What else indeed? Or, God Damn the Writing Process

1 Sep

“I don’t know any writer who’s happy. But what else is there to do?”

— Natalie Goldberg’s friend Eddie, quoted in Thunder and Lightning : Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft

I’ve been working on a white paper this week, and am going through the dreaded Writing Process.

Since I began this full-time word wrangling gig last November I’ve been observing my writing processes, and this seems to be how I do it:

  1. Receive assignment
  2. Diligently perform necessary background work (research, interviews, etc.)
  3. Procrastinate
  4. Review background materials in a desultory way, get bored, resort to skimming
  5. Resume procrastinating
  6. Deadline now very near: attack background materials again, desperately trying to wring a coherent narrative from them
  7. Flounder hopelessly
  8. Panic
  9. Just before the piece is due, everything snaps into place; enter strange Zen state of calm and exhilaration
  10. Write draft

I find this process hateful, and am trying to change it into something…sane. But the possibility that this is simply how I work haunts me. Maybe floundering hopelessly is a necessary stage for me. Maybe I need the irrational panic. Maybe all that procrastination gives my subconscious a chance to do whatever it does that allows me to write that draft in one adrenaline-fueled last-minute burst.

This is the weird thing about writing, as opposed to other kinds of work: I don’t really understand how I do what I do. Maybe I’ll figure it out someday.

I was thinking about my high school journalism teacher the other day, and realized with a shock that I was excatly the same way back them. Oy.

2 Responses to “What else indeed? Or, God Damn the Writing Process”

  1. zia September 1, 2005 at 1:11 pm #

    Honestly, I think that’s the writing process for many of us. I have the exact same process–with the exception of a few games of spider solitaire thrown in for good measure.

    Most writers I know also have a love/hate relationship with it. Can’t remember who said, “I hate writing, but love to have written.” It’s true. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve never felt as though I had a choice in the matter. I always knew I’d be a writer.


  2. Wade Rockett September 1, 2005 at 1:34 pm #

    Heh. I can’t remember who said it originally, but, “I hate writing, but love to have written” was essentially George R.R. Martin’s answer to my question to him about what aspect of writing he enjoys. He said he didn’t enjoy writing at all; and if there was one single thing he could think of to do for a living besides writing, he’d do it.

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