Some ramblings about “the process.”
The other day, my friend Kim Purcell and I were talking about how much writing we can get done in a single session. (Kim has her own debut YA novel on tap. It’s called “Trafficked” and it will be published next spring by Viking, and it is fabulous. There, I got in the plug!) I’m not sure how we started discussing this, because we were standing in the middle of a crowded aquarium at the time, our daughters arm-deep in a nearby stingray touch tank.
We were talking about fresh writing. The totally intimidating, going from nothing-to-something kind of work. Even when creating what I affectionately call a Vomit Draft, this is still hard labor. But I find that even if I just barf something onto the page, typing away all the while thinking, “This is terrible, this is total garbage,” I’ll usually end up with what can pass for a foundation…and sometimes a few things that even sparkle. Once I have a foundation, it’s easier to build.
So Kim said that on a good day, a day when creative mojo is rocking and childcare is plentiful, she can crank out ten pages. You go, girl!
I don’t go so much. I’m happy if I can get to four, but I focus less on page count and more on the actual length of time I’m working. Part of this is because I have other professional projects to fit into my day. Most of it’s because I know I’m only good for about two hours, max. I just flame out. The writing starts to suck and then, what’s the point? The short-session thing is also great because if I’m inclined to blow it off, I bait myself with, “You’re pathetic! You can’t even commit to 90 minutes of writing? You spend at least that much time f***ing around each day!”
Then I sit down, play a game of online MahJongg to help me get back inside my brain, and open up Mac Freedom. (In case you’re not familiar with it, Freedom is this great productivity program that will shut off your computer’s Internet connection for however long you tell it to, and you can be creative without the nagging tug of email-checking and random surfing. Side note: This doesn’t work so well if you have your smartphone sitting nearby.) I love that the software asks me, “How many minutes of freedom would you like?” I resist the urge to type in a number like 17 JILLION and commit to 90. And then I’m locked in. An hour and half to do nothing but fill a blank screen with words.
That may not seem like a lot to you. If you can do more in one sitting, I’m impressed. To me, writing is a lot like working out. There’s an endurance issue. And if I can do it for just a little while every day, I’ll feel great and guilt-free and eventually, see results.
On rare occasions when I’ve set aside a whole day to write, this method still works best for me. I just do several 90-minute sprints, broken up with other important tasks like cruising YouTube for wacky rodent videos, making crockpot chili, watching reruns of “Glee” or SYTYCD on DVR, and catching up on my catalog browsing. All part of the creative process, I swear.
Eventually, little by little, the nothing does become something. Your document file gets bigger, your word count rises, your page numbers climb. Hopefully somewhere in there are the minor things like great characters, authentic dialogue, pretty moments, and a decent story.
And maybe, if you’re extra-lucky, you don’t delete half of it the next morning.
A pic I snapped of the actual moment I started working on the draft of my second book. Is there an image more terrifying? Boo!