The Writing Process

If the pen is mightier than the sword, this could get ugly.

First, you get an idea. It is bright and shiny like a quarter in a corner, and you run over and pick it up and gloat quietly in your head that you were the one who found it. You subsequently remember that there are lots of ideas out there that other people have picked up and will pick up, some of which look and sound an awful lot like the one you have in your hand. Damn that Collective Unconscious thingamajig!

Still, you like your idea. It excites you, so you keep it around, like a pygmy puff (Harry Potter reference – think a less reproductive tribble). It sits on your shoulder and occasionally reminds you that it’s there. It’s comfortable, and as the idea grows and develops into something more concrete, you start to get that persistent poke at the back of your brain that you need to put this all down on paper, or in a document, whatever.

So you sit down in front of your screen or with a notebook in your lap. Perhaps you’ve done some research. Perhaps you’ve written down a few ideas. And now, with giddiness bubbly in your stomach, you’re ready to write, because that’s what you do. You write stories, some of them good.

But wait. This is a good idea. It’s quality imaginative goods here. Can you really be trusted with something of such value? Remember knocking over that soda onto your bedroom carpet? What makes you think that a klutz like you can manage to steer the story ship in the right directions through perilous waters? Maybe you should leave writing in the hands of experienced professionals rather than amateur hacks such as yourself. Then again, most professionals were amateurs at one point, and you don’t need to be professional to be a writer, right? You just have to make sure you write. And come on, woman, you’ve got skills. Maybe not mad ninja skills, but serious Shakespearian monkey skills. Why not take a whack at it? Besides, it’s your idea and you found it. No one is stopping you from writing it, and you’ll enjoy the ride.

Agh, but what if it’s crap?! This isn’t a weekend fling, this is commitment and discipline for something that may come to nothing. What if it flops or what if it’s even good and no one wants it? That was, what, a year or so of yours wasted? Well, it’s not wasted if you want to do it, you sniveling coward. Pull on your big-girl pants and get cracking. And enjoy yourself! That’s an order!

Okay, this isn’t so bad. In fact, this is kind of fun. And the writing is kind of good. Needs a little polish, but that’s what editing is for. The bits you’ve shared with people have come across well, making them want to know what’s coming, so that’s encouraging to hear. See, it’s not a waste of time. And you enjoy it, admit it. You look forward to the times you get to write and mourn the nights you have to pass because you’re too tired. You’re a discipline junkie, so keeping up with the quota is a nice little challenge to keep you in line and keep the story moving and interesting and, oh, it’s really getting exciting now. You’re doing it! You’re doing the writer thing!

A day or a few later: You suck. Seriously. Those scenes you had in your head … none of the donkey excrement you’ve vomited (yes, vomited, even though it’s supposed to come from the other end) on the screen is what you had envisioned. It’s like comparing your crocheting to Venetian lace. Your characters are annoying, their voices grating, their motivations like a PSA for literary condoms, because you’re spreading disease here, sweetie. Do the world a favor and just close your document now, before you get too far in and feel the need to finish just out of obligation. No, don’t listen to encouraging people. If everyone else encouraged you to jump off a cliff…? Encouraging people wouldn’t do that to you? Well, I’m considering it. Just drink your soda, watch a DVD, and go to sleep, because you’re not ready for the big leagues.

A day or a few later: Okay, maybe you overreacted. Now that you’ve gone over the stuff that felt wrong, it’s not nearly as bad as you expected. In fact, read in realtime, it’s pretty good. You start to build your confidence back up that you can manage this, that this could be your gateway into the professional writing world. You start to have visions of interviews and movies – it’s embarrassing, but I’m pretty sure everyone does it. Of course, that starts to terrify you all over again, because you’re not a strong person, and people reading your novel means people ripping it apart and focusing on how your characters or your plot were too much this or too little this. You’re just a tool of the patriarchy or brainwashed by the liberal media! The truth? You can’t handle the truth! Sure, maybe it’s good, but can you handle all the little things that come from success, if in fact success is a possibility. Better to sabotage yourself now.

Well, okay, you’re kind of too much of a coward to do that, too, because your characters are independent entities at this point, going their own way, and they don’t really care what you think either. And you stick to your guns by listening to them and letting the plot go where it wants to. Sure, the voices are still jabbering, but get real, sweetie, you’re not going to become Rowling or Meyer famous. Ain’t gonna happen. Get your head out of those skyscraper clouds and just focus on the writing and the joy you get from that. Remember, the reason you do it?

Wow, this feels like it’s been going on forever. Was there a time when you weren’t writing this novel? Will there be a time when you’re not writing this novel? Are you going to die before you finish? Could be a blessing in disguise. Should you make a living will now so that you can bequeath your manuscript to a worthy successor upon your death? Oh, for Pete’s sake, take a humility pill and chill. Keep writing, or I’ll take the whip out. And you know I know how to use it.

Phew, light at the end of the tunnel. Oh crap, shit’s getting real, y’all. Not only are the characters and the plot reaching critical stages that need to be handled delicately – nay, perfectly, PERFECTLY – but there is a serious possibility you are going to finish an entire novel, which opens up all kinds of doors, if you’re lucky enough to find the right ones. Then again, I’ve seen your query letters, woman, and they are a sad, sad thing, kind of like your disjointed manuscript of weird, unsympathetic, whiny characters.

Shut up, you read over some things today and it actually works. Sure, a few things to fix here and there, but nothing dire, certainly nothing you shouldn’t expect from a rough draft of a novel. In fact, the decent writing is occasionally good, surprise, surprise. You’ve got real potential here, sweetie. And if you just keep your integrity with your plot and your characters, I think you can defend yourself against the naysayers, role models and obligations and icons be damned.

Yes, yes, yes, working toward the end, the end is in sight, and you’re at the finishing stretch. Your stomach is in knots because you could always trip before the finish line, especially since important things are happening there, and what if this entire endeavor was in vain? Like an Olympic hopeful who works her whole life to join the team but passes the prime competitor age without one shot at a medal. What if you just don’t have what it takes? You’ve got all that writing and time and energy and agonizing and blood and sweat and tears behind you, and what if you screw it up? It’s happened before. You’re certainly not invincible. You’ve got notebooks full of failures. So this failure would be a little longer than all the others. The amount of suck is not inversely proportional to the amount of time and effort put into it.

Finally! Finished! The novel is finished! And it’s great! You’re going to abuse exclamation marks all the way to the moon, because you are awesome! All the worrying for nothing, because this thing has got real potential. You don’t quite believe it’s over, and maybe you’re sad. Maybe you don’t want to leave the characters with whom you’ve been spending your time over the last months or years or so. But it’s still worthy of a celebration. Ice cream and martinis for everyone!

Now just set it aside. Because pretty soon, you’ll put your writer side away and put on your editor’s hat. And that means revisiting all the little insecurities and self-criticisms all over again, but this time, they have a red pen. To be continued…

*** No metaphors were harmed in the mixing within this post.

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23 Responses to The Writing Process

  1. Ms. Nine says:

    Do you know me, or something?

  2. Ms. Nine says:

    Many writers experience the writing process exactly as you’ve described it.

    • I think the self-doubts followed by self-confidence followed by self-doubts, ad nauseum, are incredibly common amongst artists of all kinds. It’s funny when you’re not in the middle of it yourself. 😀

  3. Ms. Nine says:

    Reblogged this on Nine Writes and commented:
    This post about the writing process by writer A. Christine spoke to me. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

  4. paulaacton says:

    found your blog via Ms Nine am glad she reblogged

  5. Oh my God! We’re living the same life! 😉

  6. robincoyle says:

    I found you from Ms. Nine too. You must live inside my head. You described EXACTLY what my writing process was like.

  7. questrix says:

    Absolutely brilliant! You’ve fully described the entire journey I’ve taken to creating the “next great American novel”…. and so far it’s all been in my head. What vivid imaginations we bring to torturing ourselves 🙂

  8. Pat says:

    Er, bit worrying. Think there might be a little camera here, in this cupboard, spying on me. Searched all round, but no, can’t see one. But you’re writing about me. So, how do you know… ? Oh, I get it – telepathy. Stop that!

  9. Greetings. I nominated you for the One Lovely Blog award: Keep being awesome 🙂

  10. Pingback: Grief, Chronicles of Jane Windall, and Other Such Coolness « crampedwriting

  11. I just stumbled across you thanks to Michelle Proulx……I must say you’ve captured my inner demon and gave it a voice. I bow to you for vocalizing my last 4 years! I look forward to hearing how to shut that nagging voice up. I tried giving her cake. This created two problems. I’m now fatter annnnd hearing voices. On a serious note….that was the best breakdown of a writers breakdown I’ve ever read!

  12. C. A. Husted says:

    No metaphors were harmed, but someone needs to shoot all of those clichés.

    Good for a laugh, at least.

  13. Haha this is PERFECT.

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