As I sit in the Chicago airport during a layover on my way to the Sundance Film Festival (headed to meet up with our very own Queen of Writer Unboxed, Therese Walsh!), I’m pondering the way my writing routine has changed. If you’d asked me a few years ago if I could write at a stand-up counter in the airport with hoards of people streaming on either side of me, I would have laughed. If you had asked me where and how my most important writing takes place, I would have said quietly, at my desk, or on occasion, in a dark corner at my local Starbucks. But as I munch on Garrett’s gourmet popcorn (omg, it’s the best here), I’m rather surprised at how I’ve changed.
In fact, it isn’t just the “where” that has changed (I write on a plane or on a train, in a box with a fox. I will write here and there. I will write everywhere. Thanks, Dr. Seuss), but how I view the different phases of creating a story that has drastically changed. Writing happens when I’m in the checkout line at the grocery store, or sitting in the carpool line. When I’m in the middle of a conversation with a stranger. Writing happens during meditative and repetitive activities—steamy showers, driving, exercising, eating green eggs and ham. It happens when I least expect to be assaulted by ideas or by my protagonist’s voice. I’ve learned that all of the staring out of the window processing time is writing time, too. It allows plot threads and characters to simmer in a chunky word stew. Eventually, the goodies in that stew float to the surface when they’re properly cooked.
Processing time is essential, but I have to admit, sometimes I need the reminder. Sometimes I try to force the writing. I stare at the page and I lament some plotline that isn’t making sense, or some character that isn’t fully three-dimensional and my wheels spin and spin like a computer program that won’t load. What usually follows is some sort of self-loathing or discouragement, and as I step away from the computer frustrated, I lament “all the lost time” of not putting words on the page.
What I’ve learned is when the words won’t come, it’s a symptom of something missing in the scene. It is also an indication that I might need to approach the story, character arc, or scene from an entirely different angle. I’ve learned to give myself permission to experiment.
I’m in the midst of putting the finishing touches on a book that I’ve been working on for three years. It has been three years of frustrations but also excitement and A-HA! moments. Moments of being proud. Not only has this book forced me to write when I could and wherever I could, but it has forced me to take the processing time I need. It has also demanded I experiment, and to let things go that aren’t working. As a usually-linear plotter, it has upended my process. In fact, I have a waste document with 36,000 words, two discarded timelines, one discarded framing device, and one discarded point of view to prove it.
I’m learning about how key flexibility is to the life of a creative, in all sorts of ways. Most of all, I’m learning to trust the process. I hope this is growth. I believe this is growth.
How has your process evolved over time?