One of the beautiful things about writing, at least to me, is that no one writes the exact same way. We all come to the blank page in differently. The way we allow our ideas to formulate and then come to life differs from writer to writer. So what works for me might not work for you, exactly. My process might sound insane to many of you (though it probably is, in actuality), but I also believe we can always learn from each other.
I never thought I would write the way I write today. In college, my intention was to become an academic writer on the subject of history. I was trained to write research papers. I cited evidence to support a thesis. That was my writing process, and it left me empty. So when I left academics a couple years ago yet still wanted to write, I kind of had to start over. I was able to reinvent myself, which was both exhilarating and terrifying.
I had to learn to let go of the stringency academic writing seems to breed. Even now it’s not always easy for me to simply spill words onto a page. I over think, over plan, and over analyze myself and my words. It can be paralyzing.
But I didn’t let go of thoughtfulness, the carefulness, the attention to detail. Writing is an art, in a way. The composition of a piece is invaluable to the final product. I’m never careless with words. Everything I write—every single adjective, metaphor, and comma—has a purpose. You must spill words onto a page, but they must mean something. They must reflect exactly what you intend. They must come together like a Jackson Pollock painting: an organized mess of randomness that is simply beautiful; something only you could construct and bring to life.
So, my “process”/thoughts on writing:
Coming up with ideas.
Inspiration strikes at the most random times. I wrote an entire short story from a dialogue I imagined in the shower one morning. The idea for one of my favorite blog pieces came to me while driving in the car to get coffee. One week, I wrote a series using songs by The Killers as inspiration. There is no simple formula. What works for me one day could be a dry well tomorrow.
But never discount the potential of the mundane to inspire brilliance or creativity. Reading novels always does wonders for me. Music (though I can’t really listen to it while writing) can spark an idea with just one perfect line. Magazines, blogs, tv shows, movies, and even good conversations with dear friends can produce a fount of ideas. Just make sure you carry around a notebook to jot them down.
I adore editing. For other people. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to get wordy and to ramble, and having to go back and cut things out can get rough. It is easy to get attached to the way the words have come together and perhaps impossible to imagine them any other way.
But there is beauty and elegance in simplicity. Why use three mediocre words to describe something when one really fantastic word tells your story? You have something worth saying. You don’t need to become effusive and flowery in order for your writing to be considered worth reading.
Get a second opinion.
Sometimes, however, we read and reread what we’re working on so much that we stop seeing it. We just glaze over and the words just run together, clashing letters on the page. Something is missing in the piece, but we just aren’t sure what.
So ask for advice. It’s amazing what can happen when you get a second pair of eyes to look at what you’re working on. One of the best things to happen to my writing was getting a writing partner. Anytime I’m stuck or need another perspective, I desperately text Cory Copeland and he always comes through for me. Maybe he just reassures me that I’m not writing nonsense or he gives me a few suggestions to tighten up a piece; either way, he’s invaluable to my writing process. He knows my style and I trust his opinion. With his encouragement and gentle criticism, I’ve grown and become more confident as a writer.
(I’m also forever thankful to Molly Chambers, whose poetic sensibility challenges me to try new things.)
I can be stubborn. If there is an idea in my mind, I want to put it on paper, and I will tire myself out trying to recreate what I’ve imagined. But the more I wrestle with the words, the more tortured they become. I can read back over it and feel my struggle with each word.
I’ve had to learn to step back and give myself room to breathe. Some days, I need to walk away from a piece and let it rest. There are blog posts I’ve done that are the product of a couple of hours of concentration; others have come together slowly over weeks. Each piece requires something different from me as a writer. There is no weakness in getting a good night’s rest or a taking a few weeks and returning to give it your full attention.
What you want to say. vs. What needs to be said.
There are moments when an idea blindsides me. I can feel my skin tingling with the desire to turn the thought into something real that I can share. I want to tell this story. I want to write this blog post. I want to write a pointed rebuttal to something I’ve read.
What we want to write isn’t always what needs to be said. There is a time and place for everything. I’ve written pieces in a frenzy that I’ve gone back over and asked myself, “Did you write this because you needed to, or because you wanted to?” A year ago, I’m not sure I would have known the difference. But not everything I want to write needs to be said. Maybe today, the world needs something else from me. My words, while my own, are meant for something greater than myself. Being a writer means letting go of selfishness and embracing humility or even silence.
My writing as it stands today would probably appall most of my old college professors. Not only have I fallen into a more colloquial way of writing, I sort of tossed out the grammar rules… I love run-on sentences and rarely do I use commas when I ought to. I start sentences off with “because” or “and” or “but” far more than is acceptable. And I use “so” A LOT. (It’s a problem.)
But my writing is my own. I have created my own voice and style, and I like to think it sounds like me. The only rules I follow are the ones I’ve made for myself. If writing truly is an art, it is up to the artist to define their own parameters. Step as far outside the box as you can and construct your own. Never limit yourself to someone else’s rules. Don’t constrain or dilute your talent or calling to fit into what someone else has determined to be the “right way” to write.
Write for yourself, how you want, with passion and heart and soul. Leave a piece of yourself in everything you write so that you can look back and know it’s yours.
Thank you for reading! And maybe (definitely) follow me on Twitter >> @cassiclerget.
I’m pretty entertaining.