On the writing process

On the writing process
My office :(

This week, our fearless ChicagoNow leader, Jimmy Greenfield, asked us to write about our writing processes.

I’ve read a lot of writing books over the years, and oftentimes the author will get into the whole “process” thing. “I wake with the birds at 5:30 AM; and after my second cup of coffee, I grab my chenille throw blanket and retreat to my office, where I take root in the leather chair that faces the woods, not the creek. I stay tucked inside until lunchtime while my assistant leaves me cups of tea — oolong and English breakfast, alternating — at regular intervals outside my door. After that, I spend the rest of the day ambling around the local farmers’ markets, hunting for fresh lemongrass and sage.”

I think it should come as no surprise that these authors are usually men.

If I were to outline my daily process, it would involve making lunches for school and dragging my daughter out of bed and trying to squeeze in time to work out and wash the floors and scrub bathtubs and fold laundry and make dinner and call the dentist (Reminder to me: CALL THE DENTIST). It might also involve me taking time out to read gossip sites and too many comments on the AV Club’s recap of the latest New Girl.

My process isn’t really a process, you see. Every day is different. Sometimes kids are sick. Sometimes the dog has to go to the vet. Sometimes I need to run to the grocery store or the bank or the post office.

Sometimes the words flow like the creek that runs past the aforementioned author’s office (oh, how I long for an office). Sometimes writing five words is an achievement.

But still, I manage to get it done. And it’s because of this one simple bit of writing advice that I’d like to give you today:


Stop making excuses. Stop telling people you’d love to write a novel or start a blog or send a letter to the editors at the Chicago Tribune. Make like mid-90s Michael Jordan and just do it. Writers write. People who don’t write are not writers. It’s that simple.

I’ll tell you a story.

When my son was about a year old, I started to get the itch to do something. I had spent the last year basically lying on the couch watching every single episode of NCIS. And The West Wing. And True Blood and Alias and back seasons of Project Runway. He’d nap on my chest and I’d watch TV. It was a lovely time.

But I was a complete waste of space. Sure, I was very well-versed on the subject of Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but it had become simply not enough.

I’d had a novel kicking around in my head for some time, years really. I decided, when my son was fifteen-months-old and when I was just about to start babysitting my 2-month-old niece, that this was the time to become a novelist. Two babies, one woman, and an unwritten novel. It sounds ridiculous.

But, in actuality, it was the best possible time for me to do it.

My time was precious back then. Every day was a delicate balance of getting the smalls to nap at the same time. If all went as planned, I could have a good 2-3 hours of writing time in the middle of the day. And I used it. Nap time was business time. No TV. No internet. Just me and an open Word document. I found myself just itching to get to writing time, raring to go.

What I learned from this whole experience was:

1) I can write pretty darned fast. I can get over 1000 words down in an hour.

2) Conditions do not need to be perfect for writing production. Sometimes I had a half hour. Sometimes we’d have complete nap failure, and I’d be swimming in kids all day without a break. But all was not lost. I’d “write” in other ways throughout the day. I’d make notes all over the place. I’d put on an inspiring soundtrack in the car and mentally walk through my next scene. Most often, I’d find a way to take an actual walk. Walking solves all writing problems. Really, walking solves most problems.

When you get too bogged down in “process,” you make it easy for yourself to make excuses not to do the work.

So, just fucking do it. Be like Mike already.


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