I’m not a huge fan of defining process for writing because I believe that once you start defining a writing process, you create unnecessary barriers for your writing. For example, I’m certain that I am incapable of writing well when I’m drunk. Why is this? Well, back in college, I got hammered on a case of Heinekin and wrote the definitive critical analysis of college and it’s impact on humanity. Come morning, the column was incoherent. Banging my head against the keyboard would’ve been more informative. So, I created a rule. A barrier. “I can not write and drink.”
Now, fact of the matter is, the rule should be “I can not write and drink heavily”, but the damage is done. If there’s booze nearby, I freeze-up. No writing. I’m certain there some Hemingway-esque inspired wordage wandering around my head when I’ve been boozing, but now I’m more focused on the rule than the writing.
Rules bad. Writing good.
With that in mind, I give you my weblog writing process. This is the semi-formal process by which an idea pops in my head, is deemed worthy to be translated into text, and ends up on the weblog. Again, your mileage may vary.
The crucial step. Something popping into my head that I feel is relevant. This happens to me many times during the day… no particular clustering around morning, afternoon, or evening, but coffee is often nearby. Maniacal idea poppers write every single pop down, I don’t because, yes, it’s a rule. The rule is “if you don’t write it down, it never happened”. I believe in this rule in other situations, but I don’t let it hinder me when it comes to the Idea Pop. The main reason being that just because it popped once doesn’t mean it’s worth my time. I usually wait for a multiple pop-situation before I write it down.
Writing It Down
I’ve popped. Two or three times. The idea has evolved from “Hmmmmm” to “A-ha!” and it needs a treatment. There are two approaches I take to writing it down. I either take a stab at the entire damned thought (a process I’m doing for this entry, by the way) or I just write a few paragraphs to capture the essence of the thought (or thoughts) and leave it in a warm place I can consider it further.
Which process I choose depends entirely in how the translation of thought to keyboard is going. If I’m rolling, if the article is just showing up, then I go until I’m done. If I’m translating and the idea is half-baked or I’m in a hurry, I just get the heart of the piece and move on.
More often than not, fully drafted pieces make their way to the weblog whereas snippets may not. Still, if the idea has made it out of my head, it’s more likely than not going to, at least, get another draft.
Letting It Evolve
Once I’m actually writing the idea down, there’s another state of mind I need to invoke at the same time. Letting the idea evolve. This is letting myself just roll with whatever comes out of my fingers as I’m telling the story. Perhaps the most recognizable example of this is the N.A.D.D. article… go read it right now. It starts out as a book review and ends up with observations of nerd life. I didn’t start that entry thinking I’d document such a hot button for the nerd community, but I did… I started rolling and wham… welcome to N.A.D.D..
If there is a part of this process which must be utterly devoid of rules, this is it. Interrupting the evolution process with rules or interruptions or anything which screws with the flow can have catastrophic results on my writing.
Stitch It Together
When I’m working with a half-baked idea, I often get stuck tying fragment ideas together. Rather than working on the flow of the entire thought, I’m lost in a simple transition or the choice of a single word. As soon as I feel this frustration, I just throw in a place holder… looks something like :
[ TIE THIS TOGETHER SOMEHOW ] or,
[ WRONG WORD HERE — FIX THIS ]
Just writing down what I need to do often frees me to work on some other part of the piece.
For me, the creative part of writing is about constant forward movement (See below: “Shut Up, It’s Done”). Frustration, confusion… whatever… these emotions just stop the process. I’m no longer creating, I’m fretting about some irrelevant detail. Don’t waste time on this inner critic, change context, and let your brain work freely elsewhere.
Going Old School
At some point, my piece feels done. It’s not REALLY done, but it feels done. When I feel this, I do something which I find strange. I print the article out, grab my favorite pen (Pilot Gel Roller), and read it somewhere else than where I wrote it.
This is a recent change of process for me. I used to do all my editing on the computer, but it never felt quite right. When I go old school, I read my article elsewhere… with a different perspective… it gives me permission to really edit. Until I was reading printed articles, I was unable to nuke full paragraphs or pages of text. When I see the offending text on paper, it’s clearly a travesty and crossing them out just feels good.
Since I changed my editing style, I feel like the quality of my entries has improved. They’re more balanced… they tell the story more coherently, more completely. One of these days, I’ll go back and read some of my older entries and see if this true.
Yeah, I suck at this. I really do. It bugs me, but I’m in a hurry people. My advice is to find someone without N.A.D.D. to read your later drafts. They’ll find obvious stuff that you’ve been staring at for days. If you can’t find a second opinion, I’d suggest getting in the habit of searching for common grammar errors (it’s, your, you’re, etc.) as part of your process. I try to, I really do, but once a piece feels done, I just can’t help myself from posting it immediately.
Shut up, It’s Done
I don’t have this particular problem, but I watch other writers struggle with it. For whatever reason, their “it’s done” muscle is underdeveloped and they enter the terrifying state of almost doneness where they tweak… touch-up… spell check… tweak… touch-up… rinse… repeat.
The moment I see myself in an almost done state, I just post it. Yes, this means I often end up with embarrassing errors that could have been caught by one more complete rereading of the entry, but folks, wake up, it’s never done. Done is another rule that came from an era where being done meant you printed it out and never touched it again. Weblog publishing means you can edit as much as you like. I don’t often change major themes after I’ve published, but I almost always go back and touch-up minor errors.
The time it takes to complete the process above varies wildly depending on circumstances mostly outside of my control. For instance, I started writing this piece 40 minutes ago and I’m pretty sure it’s 80% of the way there. I’ll stick it somewhere obvious, rewrite a bit here and there tomorrow, and likely publish the piece either tomorrow or the next day. Probably the next day since Referral Rant just came out a day ago.
To contrast, the Agenda Detection languished on my to do list in a semi-written form for over two months before I got around to publishing it. Why? No clue. Loved the idea, never found the time to knock it together.
Weblogs as Publishing
I’ve written two (and a half) books. You’ll be happy to know I can count how many people have read them on my hands and toes. At the time, I loved writing them, but now I grit my teeth as I flip through the pages of these books. They read like I’m writing in my journal; blithering and blathering about whatever happened to me that day haphazardly wrapped in some loose fictional framework.
The continuity of Weblogging has given me a writing process because the commitment fits into my short attention span lifestyle. I can fully devote myself to writing, editing, and publishing a bite sized thought and still save space for my day job. Perhaps this process helps my ability to write a novel or maybe I’ve finally hooked up with my ideal medium in weblogs. Who cares? I love writing. Next topic.