Writing About Writing

Since my aforementioned friend Dan asked me several questions about my creative process, I figured I'd make that today's post. Not least because my fingers are about to fall off and I exhausted most of my creative energy for the day by plotting out a discussion + my future. (Also, if I spend much more time typing at my computer and not playing with my cat, said cat will probably report me to PETA for neglect.)

Q: How do I come up with ideas?
A: For starters, I don't have a list stored somewhere of topics that I would like to write on eventually. Perhaps it is due to a lack of discipline on my part, but I find it extremely difficult to plan to write something at some distant future moment. In fact, I find it difficult to write with any destination whatsoever. More on that momentarily (...I don't think that was a contradiction. Not sure.).

Often you can kind of see what's motivating my subject from how I open. Today, for instance, I'm answering some questions, although a little more broadly than was asked of me. I once wrote a post about being surprised by grief that coagulated from a coworker's grandparent's death and my sudden inclination to eat honey butter. So there are some that are more spontaneous, contingent on what I've been reading, talking about, watching, etc., and others that are the result of several things coming together.

I will say that I occasionally jot down or otherwise take note of thoughts that occur to me at random, and sometimes I'll cull from those if they still interest me enough to write about them. But as I look back through my notes in my phone, it seems like these are meant to be complete thoughts in themselves and not something I'll develop into a longer piece.

Then there's my poetry. I dunno. That sort of appears from somewhere that I don't really look at too hard.

Q: Do I edit?
A: If by "edit" you mean, do I go through and rigorously check my structure, look for a controlling thesis, ensure that everything flows correctly, that sort of thing: no, I do not. If I'm worried that where I start and where I finish don't have enough breadcrumbs for someone else to follow me, or if the conclusion seems to be a million miles away from the introduction, then I may wade back in with a machete and do some serious plastic surgery. But that's pretty rare, in part, I think, because I am deliberately writing shorter pieces that can't get that far off topic. I do give every post a once or twice over to check my wording or rearrange sentences, because I am an overeducated, overdeveloped fetus (as a friend once affectionately told me) and I tend to write in an unnecessarily convoluted manner.

Let it be noted, however, that to get to this point where I don't feel it necessary to edit much, I have had to write a heck of a lot that did need to be edited. I am indeed overeducated. And I had some seriously good English teachers in middle school and high school. Also, I read a lot, and I am extremely comfortable expressing myself in writing. I probably should do more editing than I do, but I think I can scrape by okay as I have been doing (feel free to disagree), and for what is essentially a side project, I just can't be bothered. If you don't have a lot of experience writing or if you don't have a love affair with yourself like I do, then please, please do edit. It's totally worth taking the time to tweak and perfect, as long as you don't get so stuck in the process that you never hit post. As a wise friend once said... "Fuck it. Ship it." (Sorry, Grandma.)

Q: What do I need to get started?
A: Rarely: a destination. This is what I was saying earlier. I often start with a thought, start to spin it, and then see where it will take me. I feel like my conclusions are the weakest part of my writing--said every honest, self-reflective writing seminar student ever--but that's partly because what I'm doing here is not meant to be a presentation of a particular thought: it's me trying to see where I can go with something and you getting to find out where I ended up.

Q: When I write, do I frequently discard what I do?
A: Hmm. Yes, and no. Usually if I start to write something, I will finish writing... something. Not necessarily what I started writing or was planning to write. There are, however, several unpublished drafts lurking in my post stash. The former circumstance happens when I haven't thought through what I want to write, or I realize that I disagree with myself, so I have to change direction mid-stride. Since I usually just write on a whim (usually = always before this past week), I don't have the room to totally throw something in the trash. If I start it, I'll finish it, somehow. If I didn't finish or didn't publish something, it's probably because I was either trying to bring together two thoughts that just wouldn't fit and I gave up or else because I had to leave my computer to do something else mid-post and was, again, trying to do something too complicated for me to pick up the thought where I left off. It is pretty rare for me to discard anything wholesale though. I mean, I still have a box under my bed with my notebooks from middle school, and trust me, I was not writing stories or poetry that anyone would ever want to read.

Please note, that unless stated otherwise, everything I've said here applies to writing blog posts (and to some extent, poetry) only. My academic papers were a very different process, in part because the demands placed on me were external: when you have to dance to someone else's beat, you have to be more strategic. And honestly, I think that's just true of anything where you're trying to argue a particular point, or develop a story, or do anything in an intentional way, especially if you have to be conscious of your audience. This particular writing is very much for myself, which is why I might get a little weird if you come up to me in person and say, "So about that thing you wrote on your blog..." It's like you're reading my diary, you creep. Of course, I'm the one who makes it public, because I'm the exhibitionist to your creep. Whatever. As long as we both know where we stand.

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