What Writing Looks Like

Marker boardWhen last we saw our hero, she was trying to free her mind, trying to decompress, trying to leave behind the world of “do do do” and climb into the world of think and be.

The good news is that that was successful, and the writing process has begun!

Ok, so perhaps that’s not entirely honest. In fact, any writer who has him/herself begun a new magnum opus knows that I am 100% full of it. Because “the writing process has begun” is only good news for people who have never written anything.

So I thought I would share the inside scoop of what writing a book looks like, for those of you who have never experienced the joy (ahem) of this work.

I’m not talking about what writing looks like once you have a roadmap that tells you what you’re writing, how to write it, which topics come after which topics, where each story and each brilliant reflection goes. That part of writing looks pretty much as one would expect – sitting in front of a computer, losing track of time, wondering why the dog is begging you to please please please let her outside until you realize it’s been 4 hours since you sat down, as the afternoon has turned to evening.

I’m talking instead about what writing a book looks like in the beginning – when three notebooks filled with observations and random aha’s must now coalesce into a logical sequence of thought. I mean the very beginning, when you are less concerned that anyone will want to read it once it’s done, and more concerned that people will feel betrayed when they learn that you have no clue what you’re talking about.

In those first days of writing a book, writing looks like someone who hasn’t showered in 3 days, pacing and muttering incoherent snippets of what we must presume is some form of language.Piles of paper

It looks like pages of notes strewn everywhere, some spread out in a seemingly logical order on the work table in the craft room that doubles as your office, some piled up in a variety of piles on the dining table and the couch – piles that make sense when you go to bed, and which, upon waking, you wonder what the hell you were thinking.

In the beginning, writing looks like a significant spike in your activity on Facebook and Twitter, with updated profile photos and a brand new bio. It looks like solitaire. A TON of solitaire.

In the beginning, writing looks like marker boards filled with arrows and cross-outs and a note to go to Office Depot to get more colors for coding the various pieces. Then it looks like that same crazy unwashed woman swearing up a storm because an hour ago she erased the single thought that would, if she had it now, be the key to unlocking the whole sequence of the book. Then it looks like a long walk, vowing not to go home until you can unlock your front door without a series of exasperated swear words flowing from your tongue.

Writing in the beginning looks like chores getting done. Chores that have piled up for months and maybe even years. Writing looks like the shed that is finally cleaned out, the curtains that are finally finished in the back room, the weeds that are finally cleared out of the alley. Writing in the beginning looks like you have hired a maid and a gardener and maybe even a house painter. Your house never looked so good.

At the very beginning, you spend time wondering if the movie Dazed and Confused, which you have never seen, was actually about you. Two years of thought fragments and brilliant passages and research findings rise up in a cyclone right there in your living room, swirling around you in a mad, animated vortex that mocks you at every turn. You know with absolute certainly that you will never figure out how to pull from your head any coherent order for the thoughts that fill your notebooks. At this point, you are not even sure that is an endeavor worth undertaking.Bougainvillea

People ask how the writing is going. You smile and say “Great!” when what you’re really thinking is, “You’re not a writer, are you? Because if you were, YOU WOULD KNOW TO NOT FREAKING ASK ME!”

You push through. You know you’ve done this before, which gives you the strength to know this is how it was last time and the time before, and look, from that came The Pollyanna Principles! From that came FriendRaising!

At which point you are certain that those were your last books, that this one is drek, because hell – it’s not even a book, not even an outline, not even three consecutive coherent thoughts! Your days as a creative force are over. Ahead of you stretches 40 years of living off your last book…

And then, at the end of another day filled with photographing the same bougainvillea you just had to photograph yesterday, and the ratatouille you just had to make before the squash went bad – you realize you’ve somehow done it. You’ve taken that swirl of notes and created something that may actually make enough sense to write a brain-dump first draft.

It’s not fully out of your head by any stretch of the imagination. Yet you can feel a bit of space freeing up in the corner of your brain where you had no idea, until that very moment, that you had been carrying around and nurturing three notebooks-ful of thoughts and findings.

You know the rest is hard work, but it’s now just work.Candle

Which is when writing looks briefly – oh so briefly – like dancing with the dog to Scissor Sisters. Then looks like popping a nice bottle of wine to sip with the ratatouille. Then looks like curling up with the entirety of Dr. Zhivago, crying as if you’d never seen it before, lingering in the longing and the snow.

Until finally, you wake up the next morning, and writing looks like someone sitting at a computer, typing. She loses track of time, until the dog comes in and asks for the 3rd time if you would please oh please just let her outside.

7 Responses to What Writing Looks Like

  1. Just sooo true, it isnt only me!!!!!! Great to have your thoughts and I have already imagined a cleared two week space in my diary post holiday with nothing else in it apart from WRITING! Thanks!

  2. Oh thank you guys so much for the words of encouragement and recognition. I’ve gotten just as many private notes saying, “I thought it was just me!”

    And I can’t help but thinking lately – What a wonderful thing is this highly imperfect human brain, that it can do all of this incredible work, despite its obvious limitations. Imagine eons from now, when our biology is more fully evolved, and our brains actually function at their capacity, without all the silliness we must now work around – just imagine what we will be able to accomplish then!!