Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A lot of people ask me about my writing process. I decided that I would like to share my process in case someone finds it useful/helpful.

Here goes:

I carry a pen with me wherever I go. At least I try to. The couple of times I haven't, I've really regretted it. One time, when I lived in Brooklyn, I was walking my dog. It was about 35 degrees out, and I was one city mile away from my place. And I had a whole bunch of ideas come to me. And not one pen in sight. I spent the next ten minutes repeating things to myself outloud and then thankfully, I found a pen on the ground, a receipt in my pocket and a stoop with a light. I sat down in the cold, my dog pulling on the leash, to write down what I had been thinking. It was a close call.

I also recently discovered the notepad on my cellphone, which has saved me a few times. But nothing works like a piece of paper and pen. Not even touchtone keypads. Some people carry those moleskin notebooks, notecards, flip pads, calendars..... These all help cut down "can't find paper" risk factors. So, I guess that's the first thing - always being prepared to write down an idea. I have found that it's not just the idea itself, but actually the way it forms. Something about that moment, the language of that moment, the sense of time...none of that can be recaptured in memory.

Another piece of my process is time. I'm not disciplined like Maya Angelou. I don't write everyday. Some days, I just want to stare at the wall, paint, make origami balloons, clean the house or read some really good books. I consider all of these things part of my process. I stopped beating myself up a long time ago when I realized that this is so. And I started to embrace the way that I can actually get to the space of writing.

Reading novels is a really important part of my writing.
Reading poetry is a really important part of my writing.
Going to poetry readings is a really important part of my writing.
Reading other friends' work is a really important part of my writing.
Talking politics is a really important part of my writing.
Having incredible conversations about my friends' lives and my life is a really important part of my writing.
Watching movies is a really important part of my writing.
Listening to music is a really important part of my writing.
Painting is a very important part of my creative process. And writing is an important part of my painting and vice versa.

When I've been fortunate enough to be in writing residency (meaning, all I'm doing is waking up, eating, writing, hanging out with people, and doing more of the same), this is how I structure my time:

I wake up. This takes me about two hours. In that time, I eat, I write letters to friends and journal. This reflection time is super important and allows me to enter the creative space.

After I get going, I put my pen to paper. I still write using a pen and paper. The actual physical sensation of a pen in my hand allows me to access emotions and visual images in a very specific way. I will usually write with a pen when I'm in the "creation" stage of a piece, meaning, putting words down for the first time. I will then type the work into my computer and do all of my edits on the computer. At least until it is time to "create" again.

I usually have very different kinds of writing going on at the same time. So, right now, I am making format changes to a novel manuscript. I have also started thinking about and researching for another novel manuscript; I have a poetry manuscript (my goal is to have a 60 poem ms by April) going; a long term experimental project that I'm actively researching and writing; and two critical writing projects. I write letters almost every other day. And I've been painting.

This is, by the way, how I deal with writers block. I move into a different kind of writing, or creative project. Or I read.

Still in residency, I write usually for about 8-10 hours after waking up.

After that, I break completely and go do something that involves other people. Art openings, dinner, movies, getting a beer, talking on the phone, etc.

When I'm not in residency, meaning, I'm working a full time or part time job, I treat my writing as my primary job and my income generating job as my second job. I have set hours for writing. During those set hours, I don't answer my phone, I don't hang out with my dog, I don't talk to anyone. I don't open the door to my workspace. I don't go on the internet. I don't do anything other than write or edit or attend to the business of writing.

For the two years I lived in NYC, I worked at a job 40 hours a week. And I wrote 20-25 hours a week. I worked on my writing Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6pm - midnight, and I worked all day Saturday, usually from 9am - 6pm; sometimes Sunday morning. I started a writing space at work, for other writers, and we workshopped every other week. I went to workshops around the city, and I met up with friends to talk about writing. Sometimes, because I had a desk job, I'll admit that I even worked (on my writing) at work.

And that brings me to the last element that I believe to be critical about my writing process. While I write all by myself, none of my work leaves my hands without being read by a lot of other people. Peers. People who can provide real feedback. While my girlfriend can be my cheerleader (and I thank her for that), my writing peers are the ones who tell me - "That sentence isn't clear." or "I'm not sure what you're trying to do here." or "That's cliche." or "That's gorgeous. I like how you do that." Which, of course, helps me see that I'm effectively communicating an image, a world, emotions, etc. (and when it's stuff like the last quote, it makes me feel good, too - also very important).

So, I don't write every day, but on the days I write, I write for long periods of time. I discovered that my process is best informed by others, but shaped by my obligations and how I work best. And, I know that I can't effectively write about the world around me without engaging it on some level, too. And ultimately, the most important thing I know is that I need to have a pen with me - wherever I go. Cause sometimes, the best ideas are on the street walking your dog looking for a lit stoop.


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