How Do I Write?

In exploring the blogs of some of my new followers (I picked up 8 the day that I posted for Next Big Thing, personal best), I found some great questions on personal process. Blogger Shannon A. Thompson had gotten them from a friend, and I enjoyed reading her responses so much I thought I would borrow the questions and answer them myself. It seemed like a nice warm-up in these last days before NaNoWriMo, where you will likely hear from me more sporadically than usual.

How long do you spend writing each day? 

Every day is different, any sort of routine feels like slow death. Many days all I write are a few comments over on Tom and Lorenzo, a few Facebook statuses, and a blog post if I’m feeling ambitious. Sometimes a poem. I’m a bit of a binge writer: when I write, I really write. It’s all I do until whatever I’m writing is finished. If I try to work on other things, I feel a pull back to the writing. It’s the same way with my fine art. Whatever I’m doing, I’m doing it all the way until it’s done. I know a lot of people can’t work like that, but it’s the only way I can.

What time of day do you prefer to write?

Night. I am useless in the morning. I really hit my stride around ten p.m., and ten to two is my magic window of maximum brainpower, so if I am planning my writing at all I aim to work during that window. The few times I tried to write before the sun went down I wrote a lot of half-sentences and kept deleting them, and eventually wandered off to greener internet pastures.

Do you set yourself a time limit or a word limit? No limits?

I just write until it’s done. With projects I do try to set an end date, like I want to be finished with this piece by December 10th, but it’s mostly to help me get started. If it’s not done by December 10th, I keep writing right past the deadline until I finish.

Do you write with music on? If so, what music do you like to write to?

Yes, absolutely. Music is such a valuable tool when I’m writing. It helps me drop into the mood of a scene or climb into a character’s skin very quickly. My playlists evolve along with my writing, I move songs around in the play order or add/delete as the narrative changes. I also tend to view a piece of writing as something akin to a song or symphony, the rise and fall of action act like the dynamics in a piece of music. Structural knowledge of music helps me with pacing and knowing when to add the tiny percussive beat that will act as a counterpoint to the later action crescendo.

How often do you check the Internet? Do you fall into Internet black holes? Or turn off your WiFi completely?

I actually have a two-monitor setup that I use for graphic design work, and when I’m writing I will often have a style guide or research resource open on one monitor while I write on the other. I am a huge research nerd, so I have to have access to the internet to look up whatever unexpected minutiae pop up while I’m writing.

Are you a basher or a swooper? Kurt Vonnegut characterized writers into these two camps: “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter any more, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done they’re done.”

Hands-down a Basher. The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that the tight deadline forces me to move on and not fuss, but that is so contrary to my nature. I have a very strong memory, which means I will remember all the little bits that didn’t quite work or words that weren’t the exact one I wanted…and they accumulate over the course of 50,000 words. I feel like I am dragging all of that behind me, so I usually try to fix it as I go.

Do you eat when you’re writing? What snacks/drinks do you go to?

If you are a health nut, please avert your eyes. This part will only upset you. I have this absolutely enormous cup from AM/PM that holds something ridiculous like 64 oz. of liquid, and if I’m working on anything longer than a poem I will fill it with Dr. Pepper so that I don’t have to move again until I’m done writing. I got into the habit during long nights in the print shop during college. I don’t drink coffee or alcohol, so I think of that as my vice. Sometimes I will have popcorn or goldfish crackers around, too, but not often. They tend to just annoy me because I am using my hands to write/type and I don’t want to stop just to eat. My husband thinks that mentality is completely insane. He often has to stop me and remind me to eat when I’ve been working for four hours straight and I’m getting cranky. If I’m really into what I’m writing I will sometimes forget to drink from my giant cup and it will go flat by the time I remember.

What’s your biggest procrastination tool? Or are you a freak who never procrastinates?

I procrastinate up to a point, doing whatever crosses my mind, usually to the point where I have exactly the amount of time left I will need to complete my project before deadline. Then I turn into an unstoppable freight train of accomplishment. While procrastinating I research, make lists of names, fiddle with playlists, read books…I have baked as a way to procrastinate in the past.

How do the people (roommates/partners/children) who live with you fit into or around your writing schedule? 

My husband is a semi-serious gamer, but he is extremely good about always putting real-life things before virtual gamer things. In return, I try to choose the moments I ask him to do things, so that I’m not interrupting him every five seconds and messing up what he’s working on. When I am deep in a project (art or writing) our roles flip. We can go a very long time sitting in our office together, using our respective computers and not talking to each other, and remain quite happy. If one of us states “I need some attention” the 0ther drops what they are doing. It works for us.

Do you find yourself tied to the place you’ve grown accustomed to writing? Or can you just pick up and go?

I am semi-tied to my home office, for three reasons. One, I am very easily distracted and a new venue provides too many people to observe and conversations to overhear…I can’t focus. Two, I like to have my computer available for research. I find it difficult to half-ass a fact and move on, promising myself that I will go back and fix it later. Three, my husband is in my office. I like to bounce bits of dialogue or pieces of scenes off of him, or ask him questions for authenticity. Plus, I just like being near him. His presence calms me and I feel it enhances my work. He’s my muse (a fact that he will proudly share with anyone who will listen :))

That said, on occasion I will take a notepad and a pen out to the park or forest and find a quiet spot to sit and write. Those occasions just aren’t very often. The smell of coffee makes me ill so I have never done the cliché “hunched over a laptop at Starbucks” thing.

It was really interesting for me to answer these questions about my own process. A few of the answers surprised me, my knee-jerk response wasn’t actually the truth of how I work. What about you? How do you work? Feel free to respond in the comments or answer on your blog (just leave a link so I can read your answers)!

**Believe it or not, I scheduled this post. Such are the depths of my contrariness that the moment I said I would never schedule one, I knew that a scheduled post was in my future.**

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4 responses to “How Do I Write?

  1. Good post, and one I could definitely expand on over at my blog.
    But, since I am horribly late on this, I’ll just comment that I’m a big-time swooper. Discovering this is a legitimate way to write a story freed me up to actually write one! It’s hell to revise it once I’m done, but at least I have the words and an idea!

    So, if you see my word count climb up to unbelievable heights this November, know that I’m probably swooping, having a great time, but also writing stuff that needs a lot of work. 🙂

    • LOL, I have to admit, I covet your word counts. Are you familiar with the author Brenna Yovanoff? She is the swooper to end all swoopers, the way she drafts is pretty fascinating. Give it a Google.

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