For all that I talk about writing processes with my students – reading, underlining, drafting, reading, revising, reading, revising . . . editing, printing – I don’t really think much about my own process. That may be indicative of my lack of one or my lack of self-reflection or my lack of desire to reflect. That said, I read about people’s processes all the time.
I’ve read Lorraine Herring’s Writing Begins with the Breath; I’ve read almost everything that Natalie Goldberg has ever written (except of course the new book that’s coming out this month – I just can’t keep up); I can quote most of Lamott’s Bird by Bird.
I remember in grad school at Antioch I always asked my teachers what processes they used. Marcos McPeek Villatoro told me that he wrote every day for a certain amount of time. Sharman Russell said she had to write before she went to teach so that her words were freshly hers, not her students. Brian Bouldrey only writes in the summers, when he’s not teaching. Steve Heller said he finished his latest novel by writing from 2-7am every morning. Brenda Miller reads a poem before she writes. Gayle Brandeis advises lighting candles. Some people write every day; some don’t. My friend Piotr Florczyk writes feverishly for months at time and then stops for months, too. All this is to say that there is no process that works for everyone, it seems.
But here’s what I’ve found works for me. I need to write every day. By “write” I don’t necessarily mean that I put new words on the page, although that’s good when you’re starting a book, as I am (more on that later if you’re interested). By “write” I mean that I do something that makes me think about how words work on a page. I might blog (obviously); I might read; I might revise an essay and send it out. I might just lay on the couch – something Anne Lamott advises we do more of – and just stare off into space. Whatever I do, I need to do something every day or else my writing gets buried in the crap of life.
I have found that taking Gayle Brandeis’ advice about some kind of ritual can be very important, so I’ve put my computer in my office on my favorite desk and surrounded myself with art and books. Every morning, I light three candles. And then I sit here for at least one hour. It’s good discipline and devotion . . . and it keeps me sane. Image of Candles Burning