Most people don’t believe it, but I was almost thirty years old, and had been teaching English for seven years, when I discovered I possessed a writing process. I learned about it in a special summer program for teachers of English at the University of Texas – Austin–the Hill Country Writing Project.
A certain writer of fiction for middle grade who spoke at the Texas Library Association’s Bluebonnet luncheon several years ago was even older than I when she found out about hers. I won’t mention her name, although I’ve just discovered she lives in Austin and am wondering whether she might accept an invitation to speak at one of my Sisters in Crime chapter’s meetings–But I digress.
This author said children she met at school visits started asking, “What is your writing process?” When they explained to her what that was, she thought a while and then described it in roughly the following way:
Hit the alarm button, roll out of bed, throw on robe, drag out of bedroom, bang on son’s door in passing, go downstairs, make coffee, pile dirty towels in hall, bang on son’s door and yell “Get up,” dress, put towels in and start washer, go to office, turn on computer, inhale coffee fumes until eyes open, pull up file, stare at monitor, drink coffee, stare some more, check on son . . .
This author’s process isn’t exactly what the UT scholars meant but it’s worked for her through nearly sixty books (the last time I counted).
About a month ago I reviewed my own writing process–I’d been trying and failing to complete (which means I couldn’t even begin) a 100-word story for Friday Fictioneers, and I believed analyzing my process might offer insight into the source of the problem. I did my best to remember how I had written the first three short-short stories, which had practically composed themselves.
The next three paragraphs provide a rough description of what went through my mind as I wrote those stories, which were based on picture prompts. I’ve included links so you can see the pictures and also, if you wish, read the final versions of the stories.
The second story: “Lovestruck.” Prompt–picture of old boat. Know nothing about boats. Grandfather’s old wooden boat on river. Friend’s husband surprised her with boat; she wasn’t pleased. Husband and wife. He wants boat. She sees flaws, thinks he’s crazy. He sees possibilities. Probably unrealistic. She’s patient. He doesn’t listen? What’s the end? Oh–he loves the boat–a love affair, name boat. No, lust. Ending? ???Too long. Quote Coleridge–develops wife’s character, she reads. Oh–have him intro boat-girlfriend to wife–first line–hook reader. Ending? Cut more. Oh–she wants something, boat is leverage–imply–end? suggest they look at–what?–sewing machine. She wants him happy–but–what’s good for gander. Both smiling. Cut.
The third story: “‘Shrooms.” Prompt–picture of mushrooms. What the heck I do with that? Poisonous. Lord Peter Wimsey–victim killed w/ deadly Amanita. Wife cooks mushroom gravy–End, poisons husband. How trite. Keep them talking about mushrooms. Tease–he won’t eat mushrooms, never does. Afraid of mistake–toadstools. She picked them. Husband–horrified! Create character, aunt–knows mushrooms–helped pick. Okay. Tastes, yum. Aunt pops in–new glasses–poor vision picking mushrooms–imply. End ambiguous. Accident? What did husband eat? Whimsy, understatement–Might want to spit out. Not trite.
First story: “Nothing But Gray.” Prompt: Man looking out window at courtyard? stone walls on all sides, no visible exit–b&w except for pot plants, red flowers. Boxed in, trapped, stone, gray. Start–boy, not man, place him staring out, gray stone, his POV. Easy–put him at window. Consider table, 4 plates, one boy. Guests for dinner? A brother. Mom comes in. Gray. Death. Mom in denial. 4 plates. (Note: Really, I’m not sure how I wrote this. Serendipity. Started writing and tripped over a miracle.)
That isn’t exactly what the scholars meant either–they talked about pre-writing, writing, revising, editing, polishing, nitpicking,** things that can be taught in a formal classroom setting.
I’m talking about the process unique to the individual, the brain state during which neurons explode at the mere thought of outlining before you do anything else or outlining at all, the state during which you either eat five pounds of Cadbury eggs or handcuff yourself to the birdbath so you can’t reach the box. Or, the state in which you’re relaxed, productive, focused, enjoying the act of creation despite the confusion and uncertainty creation entails.
To be continued…
Join me for Part 2 to discover
the Five Truths of the Writing Process,
how to make your writing practice more effective, and
What Darrell Royal and a Jack Russell Terrier Have to Do With Anything
- Nitpicking isn’t an official part of the writing process, but some people throw it in anyway.
- Sister in Crime Tresha Barger introduced me to Friday Fictioneers. Here’s a link to one of her stories: http://treshabarger.com/2015/04/03/looking-up-fiction-friday/
- To become a Friday Fictioneer, read instructions here: https://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/friday-fictioneers-2/. Then check Rochelle’s main page for the photo prompt, here: https://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/ You’ll probably have to scroll down to locate the correct picture. The projected date of publication will be the title. The official publication date is the Friday after the Wednesday prompt announcement. However, as I understand it, that’s a Friday-ish deadline. If Friday is impossible, just put it online before the next prompt comes out. Any Fictioneers out there, please correct me if I’m wrong.
Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write, and once or twice a month at Writing Wranglers and Warriors. Two of her stories will appear in AMW’s MURDER ON WHEELS, available soon from Wildside Press. Years ago, Kathy’s tongue got lodged in her cheek and she’s never managed to get it unstuck, so you can’t believe everything she says. Except about the writing process.