Chloe sent me a note the other day: “Hey, you wanna write about your writing process?” I laughed, out loud, like seriously. I’m supposed to have a process?
But, since Chloe is a long-time very dear friend, I, of course, said yes. How hard could it be to make something up?
“Great!” she said, “I need it by Monday for a blog stroll. Send me a short bio asap.”
Wait…wha..? What the hell did I just do? Send a bio?! I obviously forget that Chloe is a Legit Blogger (people-note the plural usage there-read and follow her blog, and ask her to speak at all sorts of Important Bloggy Events and Stuff). She, on the other hand, forgot that I get really excited if my stats go over a hundred views for the day. It’s pretty funny she asked me of all people to expound on My Writing Process…
…which I need to actually discuss here at some point. (Apparently my writing process involves a significant amount of rambling.)
Where to begin? Ah, I know. At the beginning:
Good metaphors. I love them. I hunt those elusive things down like Ted Nugent stalks bucks at dusk in the fall.
There it is in a nutshell: my writing process. It’s the careful preparation and still quiet waiting for a beast to appear seemingly out of nowhere, and then the mad rush of capturing, gutting, preparing and serving the meat to people waiting at the table I’ve prepared for them.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the hunting section of a Bass Pro Shops, so let me just state, for the record, that deer hunters are weird. Writers who are metaphor hunters like myself are even weirder. I’m talking off-the-charts capital-S Strange.
The deer hunter prepares by enticing the deer with corn and apples and various other treats designed to get them to frequent The Spot. I entice the metaphor by reading: inspiration for a poem or article or even a book chapter can come from anywhere. I’ve written entire articles from a phrase I read on a billboard or in a newspaper, something my kids say (yesterday, Eric said, “Mom, I had to blow my nose at recess and some kid stepped in my snot!” I mean, you can’t make gems like that up). Poems emerge from a single sentence in books I’ve read (I just read the phrase “savage regalia”: there’s a poem there, I’m certain of it), and some of the funniest stuff I’ve written is born of my frustrations as I wander about this goofy planet.
As I prepare, I jot down ideas using Evernote, which is a *fantastic* tool for bloggers: I save everything there, and it serves as my First Draft folder. The app is on my phone which makes it portable. For me, that’s the best thing about it, especially when chronicling the Ericisms-that child is always on the move. Pieces actually In Progress are moved to my blog’s draft folder from Evernote.
Sometimes a turn of phrase I saved will simmer for months before it grows into anything. Lots of times, ideas wither and die in my first draft folder. (This, for example, is the third attempt at writing this piece.) Forcing the idea to grow is usually disastrous: I end up with some strange mutation of words that just needs to be put out of its misery. Writing, for me, is about silence as well as speech. Most thoughts need quiet and space to grow.
The Mad Rush
It’s funny: when the thought is ready, it’s ready right freakin’ now, regardless of the time or my other responsibilities. The drafts spill from my pen fast, paragraphs running out onto the page faster than I can type or hand-write them.
This is so much fun and such a rush for me as a writer, much like when the hunter has that trophy buck in his sights at four a.m. in -20 degrees: their thrill makes zero sense to Normal People. But, discipline is required: I’m never going to hit my target without taking careful aim, shooting cleanly, and removing every unnecessary word.
Gutting the Beast
Once written, editing is next. It is a bloody and merciless business. Many times, I let the piece sit for a week or more, and then come back and attack it with my Delete key. The buffer of time brings clarity, and then the editing is more fruitful. I remove as many pronouns and adverbs as possible (cue Stephen King: “The adverb is not your friend.”) along with unnecessary prepositional phrases, and any other phrasing that is doing more harm than good. My goal as a writer is for my reader to hear my voice and smell what I’m talking about. In fact, I want the smell to knock them on their ass. I have accomplished this lofty goal maybe three times in my three years of blogging.
Recipes and other detail-dependent pieces are checked for accuracy, and all spelling is checked and re-checked, and then checked again. (Note: just because there’s no ugly red squiggly lines under any words in a post doesn’t mean you’ve spelled everything correctly: synonyms often sneak through the spell checker. Re-read the whole piece; don’t depend on spell-check.)
Many bloggers write in order to pull in traffic from search engines. They work tirelessly on SEO to gain readership. I don’t. I could care less about SEO for the purposes of my blog. I don’t need to be tapped as the latest blog expert on some cable news show. I am not motivated by stats as much as I am motivated by writing something that moves or delights or challenges me and my small family of readers in some significant way.
For the purposes of blogging, I utilize photography (mainly my own) to illustrate and add interest to the writing. Music is often added to recipes, and links are inserted when quoting other pieces as needed. Long pieces are sometimes cut in halves or thirds and quotes from outside sources are added, which hopefully bring a bit of legitimacy to whatever crazy opinion or observation I’ve written.
I also make use of the tag and category features available on the dashboard. I try to keep the categories to a minimum, as well as the tags. Poetry is always only tagged and categorized as poetry: anything else, and I am defeating the whole point of poetry: to allow the poem to speak to the reader as the reader interprets, not as I do.
Writing is a continual hunt in a huge and often dark forest. For me, it’s a special, often nearly spiritual journey, and though I’m on no easily-traversed trail, the journey in the woods has made me more observant, more aware of my surroundings, and the exercise of writing and the meat I’ve digested have made me, and hopefully my readers, stronger and better equipped for the road ahead.
There are other hunters in the forest, searching for their own game. I’ve gotten to know several wonderful and thought-provoking writers as I’ve wandered around the blogosphere, and I’d like to introduce three of them to you. These bloggers are masters of their style, and experts in their chosen areas. Be sure to check out their blogs, and their upcoming posts on their own writing processes.
Nate Owens began his blog in 2006 as a fundamentalist Christian. His posts mostly centered on doctrinal issues that often divide denominations: the importance of baptism, the function of the Holy Spirit, once saved always saved, predestination, whether or not the Bible condemns all alcohol or just drunkenness, etc. In 2008 and 2009, he posted very little, in part because he was slowly moving to a more moderate form of Christianity. But in 2010, he experienced a crisis of faith when he was shown evidence that the Bible may not actually be inerrant — a position he had always firmly held to. After much research, he finally left Christianity at some significant personal cost. In 2011, he came back to his blog, this time as an atheist. Since then, Nate’s posts have primarily revolved around the problems in Christianity, and he’s also done a multi-part series detailing the events of his deconversion. Beyond his life in the blogosphere, Nate is a self-employed software developer. He is happily married and is the father of three perfect children.
Tony Roberts is a balding middle-aged Midwesterner with an unquiet mind who has a way with words. He is author of the spiritual memoir Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission. In spite of his pseudo-Luddite convictions, he can be found at “A Way With Words,” as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@indy_tony).
Victoria Adams is an accountant and financial analyst by profession, but numbers can get numbing. Not in a mood to allow her mind to glaze over, she has always found ways to be creative in her business career by helping in the growth, development or startup of many different kinds of enterprises. That creative spirit extended to many of her leisure activities where she pursued such things as pottery, needlepoint, gardening, and well just about anything that is creative. Her professional background has also made her a perpetual researcher. In this way she developed a deep love of philosophy, religion, history, archeology and anthropology. What she learns she loves to share so she has been a teacher and occasional speaker. For many years her husband tried to get her to share through writing. Now that she has tested the waters with her first book, which ironically was about the first year of learning to live with his dementia, she is ready to reach further and write the things he always wanted to see. Her blog, Victoria Adam’s Reading Alcove, is a fascinating world full of a little bit of everything. One can get lost in all the best ways there.