In previous Alphabet Salad posts we’ve pondered the “Why do you write?” question, and later wrestled with trying to pin down the definition of a writer. So this next question seems to me like a logical progression, and I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.
How do you write?
I don’t know that there’s just one pattern my writing follows – really, the procedure differs depending on how I approach each particular session of writing.
If I’ve been inspired while away from the computer, often the words will start taking shape in my head long before I ever sit down to write them out. Phrases, sometimes whole sentences, begin to craft themselves, and the more their shapes are defined the more the urgency to put them in writing grows. The actual act of writing, then, becomes simply letting go, allowing my fingers to transcribe what has already been born in my thoughts… quickly, without reservation or filter, before the gossamer wisps drift back into the inner recesses of my mind.
But that pre-inspiration? If being a “real” writer is about having a muse that regularly inspires and takes over my writing, I guess I’m as inauthentic as they come… because those times, wonderful as they are, tend to be few and far between.
On the other hand, sometimes my approach to writing involves opening a new blog post form and then staring at the blank screen for what seems like hours until… what? Inspiration strikes? Madness ensues? Time runs out? I don’t know what I’m hoping for at those times, but it’s crazy-making, and causes me to question why on earth I’ve committed to writing something every single day.
All in all, though, while “pre-inspired” writing at one end of the spectrum is a magical delight, and complete blankness at the other end is an exercise in frustration, the vast majority of my writing falls somewhere in between and is most often a product of commitment, dedication, follow-through, and work.
Deeply satisfying work, but work nonetheless.
My regular, day-to-day writing usually starts with something basic – a thought, an idea, a prompt, a question – and develops as I take time to sit down and explore those starting points by typing out my thoughts. I usually don’t start out with any kind of a plan or outline – most of the time, in fact, I have little or no idea what I want to say or where I’ll end up. Sometimes what develops is a real surprise!
My typical pattern of exploration is to write a paragraph, read it, edit it… write another paragraph, read and edit again from the beginning… write another paragraph or two, or three, then go back to the beginning to read and edit the whole thing… cut and paste and shuffle things around so they flow better… replace words I’ve used too many times… re-read, edit, re-read, edit, re-read, edit… then, when it’s all been tweaked into a shape that makes me happy, when I get that sudden sense of satisfied completion where I wouldn’t change a single thing, I know it’s done.
(Incidentally, I’ve heard it said that true artists are never satisfied that a particular piece is finished. By that definition, then, colour me inauthentic once again! While I wouldn’t say that I’m totally happy with every last thing I’ve ever written, quite often the pieces I’m most happy with are quite certainly “done” and complete and pleasing to me. In my eyes, with my writing, “done-ness” is absolutely a measurable thing.)
When I write, even something as simple as an e-mail to a colleague or a post on Facebook, my perfectionist tendencies mean that it almost always takes far longer than I think it will. Words are so important to me – the responsibility of creating something lasting, something that others will read, weighs heavy at times. (Maybe that’s why I’ve enjoyed using Twitter at times – though it, too, is permanent, somehow it feels more disposable and fleeting, and as such I’ve been able to be a little freer with how I express myself on that medium. Even there, though, on occasion I’ll read and re-read a tweet before hitting the enter key, or delete and re-post a tweet if I feel it could have been said in a more effective way!)
So, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part, that’s how I live my love affair with the written word.
How do YOU write?
(Updated from original post in March, 2012.)