Sometimes I’m asked how I write–especially how I can generate so much content. I don’t know that I have a cohesive, simple answer to that question, but last week I was inspired by reading an interview between Susannah Conway and Danielle LaPorte–like Susannah, I have a curious fascination with the processes of other writers.
Here are a few things that I know to be true for me.
Writing is a Relationship
- I have a relationship with my writing. I suppose you could invoke the idea of courting The Muse. Ten years ago, the relationship was one of control. I would say, “I have X number of words to write today, because it’s what I must do to call myself a worthy human being who has a regular writing practice.” And my writing would bitch and moan back at me, and it was a very white-knuckling, dysfunctional relationship.
- I exerted that control because I wanted to be hot-shit–I had this thing about wanting to be a young prodigy in the writing world. Somewhere around the age of thirty, when I realized that was not to be, I just surrendered. I stopped trying to write something every day. Instead, I came to the page/keyboard when I was inspired. My Muse calls the shots these days, which is fine, because she knows more than I do. Sometimes my Muse says, “Nope, today is not the day for you to try to work on that piece,” and other days my Muse says, “Get your ass into a chair and sit down to write.”
- If I ignore the urge to write when I really want to write, I am a fussy, temperamental mess.
- There is seriously nothing else in my life that I get that way about–no artistic endeavour, no person I have to see on a regular basis…not even sex.
- I could have fifty cents in my bank account and be happy if I’m writing and it’s really flowing. When it’s not flowing–always because I’m forcing it–I’m on edge.
- I know that I’m in the flow when I’ve been writing for hours and my stomach is groaning because I’m so hungry–and yet I’d rather write than eat.
Tools & Technique
- For years, I wanted to have a desktop computer for work, and a laptop that was only for writing. I resisted, because there was all of this, “living in the first world with all this excess, when other people don’t even have food” guilt. Finally, I bought the laptop. No regrets.
- There is no software on my writing laptop, aside from word-processing software and whatever basic install software came pre-loaded. Zero distractions.
- I need to write in different locations. I really like to spread out. I have a massive coffee table in my office that is usually covered with whatever book I’m reading in the moment, my laptop, and writing notes.
- I make a lot of notes, on yellow post-its and in black, hardcover Moleskine notebooks.
- I generally have at least three inspirational books with me when I write–I like to open pages at random and see what calls to me. Pema Chodron, Joseph Campbell, Byron Katie, and Eckhart Tolle are all favorites.
- Sometimes I’ll read a page from one of these books, and just one line will hook me, and so I’ll start writing a response to that one line.
When Editing, Risk Ruthlessness to Cut to Truth
- I don’t sweat cutting anything that doesn’t work–I’m ruthless. Sometimes I’ll copy and paste the cut paragraph into a new document and keep it around; maybe it will end up being something I open up later and turn into a full-fledged piece.
- Because I’ve learned the hard way–I save early, save often.
- Often, when I start a piece, I don’t reign myself in–I just GO. Maybe I’ll start talking about compassion and then re-read the piece an hour later and realize that I’ve touched on three different angles. When I realize that I’m talking about three different spins within one subject, I check word-count and if the piece is long, I’ll see what I can do to craft that one piece into three different pieces.
- I try to keep word count under 1,000, which I find a challenge. I love to read, so I resist the fact that most consumers/people want pieces to be short and snappy.
- When I edit, I edit first for ideas and focus, then for word count and sentence-level issues. I try to rephrase as many sentence as possible from a first-person to a second-person focus, i.e., from “I” to “you/we.” The writing is more connected to the reader, that way.
- I have the hardest time with deadlines for other websites. I try to start working on those early, weeks in advance of the deadline. I’ll riff on something a bit and then leave it alone until a week before the deadline, and then check it out again. I pad my time a lot because I know that I need that time to go back and forth.
You Can’t Control Everything
- I love writing in libraries, because there’s a rule that everyone has to be quiet. I get irritated when I’m writing and something pulls me out of that flow. When my neighbor isn’t home, his dog will bark every ten minutes at any sound it hears, for hours. He knows that his dog does this, but he doesn’t do anything about it. It is really hard for me not to hate my neighbor, sometimes.
- I confess that I once yelled out my window at that dog–in a very non-compassionate, not-my-life-vision, not nice, not patient way– “Shut the fuck up!”
- The dog was quiet for ten minutes, and then resumed its barking.
- My ideal writing day would be getting up around 7am, stretching and meditating, having breakfast, showering, grabbing a latte from Peet’s, and then sitting down to write around 9am while taking sips of the latte as I go.
- My favorite days are those when I have zero appointments. I like disappearing into the vortex where there’s no reason whatsoever to even look at the clock and track time.
- While this is my ideal, I also know how to rock getting in an hour or two of writing. I don’t want to make anything “too precious” around writing. That’s not healthy. I want to have kids in a few years, and I definitely know that things will change then.
Criticism & Unspeakable Love
- I know that it’s not the right time for a piece to be published if, as I’m writing, I’m worrying about offending someone. Then I know that I don’t energetically stand behind the piece. I have to stand behind it before anyone else can.
- I do get critical responses to what I write. Not often, but sometimes. While I’m open to the feedback and pause to consider it, it’s usually clear that the person is being reactionary rather than honestly seeing that the piece I wrote was just–a piece. They take things personally or make up a Story about who I am, rather than seeing that single written work as one little star that expresses a pocket of who I am in a moment, not the entire constellation of who I am on a continuum. I figure I can’t really “convince” someone to “like” me if they’re choosing such a narrow point of view.
- I confess it amuses me when the email is seething with hostility and criticism and then ends with, “I wish you the best in your work” or something like that. It’s such a bullshit line–they know it, I know it–delivered so that they can feel better about themselves after dumping on someone else. Humans are funny that way.
- How do I respond to those emails? I hit the delete key. Life’s too short.
- Well, okay–full transparency–sometimes I feel a bit sad before hitting the delete key, not because I believe the words in the email, but because someone thought that they should take time out of their life to be unkind.
- Emails where someone shares that what I’ve written has them thinking in a different way, opened up an inch of freedom in their life, or helped them in some way–I save them in a special folder. I genuinely appreciate them.
- Confession: I often feel awkward knowing what to write back, and wish there were some way where I could magically transfer my high-vibration gratitude that I feel at the time of reading their email, over to them, so that instead of my awkward email responses, they would feel how I feel about their gesture. There are times when words are far too limiting to express anything, and thanking a reader for appreciating what I’ve written is one of those times.