Thought Trafficking

The Writing Process
June 22, 2011, 5:30 pm
Filed under: academese, observations, writing | Tags: , ,

I’m back at it–writing, that is.

I recently realised that this blog was, in many ways, therapy for me while I tried to finish my thesis to earn an MA in French Language and Literature. Now I have returned here, this time with a “Major Research Project” for an MA  in English Literature.

The therapeutic value of this blog occurred to me when I was trying to remember what writing was like last time. I’m reasonably certain that I wrote the whole thing in a fugue state, because apart from some of the things on this blog, I cannot really remember the writing process itself. Granted, I had just moved back in with my parents, I was working a full-time job, and I got engaged not 20 days after my defense–I was somewhat distracted.

This time, I’m actually enjoying the writing process, observing myself while I go through it. Having several months to research and write a 40-page paper (mercifully short) is a luxury, and not working full-time while doing so seems utterly selfish. That, and I feel like I actually learned how to write an essay this year. Not that I didn’t know before, but that I remained almost intentionally ignorant of what I was doing, afraid to look at it and realise that what I was doing was wrong, or lazy.

I expect that there are many similarities between this kind of academic writing and  various kinds of creative processes, and so I want to share some of my “findings” and hear from other people about their own writing styles, their own creative processes.

1) I can’t tie myself to one place. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always had a desk, and wherever I’ve lived, that desk spends 75% of its time as storage. I need to go from desk to floor to living room to café to kitchen, changing it up whenever I feel like I’ve stagnated or I’m getting too distracted.

2) My favourite place to work is actually the kitchen table, because working there requires me to clear my stuff away at least once a day. I find that this really helps: re-stack, re-shuffle, re-organize. I often find things that I’d forgotten, or discarded, that are now of use to me. The kitchen also often has really great lighting in comparison to the rest of the house, as well as an easy and close supply of tea or coffee.

3) Don’t depend on your outline as a concrete plan. Make an outline, then try to start writing with it. Then change the parts of your outline that don’t work. Then write again, then update your outline. This back-and-forth process helps me to see the bigger picture.

4) When outlining, use as many methods as possible. This advice came to me from my current supervisor as well as a prof that I am working with as a research assistant. Use cue cards and thought maps, spread these out on the floor, rearrange them, colour-code them, translate them into different formats (lists, etc). Again, it helps you find things that you didn’t see before.

5) Talk to other people, especially people outside of your field or discipline. Meet with a writing group: even if you only see them a few times during the process, you’ll be accountable for having something to say. I was afraid to talk about my research with anyone while I wrote my last thesis, and I suffered for it. This time, I bug my husband at least a couple of times a day to run ideas by him and try to figure out how to explain what I want to say.

5.5) Don’t think that you need to use anyone else’s schedule or routine. If you try it and it works for you, that’s great, but if not, keep trying new things while you write.

Of course, this might not work if you’re writing 4 term papers on a deadline. As I said, having the time to observe all of these things is something of a luxury. That said, the more you learn about your own writing process (and how to maximize your time), the better you’ll feel about writing.

Now, hopefully I can keep taking my own advice when I start my PhD next year.

So: what have you learned or observed about your own writing/creative process? What do you wish you had known earlier?

P.S. I really need to update everything to do with the garden because we have a jungle on our balcony now.


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