What’s Going on When You Write?

Many people start the Beginning Writers Workshop with the notion that good writers wait for inspiration to hit them, and then rush to their desks to capture the great prose pouring from their fingers.  I agree that this can happen from time to time.  Such a welcome occurrence!  It’s great to be “in the zone”—almost as if someone is giving you dictation.  The words just come.  And they’re good!

But the rest of the time, the process may be less inspiration and more simple hard work.  That’s the part I’m interested in today.  When you write, what is happening to you?  What are you doing?  What is the mind/fingers/eyes/page interaction that you experience?  See if you put this into words.

24 responses to “What’s Going on When You Write?

  1. I follow a lesson a wise teacher once taught me, and that is to free write and let the words flow and take you where they may. Some have told me to sit down and “outline” the story. I’ve tried that and the story was junk. When I free write, it just comes out and I am usually satisfied with the end result. Then the editing begins…..yuk…

    • I’m not a big fan of outlining either unless I’m working on a novel. Then I have to think about the characters, the main conflict, and perhaps where to begin. I avoid planning the ending since I know that characters routinely surprise me with their own imperatives.

  2. I usually plagiarize others’ work. It is always so much more engaging and well-written than mine. I feel I should offer the highest quality work, nothing but the best for my readers.

  3. I would love to be able to say that when I write it is like watching a stunning flower blossom or like painting a beautiful seascape, but I can’t. My writing is more like an allergic reaction. Some prompt or thought bites my brain and I begin to scratch out words and cough up paragraphs all over the place. It is as uncomfortable as trying to suppress a deep sneeze. I don’t really want to spew words out all over the page, but just like a good sneeze, it feels so good when I finally let it fly.

    • I love this idea of spewing out words in an effort to find relief. I hope you will always spew with gusto.

  4. Great analogy peanut.

  5. Day and Night

    The words come unbidden, unexpected. One moment the slate is clean, the next it’s covered with words. The Muse has been working in the background while I’m otherwise occupied.

    I don’t need to look at the bedside clock to know the time. It’s 2 AM, as always. She lives there in the clock, the Muse. I’m certain of it, and just as certain that she has her alarm set for 2 AM. We’ve lived this life together for several years and I know her habits.

    Unlike before, these days I don’t leap out of bed. I mull over the words she’s given me, see if their color fits, weigh them, scramble them to see if there’s a better arrangement. Eventually my eyes open, seeing nothing in the dark room for some time, then zig-zag slivers of light peek around the room-darkening shades and it’s all over for sleeping this night.

    I approach the computer like an addict, eager for the high a good drug of choice can bring. Riding on a tsunami of words, nothing else matters—not physical discomfort, time of day (night, actually), responsibilities. Take notes while the Muse is dictating. You know they won’t keep until daylight. She will rescind them in a snit of pique and you’ll never see them again.

    Ride that wave; enjoy that high. Daylight comes all too soon.

    She’s gone, that pesky Muse. Keeps me awake all night, drains me, then disappears like a sated vampire at dawn. Not so much as a “See ya later, alligator.”

    Something’s missing. There’s no magic, no sensation, no joy. Life is pretty much on the half empty side now.

    The words become pedestrian, forced, uninspired. The left brain is ascendant and it is merciless.

    The Muse has gotten out of Dodge. I’d bury the laptop on Boothill were it not for Spider Solitaire. The Muse likes Spider Solitaire. I think she likes the slap of cards for background noise. White noise. Does some of her best thinking then, while my mind is numb.

    • More than anyone, you seem to have a very cantankerous though often very giving muse. She refuses to be broken to the bit. When Spider Solitaire gets dull, I’d try any equally mind-numbing Mah Jongge program. (sp?) May you always be addicted.

  6. Barbara Burris

    I usually have a thought I want to write about, but it doesn’t always work out and the writing becomes more just journaling. I wrote a story a few weeks ago but kept struggling with it. Finally I realized the problem was that I had two stories that didn’t belong together. Now I have two distinct essays — except I can’t find a decent ending for the second one. I submitted the first with fingers crossed, but it was an ambitious submittal, so I’m truly expecting a rejection. I want to submit another quickly so that I still have hope when that rejection comes in. I notice they sting a little less if I’m still waiting on a response from another editor.

    • Good Luck kiddo. My first rejection letter came from Smithsonian Magazine, I figured it was better to be rejected by the best than by our local Penny Saver newspaper.

      • Barbara Burris

        Ha! You guessed it! That’s where I sent this one! We’ll see what happens – at least I’ll know soon. Nice of them to have a short response time (3 weeks).

    • Submitting is good! It’s one more step forward. May you keep that path unfolding before ou!

  7. Some of my stories come when i’m driving and see something on the side of the road. Some come in the backyard or out the window in my room. But they come jumping up and down infront of me. So I write them down and refine them into something I can use. I see things in a child like way a lot of times and enjoy the thoughts that come. then working them into words that make sense.. also i try thinking of what it would be like to be something else seeing things through their eyes and feelings. Like a pine tree, a bunny in the yard or a bird that lives at a mall. Things that can not tell us what it really feels like to be that one thing, weather it is a bird or a tree. they all have a story to tell.
    My house was built in 1885 or 84 just think what the walls could tell us if they could talk. My husband is always trying to think of what people talked about around a table in my home way back them.

  8. I’m a great fan of this kind of thinking, of taking an odd perspective and reviewing what is normal and mundane around us from a view that is unusual. I hope you find this very productive!

  9. When I write it is like the words are pouring out of me and landing on the paper in no particular order, but full of emotion, and leaving me exposed and defenseless.

  10. Sometimes it is a poem, or a short story, or just a beginning of something. I usually just put it away and never look at it again, some I throw away.

  11. For me, writing is often like tackling a complex, creative, multidimensional puzzle to which many solutions exist.

    The process starts when my imagination latches on to an idea. It must play with that idea: bounce it in all directions, consider it from multiple perspectives, take it apart, and envision it in different lights.

    The next stop is the research side of the house. I must expose my mind’s eye to related images, information, words, locations, etc. The research leads to new connections and ideas.

    When I imagine and research, I am spreading all the puzzle pieces out on the table and considering them carefully before figuring out how they might fit together.

    A surge of writing energy swirls the puzzle pieces into an initial formation by bringing together and pushing out all the words and all the ideas. The heavy-duty puzzle working comes in the form of multiple sessions of revising and editing. The goal is to remove unnecessary puzzle pieces and then assemble the keepers in the simplest and most effective way.

    One of the most difficult aspects of the puzzle is knowing when it is complete enough and when additional tinkering will lead only to its detriment.

    Down the road, who knows when fresh eyes and new experiences might spawn a new solution to an old puzzle?

    • I like the puzzle analogy where many solutions exist. It is one part of creating that I find compelling. When we choose a path forward in our story, it rules out so many other avenues. Yet we have to choose.

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