A while ago, Mark Carrigan asked me to contribute a blog to a series he was curating on the writing process. I said that I was too busy writing to do so. Now that I’ve just submitted the manuscript I had been working on, and haven’t quite got around to starting the next piece, I thought I could use the time to reflect on writing.
I don’t find writing an easy process. Or rather, I don’t find starting the process of writing easy. I will often spend days trying to write the perfect first paragraph because somehow I’m convinced that I need to get this first paragraph right in order to be able to move on. Usually, I’m trying to condense the whole article in that one paragraph … and getting annoyed that it doesn’t seem to be possible.
During those first few days I might also tidy my study, re-arrange my books, and this last time I actually redecorated (in my defence, the room needed it and it was a big project I was starting!). I usually also get cross a few times, especially if (when) someone looks at my attempts and says ‘yes, that’s fine, just get on with the rest of it and then come back to the first paragraph’ (don’t they know that if the first paragraph isn’t right then the rest of it just won’t flow?).
After a few days, however – and I never know quite how many in advance – something breaks, I stop obsessing about that first paragraph and get on with writing the rest of the piece. At this stage, I really enjoy the process. I’m not one of those people who write their final draft the first time around. I read and then write, and then read and then rewrite, and then rewrite again. I enjoy engaging with other texts, seeing an argument develop, and getting words to turn into sentences and then paragraphs and then finished pieces.
While this may, or may not, be an interesting personal reflection on the process of writing, I’m not sure how helpful it is. So in an attempt to think about what might be helpful through this reflection, I offer the following thoughts.
We all work differently – this may be obvious and not in need of saying, but I thought I would just reiterate it here. In that sense, it’s important to work out how best you work and whether you do indeed have a pattern of working. I didn’t realize for quite a while that I have a really difficult time with introductions and so for those first few times when I was writing and it just wasn’t going anywhere I would get really down and frustrated and concerned about my very ability to write.
After it happened a few times (and it was helpfully (!) pointed out to me that this is ‘what I always do’ and that it usually works out OK) I began to recognize the frustration as part of the process of ‘clearing’ before the writing could begin. It didn’t necessarily make it any easier to live through, but I was more convinced that these difficulties would pass, rather than be despondent that this was how things would always be.
This was also when I began tidying my desk and re-arranging my bookshelves instead of just sitting in front of the computer screen trying to get the words in the right order. These activities helped pass the time and were useful in both being practical (my desk often needs tidying) and also in providing space for thinking about the article. So every time I would head back to the keyboard, things would be a little clearer and then one time instead of getting frustrated I would be getting somewhere.
Getting to know your own patterns and ways of behavior doesn’t necessarily stop you repeating them, but I’ve found that in recognizing them I have been able to manage the associated emotions, which in turn has eased the very process of writing.
Categories: Sociological Craft