With all the celebrities fearlessly (?) baring their souls in public, I thought I’d try a few confessions of my own. I’ve been inspired by Deb Heiligmann’s post in February about the way she meets deadlines and how she writes in fear. The truth is that my process is completely different from hers. One’s job as a writer is to willy-nilly get words down. It’s every writer’s job to figure out how to make themselves write. My guess is that there are no formulas here. Each writer has to figure it out for herself.
First, I don’t write in a bubble as Deb does. I can be easily interrupted. In fact, I welcome it. (I am psychologically unsuited to the solitary nature of writing. I love interacting with people. Perhaps becoming a writer is my way of facing my fear of being alone.) When I first started writing, while my kids were very small, I noticed that they were wherever I was. My first desk was in the corner of my bedroom. So all three of us were in that corner of the bedroom. When we moved to a larger apartment, I put my desk in the family room with a screen separating it from the television. Sometimes neighbor kids were in my apartment and it was not uncommon to have six little boys running around. I wrote through it all. (I do have a very strong ability to focus and can turn it on and off like a switch.)
I had a lot of preconceptions about professional writers in those days. I disciplined myself to sit down at my desk every day, like I believed the pros did. And I sat there painfully waiting for words to come. Every once in a while I would get up and look in the refrigerator or flop down on my bed. Sometimes sitting at my desk was pure torture.
At some point I made an amazing discovery. My brain works whether or not I’m sitting at my desk! So I’ve learned to treat my brain like the computer it is. A deadline is an instruction. I tell my brain when to have the thing done. Research is input. I read, interview people, track down leads, try experiments. I’m always thinking. In fact, I wake up each day with new ideas. Some kind of pressure builds inside me until I feel compelled to sit down at my keyboard and start writing. When I need to pause I segue into a game or two or even many of Solitaire. (Yes, I’m dependent on Solitaire, but it’s not your ordinary Solitaire; I play La Belle Lucie.) I call it a “sorbet for the brain.” It causes me to disengage and let those little synaptic links in my white matter do their work. Whenever I’ve had my say for the day I go do something else without guilt. Some days I might only write a sentence or two. Some days I can do several thousand words. I don’t worry about it. I’ve learned that just because I write something in white heat doesn’t mean it’s good. And, on the other hand, if it comes like blood from a stone, it doesn’t mean anyone can tell. Once it’s down, I revisit it many times over the next week or so, always finding ways to make it stronger. It’s amazing what your brain perceives long after you think your work as good as it will be.
I welcome deadlines because they gave me a time to shoot for. Often I set my own with my publishers and I somehow know just how much time I need and give myself an extra margin to be safe. I don’t like working under pressure so I never procrastinate and start as soon as I am certain that a project is real. Most, if not all, of my assignments have been turned in early. I have good time management skills (I don’t clean and cook as little as possible) and by now know myself well enough not to sweat about getting assignments done in time.
Some writers have trouble letting go of their work. Not me. I know when I’ve done my best and that just has to be good enough. I’m not a perfectionist; I’m not compulsive; I’m just a writer that turns stuff out. And according to Woody Allen, who’s made a career of public confessions, that’s 90% of success.