Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Thanks For Asking

TangledLou has once again set our little corner of the internet abuzz--this time with an "audience participation" post about the writing process. If you haven't already seen it, you can read that post here. Be sure to check out the comments section as it is full of valuable glimpses into the creative processes of a variety of talented people.

I have a more detailed post brewing, but in the meantime, I would like to share these snippets of the Spiral Notebook Journal that outline the process for an essay about marriage that I wrote that eventually appeared in a literary anthology. The technique was one I had never used before and, unfortunately, I've let myself be distracted from writing so much in the past few years, I haven't really tried it again. So I share these excerpts, at least in part, as I reminder to myself not only of something that worked, but of the sense of accomplishment I felt afterward.

[February 7, 2005]
In some way, I've been working on this essay for coming up on eighteen years. Maybe longer. Maybe since I had any notion of romantic love as it might possibly apply to me. What I want to say comes to me in paragraphs sometimes, sentences at others--bits and pieces. I've been very faithful about recording those chunks and crumbs so now I have eight hundred or a thousand words, non-consecutive on scraps of notebook paper, for this essay alone. I'm afraid to "start" it, though--how funny is that, since I'm already halfway there?

I think fear may be the overriding emotion of my life. I'm kind of sick of it.The scribbling on scraps is a way to trick myself past or around that fear...

I'm hoping to finish this essay for a contest with a deadline of February 28. That's probably a delusional goal, but it's my delusion and I love it. 

[February 28, 2005]
The wait is on. The wait is the bad part of achieving the goal of submitting things. The post office receipt said 2:18 p.m. so not only did I make it, I had 2 hours and 42 minutes to spare. At the moment, it just seems like 2 hours and 42 minutes longer to wait for the results.

This morning, though, I was pretty jazzed up. I put the finishing touches on the essay itself--dotting i's and crossing t's and stuff like that by 7:40 this morning. When I stood up to drive the boys to school, I announced to Hubby and the Universe at large, "I'm just going to walk away from the computer and revel in the fact that I finished this essay and not even let myself think about the fact that I don't have the slightest idea of a title." By the time I had dropped Daughter-Only off at choir practice, I had decided on a title. I spent the forty minutes between dropping Daughter-Only off and leaving for work double checking all the formatting, saving it to disk, then printing the required two hard copies.

I was tickled with myself. How tickled I remain will no doubt be affected by the reception (or lack thereof) this piece receives out there in the Big Bad World of literary anthologies. I'm determined to cling to one thing, though--when I held those pages in my hands this morning, I was absolutely convinced that they were the best I could do in this moment. That's gotta count for something.

Something else that counts for something is the technique I used in assembling this essay...Six or eight months ago, I had a paragraph pop into my head literally at 3:47 a.m. I scribbled the paragraph on to a scrap of paper next to the bed and later tucked it into my blue bag, where it sat for months. Other fragments have  popped into my head since and I've faithfully scribbled those down without making any attempt to sort or arrange them in any way...

When I had a pile of bits and pieces, I typed them up, paperclipped them together and toted them around in my blue bag for a while. Toward the middle of last week, I made notes an hour or so each evening.

Sunday morning [2/27], I typed it all up, printed it and cut it up by fragments. I then shuffled them around and started taping them together in a preliminary order. I got frustrated only once--and said I might as well throw them up in the air and whatever order they landed in was the order of the essay. But I soldiered on and an hour later, I was typing a less rough version of the rough draft.

The pieces all came together with a minimum of tweaking and the end result was only a hundred or so words over the limit. Taking out a hundred words was painless, almost fun. I was giddy with the way it all fell together. That should get me through the waiting period...


  1. This is a really great idea. I like how you could tangibly move around the paragraphs and thoughts -- good visual, and easy to see how things fit together.

    And since you'd been thinking about it for so long, I'm sure that helped you piece it together easier as well.

    Good thoughts, good thoughts. Now I just need to ruminate about how to make it fit into my life, cause I like it.

  2. I write bits down, sometimes, but they rarely come together with anything in the end. I'm impressed that you could keep all that stuff together for so long. I'd lose part of it, for sure.

  3. I love that you wrote in your journal about writing this essay. What an invaluable treasure! I think of Eudora Weltey and her "pinning" of stories. I should try this more often. If nothing else, it helps get past that hump of staring at the same piece and having no idea how to edit it. I think the act of chopping it up would help detach from it a little bit.
    Love this: "when I held those pages in my hands this morning, I was absolutely convinced that they were the best I could do in this moment."
    That's all we can do, isn't it?
    Thank you so much for sharing this. I bow to your experience and your talent.

  4. Don't leave us hanging, MM- what happened? I truly admire this dedication. I'm finding that, even though I'm just beginning to write, there's the flame of a passion for writing that has been kindled in my's growing bigger and bigger day by day. One day I hope to be as serious about it as you guys are:)

  5. "I was giddy with the way it all fell together," describes how I feel when the words I write express (exactly!) the thoughts I have. Thanks for posting!

  6. Running over to the sequel.
    I can't wait to find out what happened. I love the idea of scribbling things down. I never do that, and I weep at the thought of how many posts I could have written if only I'd jotted the memory trigger down.