Sunday, July 17, 2011

My Writing Process in 20 Simple Steps


It’s probably fitting that I like roller coasters, because otherwise the time leading up to publication would be jarring enough to give me whiplash. Not that it’s bad. It's actually awesome. Just an intense, nail-biting kind of awesome. The highs are oh so high, and the lows are…well, you get the point. So, in case you’re a writer who likes roller coasters too, jump on board, and try these 20 easy-to-follow steps for a peaceful, productive writing experience:

Step 1: Type, type, type. Feel brilliant and creative. Walk to kitchen for a healthy snack when brain gets tired. Race back to laptop mid-snack when spontaneous idea strikes. Check clock when husband says, “So are we eating tonight, or…???” and realize several hours have passed. Gush at dinner about thoroughly productive day.

Step 2: Struggle to focus on tasks at hand. Drive around town without remembering where or why. Carry notebook and pen everywhere so not to miss any flashing moments of genius. Refuse to complete any other activities until ideas have been purged into laptop.

Step 3: Uh oh. Hit snag. Tear apart last few chapters. Force a new scene to fit where it clearly doesn’t. Pace through house. Snack on potato chips. Work out. Feel better. Start again with fresh mind. Ahh. Everything is Zen.

Step 4: Race to finish. Too much caffeine. Ideas keep coming. Chocolate? Yes, please. Can’t stop typing. But wait, were those the last words? Am I happy? Shouldn’t I be happy? Why am I not happy?? Is first draft euphoria…over?

Step 5: Work out. Sweat butter and chocolate. Swear to eat better this week. Catch up on three weeks of laundry. Write a shopping list that includes vegetables and other such foods that don’t identify high-fructose corn syrup and red dye #7 as main ingredients.

Step 6: Miss the characters. Miss the plot. Miss the process.

Step 7: Read through entire manuscript with a bottomless mug of caffeinated tea.

Step 8: Realize idiocy. Nothing makes sense! Nothing flows! What was I thinking?! Several more pots of tea required. Goodbye vegetables. Hello Reese’s.

Step 9: It’s okay, it’s okay. No one knows I messed up. I can fix this before anyone sees. Swear off caffeine. Switch to health foods. Do yoga. Tweak manuscript until it makes sense. Feel accomplished. I am not just creative; I am attentive and detail-oriented.

Step 10: Call agent, but minimize brilliance just in case she hates it. Email manuscript. Freak out that she really will hate it. Work out. Work out. Work out.

Step 11: Resist calling/emailing agent 10 times a day to see if she hates it. Refresh inbox every 30-45 seconds. Fantasize about snuggling with chocolate cupcakes. Cry reading books written by authors who are clearly a gazillion times more talented.

Step 12: Agent calls. Too anxious to process anything she says. Later recall feeling good about phone call, but with no memory of why. Receive 8 page editorial letter. Seriously consider moving to Alaska and living off the land.

Step 13: Reality sets in. Manuscript sucks. I suck. Every suggestion from agent makes sense. There are crater-sized holes in the plot. Character inconsistencies. Lack of follow through. No other author in the world is this bad. I am the queen of Craptown. Someone kill me now.

Step 14: Finally call agent. Sound pitiful and pathetic. Allow agent to cheerlead using words like “capable” and “talented.” Half believe her.

Step 15: Allow one week to pass. Then two. With week three comes panic. Still no ideas. I have let agent down. I have let family down. I am not good enough to be published. Who ate the last piece of chocolate cake? THAT WAS MY PIECE OF CHOCOLATE CAKE! Pace around house carrying baseball bat (to stimulate thinking). Husband and dog stay clear.

Step 16: Wait.
Was that an idea?
It’s been so long I hardly remember what one feels like.

Step 17: Open manuscript. Read through pieces. Remember. Apologize to characters for self-indulgent absence.

Step 18: One idea leads to two. Tear apart pages. Copy and paste text. Agonize over two lines for six hours; return the next day and delete them anyway. Snap at people for no reason. Gesture rudely in traffic. Apologize to husband for the twentieth time for glaring at him unintentionally, then attack him mercilessly for forgetting to recap the toothpaste. Piece by piece things come together.

Step 19: Return manuscript to agent. Feel nauseous and exhausted.

Step 20: Say nothing when agent calls to gush about revisions. Skepticism turns to shock. Shock turns to joy. Not a fluke; I am brilliant! But now I must submit to editor.

(Repeat Steps 10-20 substituting “editor” for “agent.”)

What’s YOUR process like?

15 comments:

Katie McGarry said...

Brilliant posting! I totally love hit the refresh button every 45 seconds bit waiting to hear if they liked it!!! I love knowing someone else shares my angst!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Ha! Love it. So true.

Kristen Simmons said...

Katie - I am right there with you. Sometimes it helps just to close down the computer. And if all else fails, take a trip to the ocean.

Vicky - thanks for stopping by!

Tracy Bilen said...

Sounds so familiar!

Lisa Tapp said...

Sounds like neurosis is a natural part of a writer's life. I'm soooo relieved! :)

Kristen Simmons said...

Tracy and Lisa - I'm glad I'm not the only one. :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

Love this. I can so relate. Except I'd never give up the coffee.

GinaRosati said...

Oh, Kristen, you've captured it perfectly!! I would add only 21. Throw crumpled wads of paper at my children while screaming, "Be quiet! Can't you see I'm writing!"

Kristin Lenz said...

Gina - yes, kids throw another dimension into this process!

Other Kristen - This was so perfect, and you are so funny! Many pots of tea are essential to my writing process too.

This reminds me of social work process recordings. Did you ever have to do those for your MSW field placements? I had to record every word, thought, and emotion that occurred during therapy sessions. You basically just did that for the process of writing!

Eve Marie Mont said...

Kristen, this post is hilarious! Are any writers not neurotic like this? I am sad to say I am only somewhere around step 2 or 3 on my sequel. Ugh! I love Gina's addition of #21 where we become irrationally cruel and intolerant. My poor husband is so patient.

Kurt Hampe said...

Fun post, Kristen. We all put a bit of ourselves in our charcters, plus the writing is ours, so it's much easer to get on the roller-coaster than it is to get off.

You reminded me of one of my artist favorite quotes, which runs to the opposite extreme. This is from Ian Paice, the drummer of Deep Purple. "When I first got slagged I thought Christ it's all over. Now, if I get a good review, great. I don't want to go and kiss the guy, not that I kiss many guys, but if I get a bad review then obviously the guy's an idiot and I'll never speak to him again 'cos I've lost all respect for him."

Kristen Simmons said...

Natalie - there are some lines we just cannot cross. It's so true. Ha!

Gina - you crack me up!!

Kristin - totally did process recordings for my master's. Would say that I have no desire to do it again, but...it looks like I may have just done it again. Shoot.

Eve - hang in there. Book 2 is currently with my editor, and I'm getting ready to start the whole ride again with Book 3. I would like to say my process has streamlined, but, well...lol. Labor of love, right?

Kurt - so right. The things we do for our "loved ones." Great quote, btw.

Colette Ballard said...

I LOVE it, Kristen!! I am so with you! If my poor husband had known i was a writer when he met me, i'm sure he would've run in the other direction! FAST!!!

Michelle said...

Love it! Thanks for posting such a revitalising post ;)

Kristen Simmons said...

Colette - mine too. Totally.

Michelle - thanks for stopping by! Nice to meet you!