My Writing Process

This post ought to have been left blank because I realized that I have no process. Or perhaps there is no process.

Except that process where you have shown perseverance in spending time glued to the chair at your desk, tearing your hair (if you have any left), sighing in despair, pacing up and down the floor and sitting through the bouts of time when there has been no writing.

I realized also that you must have reached a goal, albeit set by yourself, weekly or monthly, of a number of pages/words that you decided to write, even if the writing was all gibberish, to have started thinking about a process.

The gibberish is an important ingredient to start with.  It is the one that might or might not lead to magic.

Unfortunately, I have realized through the years that there is no magic in the world that you haven’t produced yourself. But try enough times and you’ll see that for those who know how to look for it, lo and behold! “Zim zam zambowe/ Magic comes from nowhere!” (so sings the wise, white-haired, white-bearded sorcerer from the Indian children’s show Chota Bheem).

The sorcerer with Chota Bheem and his gang. The image is linked to the the image url. Thanks to The Boy for locating this image.

The following steps are solely how it happens with me. I’ll be very glad to hear how it happens to you.

I. The idea strikes

Most of the time, the idea strike will not be that one, epiphanic moment. Before you reach it, you will realize that you might have been considering a matter for a while, for the whole day, for weeks or even months. You’ll notice that when it first emerged, you may not have been able to get quite a grip on it. It may have stayed in the background processes of your mind even without your conscious participation. Then one day, you decide to sit down, glue yourself to that chair, and maybe after several attempts, you are able to understand what you might have wanted to say. Or maybe you’re the type who mentally sees the idea mature while taking a shower, dishwashing or riding down the elevator.

II. You hear the tone in your head

Once the idea has ripened, I don’t know about you, but I hear the piece like a distant song in my head. It’s a strange, uncomfortable experience, reaching a point when I want to get it out of my system. I don’t hear the words at all, or see the structure. I just hear a tone, lyrical, witty, heavy, light or staccato, what it sounds like at the beginning or maybe the middle or the end—all muddled but I know it’s coming. That’s the point when I also feel the emotion, if you can call it that, of the piece: sad, nostalgic, loving, sarcastic, hateful, didactic, things that are fused with the tone I heard. That’s when I know I have to sit down at some point soon and write it out before the mood escapes me.

III. You write it out

Often this is the hardest part for me. Sometimes it all comes out easily. It is the most anxiety ridden, the most frustrating step that requires the most concentration. I just try to imitate the tone I heard in my head with words. That first line, which often does not remain the first line in the final version, is the hardest to write out.

WritingThis is the step where I write it out just as the idea comes out without any attention to typos, grammatical errors or much paragraph division or carefulness regarding quotes and attribution, if any. I write till I reach the end or if it is going to be very long and I can’t do it in one setting, I fill in missing and complicated parts separated by ellipses. I know some do this part differently. They write an outline or move more slowly writing every sentence perfectly and composing paragraphs very close to the final version.

Whatever works but for me, the product of this step looks nothing like the final version. It is full of gaps, jarring bits with little sequence. A lot of it lacks nuance with many more instances of “telling” than “showing.” In this part, I am my only audience. I write for myself.

IV. You rewrite it

This is the part that is easier and the part I can do sitting with people over coffee too.  It has to be very detailed work, meticulous and sometimes boring. It is the part where I fill the gaps, put in the descriptions, complete the details, change person and tense where necessary and covert some of the “telling” into “showing.” I look for repeated words, put in synonyms, decide where to divide paragraphs, use transitions, simply turn the gibberish that makes sense to me into something that another person can read and understand.

V. You polish it

For me, anticipating audience comes at this last stage where I consider what needs to be explained or developed more so people can understand, restructuring the sequence of paragraphs so that the start does not put people off or raise expectations that the piece may not fulfil. I also anticipate how the young or the old might react to something I may have said, connect or not connect and what I can do about it.

Being bilingual (almost trilingual) and Indian, and often describing events in different parts of the world, I sometimes have the hard task of trying to decide whether and how much to explain some things in English and what to do when some words don’t carry forth the same weight in English translations—whether to simply italicize those words and leave them on the page in my vernacular or to translate. I move here from simple self-expression to an act of communication.

I realize that parts of the polishing is best done after leaving the piece for a day or two or even weeks depending on what kind of writing it is. Patience, however, is not one of my strong virtues. So, while blogging at least, I mostly  hit the publish button before that last step.

But I know that I must be careful of a few things. Once many people reach a certain level of expertise, they can produce tolerable writing without waiting for the idea to strike or without hearing the tone of the piece. But over time, I’ve realized that cutting corners during those first two steps leads to a steady decline in quality. Also, audience considerations can be incorporated only when the substance has been found, not before, for the kind of writing I do. Otherwise, people are usually clever enough to spot writing that has been done for cheap publicity.

Then, even after I’ve followed all of these steps, I have to be prepared for the fact that magic can strike only sometimes, not always. In writing, as in life, the hard lesson is that there are no guarantees.

Yet, we hope and wait.

Advertisements

34 thoughts on “My Writing Process”

  1. Sounds familiar to me at times; I can be all over the place when I initially start off. I keep pen & paper everywhere in my house so I can write down an idea when it hits me. I usually end up with at least 4 or 5 sheets of paper with all these ideas on them and then I try to make them make sense. Once I start actually typing out my story I usually start to focus on making sure everything is how I want it. I will make revision after revision adding and taking away the parts that I feel are missing or just fluff. I’m not even sure why I make deadlines for myself because I never ever keep them. I must get better on this; I have folks waiting on my book that I said would initially be ready last year, then by Labor Day, now I’m hoping before the end of the year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. talk about good timing. your motto, “waste no anguish but turn it into a brightly coloured post” is exactly what i did in my post for this week. and you’re mentioned in it too. but i’ve read a few of your posts and look forward to reading more. clear writing is never underrated in my book!

    Like

  3. Hmm, so that’s the secret then. I’ve been doing it all wrong. 🙂

    I don’t capture ideas and note them down, and I realize I should. But I’ve never been a very outwardly organized sort of person. Inside my head, order exists, of a sort that works for me. I can think logically and rely on it for my day job, so I suppose there must be order somewhere. It’s not, however, in a journal or to-do list or on my desk which is a confused mess of paper. I have recently become more disciplined about festooning my office with sticky notes.

    My process is very simple. I agonize for weeks about what to write, mulling over different ideas. Then one day I do start writing and then I end up, typically, producing something quite different. Once I start writing a blog post, I usually finish within 20-30 minutes. Then I preview, edit and revise maybe 5-8 times. Check that all the images came out right and there are no &nbsp that WP likes to throw in for no good reason sometimes. Then I check all the tags and links and hit publish.

    I have tried asking people to vote for topics / stories. The Coconut Oil Chaperone was by request as was the tale of the traumatic business trip to Nepal that I just finished in 8 chapters. The problem is that I sometimes entice people with snappy headings / topics and then I have no idea what to do when they say, “Ok, I want to read that”. That was the post about Fish, for example. I threw it out there for some reason, people said write it and I was stumped. Why did I give them that? Anyway, I did manage to put something out there which sort of had a fishy tinge to it, throwing in an enticing picture of hilsa in mustard sauce and talking about my personal experience with that tasty but terrifyingly time-consuming species. And now they’ve asked for something on “Yeast is Yeast and West is West”. Snappy header, but what the hell was I thinking? I’ll get down to it at some point, I’m sure, but right now I have nothing on that.

    I had no idea your posts were not as effortless as they seem. I guess I should have known that this level of lucidity does not come lightly and easily. Good one!

    Uh… if you get tired of reading long comments, do let me know. I can go on and on and on and on and on…. sometimes.

    Like

    1. Thanks for sharing your process. It helps to know how others do it. Thanks for saying my posts read effortless. Sometimes the effort behind them is little sometimes a lot. Rarely is the process as clearly demarcated as it reads here–sometimes 1 and 2 follow each other in quick succession leading to a fused 3 and 4 and if I am lucky there is little to do with stage 5.

      But if you average over a period of time with a lot of posts, yes, there is effort involved.And there is no direct +ve correlation between individual good posts and the amount of effort behind them but again, over a period of time, effort does lead to better writing and writing never falls below a certain standard if there was effort.

      Like

  4. Hi Bottledwonder,
    Thanks for liking my short story “Obviously Hidden” on gazingatfallingleaves.wordpress.com

    You’re an inspiration and I hope to be able to teach about writing and write full-time-one day.

    Alexis

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Of course I smile when I read that on some occasions you hesitate between using a word in one language or another. Your posts are always very well crafted and vividly written, so it is hard for me to imagine you struggling about this. But it is also true that good writing begs for better writing, turning the effort into a more demanding task.
    Looking forward to reading more…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t call it a struggle to write in one language when you think of better words in another language when you are multi-lingual. For example, English has the words snow, ice, slush, sleet, black ice etc. In Bengali we only have “borof”-one word because it never snows in Bengal and the fridge is only a recent invention. So I could be tempted to say “ice” for precision. The reverse is true for relationships-we have plenty of specific words to signify the exact relations for various kinds of uncles for example in Bengali–Mama (mother’s brother), Kaka (father’s younger brother), Jyatha (father’s older brother). So “uncle” never is satisfactory, especially when writing in the context of an Indian family!

      Like

      1. Although French is closer to English than Bengali to English the same choices exist for me too. Sometimes I favor one language to another for the same reasons. I love the different names you have for ‘uncle.’
        In French we only have one: oncle. Really close to English. Brother in law gets more complex though! Love how different countries and cultures offer so many options. Always nice to read you and learn from your posts.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. What are thanks worth. I don’t understand. I have this overriding urge to “thank” you, but all the negativity associated with any form of formality whatsoever is lost due to the fact that anyone who is polite just gets stepped on as hell by people wishing you well and who are “close” to you. Fucking agonizing. Social etiquette gone and even referring to these things in __writing__ now causes me despair. What do I do then?

    Like

    1. I too have this overwhelming urge to thank you for wishing to thank me. So thank you. Despite what I wrote above, I also feel that most things we feel can’t be expressed even a fraction of what they are via writing and so do not despair if my thank you does not sound the way I meant it to sound as a thank you but am thankful to have been able to write it down.

      Like

  7. What a beautiful post–certainly doesn’t sound like it’s written by someone who has the same anguish I do hahahaha. Re the polish stage: why is mine so long? I feel like the slowest learner/writer in the world.

    Like

  8. This is a wonderful piece and you have captured it all, with greater description and understanding than many writers have of the process. It is indeed a process, and the thing most of us notice is that it takes time – sometimes a great deal of it.

    This is certainly how it unfolds for me. For me the most important step is that last one when I put my work aside (or am otherwise forced away from my work for a time), because it’s only when looking at it through fresh eyes and without expectation that I can see what the reader will see and know if this is the finished product I intend.

    It’s a wonderful feeling when it is, yet still excellent when it is not! This step allows me to see exactly where the weaknesses are and what needs to be done, which all helps towards the end goal. As you, too, have noticed, the hardest part of this step is the waiting. 🙂

    Thank you for a great article. Cheers to you! 😀

    Allyson

    Like

    1. Hello Allyson. I wish I could borrow some of your patience, I mean, like immediately! 🙂 Even during in-class exams, I never had the patience to revise and things do strike me later when it’s already sent out even now. But I’ve realized that in some matters, character is destiny, including the warts and if you suppress the downsides too much, it sometimes bottles up the good things too. Hence, at least with the blog, I let myself go and hit the publish button as soon as I finish although I’ve meant to leave many a post for a few days everytime!

      Like

      1. I don’t think I’ve ever managed patience with blogging! 😀 I should have more control when it comes to my books, too. I wanted to let the second one sit for a time, but people were waiting for it, so I gave it only scant time. This third one will be the test – it’s already late and, yes, people are waiting for it. Whether I can be disciplined enough to say, ‘No, not yet,’ I won’t know for sure until it’s done.

        Wish me luck on that one (I think we are in the same boat as far as patience is concerned).

        Like

  9. I am less disciplined, more erratic than you. I have several ideas floating around at the same time. When I reach a stage I think of as three dreams crossing, then a plot begins to gel and I start an outline. I might have three outlines tucked away, but I will only really write one at a time. And yes, it is a struggle, but a lot of it is good fun.

    Like

  10. Your process sounds similar to mine, especially the tearing out of the hair, the pacing, the gibberish of the first draft….

    The original idea evolving over time until it is a clear message that I know I wanted and needed to say, and that I feel in my bones that others want to read.

    I often think that if I knew each time it would come out great in the end, I wouldn’t feel the anxiety. But maybe that’s the point. I need to feel the anxiety that it may flop in order to do the work it takes. I also need to believe in my point to want to persevere. It’s always a mystery. Will it work? But it’s so worth the effort and process.

    Thanks for sharing your process. It’s comforting to know that even *you* sometimes struggle. :).

    Like

    1. I struggle ALL the time. The more writing I’m doing, I’m finding it easier but taking on more difficult things to express. Also, I should’ve mentioned that the final version sometimes comes out quite different from the one I imagined at the beginning of the process.

      Thanks for a lovely response Miriam.

      Like

Comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s