Recently, a friend who was interested in putting down some of her stories, asked me about the writing process. What follows is some guidance I offered on what a writer (or artist) might encounter during the process of making their art.
So, you want to be a writer? Easy Peasy.
First, Getting started: Even though you might be jazzed about your subject, don’t be surprised if you struggle to know where to start and once you get started you won’t know where to end. You might hem and haw and plot an outline for a few weeks, a few months, or a few years, before actually creating a single sentence.
If you’re writing non-fiction you can look forward to hours of research about the subject of your work. A lot of what you find will likely be contradictory or misleading or just plain goofy. You might discover research to be an excellent time-sucking diversion from actually writing your story.
If you’re writing fiction your characters will, no doubt, amuse, befuddle, infuriate, scare, fascinate, sadden, and delight you. They will keep you up at night, whispering their stories into your ear. You might start talking about them to others as if they’re troubled friends you can’t puzzle out. You might begin to ask random questions of friends and family that will give them pause, such as, “If you hid a body in a manure pile do you think anyone would notice the stink?” or “How many people do you think you could have affairs with at the same time without getting caught?”
Unless you’re committed to a life of clean living, you will likely consume gallons of coffee or adult beverages or take up cussing, or do all three. If you haven’t begun already, you might consider starting. While writing you might forget to eat or shave or get dressed–sometimes for days. Those unfamiliar with the creative process might tell you to get a job or a date or a therapist.
During the revision process you’re liable to chuck whole paragraphs or pages or even chapters. (I completely rewrote the beginning of my book four times and once abandoned an entire 350 page novel.) You will face periods where you will wonder if you have anything relevant or unique or interesting to say.
If you’re lucky enough to have an good editor they will be your best friend and ally throughout the writing process, and quite possibly, throughout life. During the course of finishing your work your editor is bound to make you simultaneously praise, weep, hug, and slap them.
Friends or family or respected elders to whom you have eagerly given your work for feedback might frown or stammer or shrug. They might tell you that you have a nice hobby but not to quit your day job. They might shake their heads and tell you they don’t get it, or worse yet, they might refuse to read it at all. Agents and publishers alike may repeatedly (and sometime cruelly) reject you and/or your work.
Frustrated and disillusioned and filled with self-doubt, you might throw your manuscript into a drawer (or bury it in the bowels of your computer) for months, perhaps even years. Your fears will have you wondering if you have anything of value to offer anyone, ever.
But, if you keep at it, you just might discover that you have fallen in love with your craft. You’ll love the magic and the mystery of creating a story that takes you to places you’ve always dreamed of going. It will lead you through dark passages you swore you’d never enter. You might come to love the the adventure, the uncertainty, the excitement, the grief, and the joy. Telling your own story, in your own words will uncover a pleasure and deep satisfaction and you might even feel more alive than you’ve ever felt before.
You’ll know that you’re really, really committed to your craft when you gladly and repeatedly subject yourself to all of this and more, and you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. You do it because finding your voice through writing allows, and, at times forces, you to look at the world through different eyes.
And, when you have finally completed your work and release it out into the world, you will likely to never have worked so hard on anything in your life. It will have matured and softened you in the best possible ways and you would do it all over again in a heartbeat.