RE: Writing: Tuning the Process

No one can really tell you how to write. It’s a matter of finding what works for you. Since posting my last piece on writing, I talked to several people about their processes and remembered some things that should’ve been included last time around. I consider most of these higher-order aspects of the task, but they might not seem so to you. It all depends on where you are as a writer, and I’m not exactly an expert. Either way, this should be taken as an addendum to the other piece.

Brian Eno and friend in the studio.

Writing Space: I am enamored of scenes of bands working in the studio. My musician friends tell me that being in the studio is no fun, so I know I’m romanticizing it. Maybe it’s just leftover boyhood dreams of being a rock star, but seeing the way that artists occupy the temporary space of the recording studio while making records inspires me.

Roy in his writing space in Austin.

I try to emulate the studio experience that I imagine with my writing space. The walls around my desk host white boards and butcher-paper mindmaps, as well as posters and images that inspire me to write depending on the topic. Books chronically clutter every flat affordance within arm’s reach, which can be a burden as well as a boon. If applicable, I also listen to relevant music. For instance, while working on a chapter heavy with material about Laurie Anderson, I put up my Home of the Brave movie poster and listened to a playlist consisting of songs from all of her records. Immersing oneself in the subject matter is one way to dip your writing deeper into it.

An Essential Tension: There is a tension between wanting to write and needing to write. I find that both are necessary, but neither is sufficient. Writing in a vacuum can be lonely, disheartening work, and writing strictly for deadlines can be just as soul-squishing. Writing for my website (I loathe the term “blogging”) has provided me a perfect tension between the two. I want to write because it is what I do, but having an audience makes me feel that I need to write as well. Maintaining this site maintains that tension and keeps me writing.

Get Critical: In a response to my previous piece, Howard Rheingold (who has a beautiful office/studio space himself) wrote:

Find good critics you trust. Much writing needs to be sheltered — don’t show it to anybody until you think it can live on its own, even if it will need minor or major surgery after reconsideration. Then get some smart readers — people whose intelligence and knowledge you admire, you are supportive of your work, but are unafraid of telling you candidly what didn’t work for them in your writing. You need to develop a way of judging criticism. Some of it needs to just bounce off. Some of it needs to be considered. Some of it directs you to make important changes. You need to develop a sense for criticism — and get accustomed to it.

This runs counter to my “Release Your Darlings” suggestion from last time, but it’s good advice. Find mentors who will give you solid feedback — encouraging as well as constructive. It’s essential for all areas of writing development. Now, which of your darlings you release and which ones you save for the private pressure of critical eyes is up to your own judgement. It’s a meta-skill that you’ll hone as you go.

Remember to Return: I spoke to a few writing friends who responded to my “write everything down” credo, saying that they never go back through their notes or journals. It’s not only helpful, but imperative for me to go back through my collected notes on a regular basis. I find myself digging through the latest one almost every time I write something for this site, looking for a half-remembered reference or quotation. I don’t want to go blaming the internet, but we seem to have a web-fueled obsession with the latest, the most current, the now. Sometimes the piece you need is tucked away in the archives. Remember to return to your notes; otherwise, why are you taking them?

These are just a few more things that have come up in the past few weeks. Again, no one can tell you exactly how to make it happen. You may know more than I do. What tips do you have for getting writing done? Feel free to leave some in the comments below.

Thank you. Write on.