Burning Question: What’s your writing process?
For this piece that you’re reading now, I started by fending off a bit of guilt for waiting until the last minute to write it, then played to level 40 on Warehouse Will, which was followed by fending off the guilt of playing Warehouse Will when I should have been writing to fend off the guilt of not writing. And then, once I had a place to start, I wrote the damn thing.
“Wait,” I hear you say, “that’s not a process…that’s nuts.” And you’d be right and wrong. To you it’s not a process at all. But, to me, it’s a process, specifically, my process. I think our biggest challenge as writers is coming to peace with our own process. We beat ourselves up for our lack of efficiency. We compare ourselves to other far more prolific writers and declare ourselves non-producing hacks. The trick is to embrace our own idiosyncratic process and use it to our advantage.
My creative process was developed as an actor. In that world, we work in intense periods of productivity and creation that blurs days into weeks and weeks into a production, which is then followed by a wild bash with much food and drink. Then the whole process starts again, often with a hangover from the wild bash.
When I first started to write, I’d beat myself up for not being the methodical, disciplined writer that got up at dawn and wrote several hours EVERYDAY. I knew writers that said they did this, why couldn’t I do it? Instead, I’d write in short, intense spurts followed by much food, drink, and guilt. Then, I noticed something significant. I was making deadlines and producing written work. At this point, I stopped judging my process.
An actor’s imagination is perhaps his or her most precious tool. We’re encouraged to develop characters and interpret words by taking them on long journeys into our imagination. In short we’re encouraged to daydream. The very activity that used to get me in trouble in school is, for an actor, a very practical tool. Once I realized that daydreaming is at the heart of my writer’s process, I was able to trust it and let it work for me.
I spend time with a story rolling around in my head. Actors use their imagination to bring to life the written words of a story. I reverse the process and use my imagination to bring to life the world of my story and then write the words. It requires mulling, and ruminating, and daydreaming. After a period of writing not a single word, the story tumbles out onto the page. It’s a mess really. But then, that’s why we edit and rewrite.
If in the end, you have a finished written work, then, by God, you have a process. I’ve daydreamed a bunch of stories into finished written pieces. I’m daydreaming a YA novel right now. If my process works, I’m looking forward to reading it sometime soon.
Keith Strunk is the author of Prallsville Mills and Stockton of the Arcadia Publishing Images of America Series. He is co-founder of River Union Stage, a professional Equity theater based in Frenchtown, NJ.