these options are open to us.  For a hundred years the only way to get a story published was to write it, type it, put it in an envelope with a SASE (I'm willing to bet there are now people reading this who don't know what that stands for) and sit back and wait and wait and wait to hear from the editor.  Some people still do that.  But most of us use email to connect with editors and agents and oh lord is it every easier. 

So here's my best bit of advice on taking advice about writing: experiment with it, and use what works.  Discard the rest.  You'll find many an author who will tell you that writing an outline for a book is death to creativity–but I'm not one of them.  I've learned the hard way that writing without an outline leads me all over the place but never to the end of the book.  The point is, I learned that by trying it out for myself.  And as soon as I figured out it wasn't working, I went looking for advice on how to use an outline when writing a book.  (Loosely, is my answer.)

The thing is, writing is the most nebulous of crafts.  We pull an idea from the air and from it, create a book.  Pretty amazing, and nearly magical.  And because there is that whiff of magic to it, people want to deconstruct it.  They want black and white answers, a definitive guide to writing.

I'm here to tell you there isn't one.  Just a whole lot of good ideas about how you can accomplish it.

Tell me your stories about taking advice on writing.  What are the best pieces of advice you've gotten? The worst?

And thank you to Ledger D'Main for the email query that prompted this post, and to Jessica for discussing it further with me from her new outpost in China.

The Writing Process Redux

471px-Venn_diagram_cmyk.svg Every week my family gets together with my sister's family for dinner. We instituted this after my Mom died last year as a way to make sure that we all see each other regularly.  It has been a wonderful thing, and we guard our Sunday Supper time zealously.

Last night at Sunday Supper, in between everyone taking bets on when the son-in-law would finally arrive on his long drive home from the army in Texas, my brother-in-law asked me if I'd read the latest Time magazine.  When I said no, seeing as how I don't subscribe to Time, he said I absolutely had to read the interview with Elmore Leonard and found the magazine for me.

Besides marveling at the fact that Leonard has lived in Detroit since 1934, and still doesn't use a computer or email, the one thing my brother-in-law wanted to point out to me was when Leonard  said this: "You've got to write every day."

Where have we heard that before?  Why, perhaps right in these very posts.

I started off this morning intent on writing about the writing process.  I'm not sure why, since I wrote about it fairly recently, hence the word "redux" in the title.  (And even if I hadn't written about the writing process before I would have used that word, because, let's face it, redux is a great word.)

But then I started thinking about the Elmore Leonard article and his commandment to write every day.  And then, after I pondered some more (the very strong coffee I'm drinking helped), I realized that I what I needed to write about today is the intersection of the writing process and writing every day.  If I could draw a Venn diagram, it would be the place in the middle where the two circles meet.

Because writing every day, no matter what stage of the writing process you are in, is what makes your dreams happen.  Whether you are writing a rough draft, or working on one of many rewrites, writing every day helps you to stay connected to your work, and keep the momentum going.  Plus, it reminds you that you are a writer, which is easy to forget in this busy world.  And I find that if I've done the most important thing first, ie, writing, that everything else falls into place.

So, writing every day + the writing process = finished products.

Now, here's the question of the day.  In my search for an image of a Venn diagram, I found the above on Wikipedia.  However, it has three circles, when my example only has two, the writing process and writing every day.  So, say we named this Venn diagram The Writing Life, what would you name the third circle?