• 100 Days of Good Karma: Day 47 (How I Write)


    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

    Day 47 of 100 Days of Good Karma.

    I’ve been told “I don’t know how you sit down and write every day.  I couldn’t do it.”

    Actually, you can.  Anyone can.  Here’s how I do it.

    Step 1:  Write a shitty first draft

    Anne LaMotte talks about shitty first drafts in her book Bird by Bird.  If you’re a writer, especially if you’re a beginning writer, you need to read this book.

    Get all the pieces on paper, no matter how it happens.  I’m a total luddite and usually write my first drafts with a pen and paper before transferring to some sort of word processing program.  For me, the transfer is part of the shitty first draft step.

    Don’t know what to write?  That’s okay too.

    In her book Still Writing (another book all writers should read), Dani Shapiro says writing is like a 1,000 piece puzzle.

    How do you start a puzzle?  You build a corner.

    Don’t judge what you’re writing.

    Just write.

    Step 2:  Assemble the pieces.

    Have you ever played the card game 52 Pick up?

    It’s half card game, half practical joke where the dealer (usually a over the age of 20) sprays an entire deck of playing cards into the air which the first player (usually under the age of 10) then gets to pick up.

    Your rough draft is those cards strewn all over the living room floor.

    Your job is to assemble the cards.  Sometimes a card slid under the couch or behind a chair.  Sometimes they fly into the kitchen.Identify what you need to complete the deck.

    Read through your work.

    See what you have in your shitty first draft.  See what you still need.

    (hint: The ‘see what you still need’ part of the writing game usually involves more writing.)

    Stephen King (all hail the glorious King), in his book On Writing, forbids you from feeling bad about these holes.

    And he’s a pretty forbidding person.  You should listen to him.

    Oh, and add his book to your list.

    Step 3:  Revise.  Read.  Repeat.

    Cut unnecessary words.  Be ruthless.

    If your darlings don’t fit, (this is the ruthless part) kill them, however much it hurts.  Step on them before they can breed.

    This could mean four versions or forty versions.

    You’ll hate it before it’s over.

    That’s normal.

    Keep going.

    Step 4: Finish.

    A brilliant writer friend once told me “you’re done with it when you can’t think of anything else to do to it.”

    She’s right.

    You’ll know you’re almost done when you feel like you’re on a downhill slide that you can’t stop.  You’ll be frustrated.  You’ll want to pull your hair out.

    But you’ll be pissed off at any interruption.

    You won’t want to get up from your chair because you have just one more thing to add.  Just this one more thing back here to fix.  Oh, and damn it, I forgot about that detail there.

    Step 5: When you’re done, walk away.

    Go do something else.  Walk the dog.  Clean the refrigerator.  For God’s sake, do the dishes because you’re not sure when that last happened and your family has been drinking water from plastic bowls for at least three days.

    Let the story breathe.

    But, a warning, don’t let it breathe too long because then you’ll talk yourself out of clicking the Publish button.

    And writers need to share their work as much as they need to write.

    So… That’s it.

    This is how I do it.

    This is how I have to do it or it doesn’t get done.

    If you’re a plotter, plot.

    If you’re a pantser, then by all means, pants.

    If you fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes (I do), then embrace your plotser tendencies.

    The process probably looks a little different for everyone.  You have to find what works for you.

    I’m willing to bet, though, that a lot of the elements are similar no matter how you do it.

    Writing has pulled me through some really hard times.  It ranks right below my family as one of the most important things in my life.  It even outweighs running.

    Today’s silver lining:  I am glad to be a writer.  Even on the days it makes me want to scream.

    What’s your silver lining today?  I love comments!


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6 Responsesso far.

  1. Tina Smith says:

    I’m a total luddite, too, but without the computer I don’t think I *could* write. I think the shitty first draft is in my head (which is no more than a jumble bit of scenes) pulling it out on the computer screen and messing with it into something that resembles a story. I draw this way also (starting with a line and refining and refining it until it becomes what I know will work with the rest of the picture). I don’t think with words, I think in pictures, so the process to reassemble is probably not the best way to go about it–but I figure it’s good since the goal is to get it back to pictures again when it hits the reader’s mind.

    Writing is for sure a very strange “hobby.” I’m glad for my friends who also do it, so I don’t have to feel dirty all alone 🙂

    • Meghan says:

      FYI, we all know about your awesome ‘dirty little secret’, and we love you for it. Interesting though that technology is an integral piece of your writing process, and without it you couldn’t write. There are probably as many different approaches to writing as there are writers. 🙂

  2. […] 100 Days of Good Karma: Day 47 (How I Write) | Getting The Words Wrong. […]

  3. In the process of writing a shitty first draft of a second book, but the first one I am really serious about.

    I would also add to this list, “If you are going to avoid writing, at least get off your ass and do something useful, like clean out the refrigerator or go do yoga or walk the dog. That way you still get something done and eventually will end up with no excuses.”

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