I love hearing about other Writer’s Processes. Writing is not entertaining to watch, which is why we currently have no reality shows about it. Painters and potters have incredibly photogenic processes with color and splatters and muddy hands. Fashion designers have dramatic processes with color and flowing fabrics, even when it is pooling from the end of a a sewing machine. Photographers have the red light rooms and pools of water. Writers have a laptop. We don’t even have typewriters anymore, which are somewhat romantic. We have notebooks and laptops. We stare off into space; Worlds swirl in our brains, but from the outside we look like weirdos who sometimes mutter to themselves. It lacks the same drama.
However, when I am with a group of writers, or think about famous writers, I live for hearing about how they spend their writing days. I read where Joyce Carol Oates writes but would take breaks to go running. A friend in my grad school program would Skype on of her writer friends, and would work during the video call. They wouldn’t talk. Like preschool children, they would parallel play with their manuscripts in a virtual space. For a time, I was a cafe writer.
Until recently, my family lived in a tiny apartment, and I was either writing from my couch or the bed in a space that always needed to be vacuumed. I couldn’t focus there.
My routine was to wake up, put on sweats, drive my kid to school, then drive to Whole Foods or Panera, and I would write. Sometimes I would eat both breakfast and lunch at Panera, commandeering the best booth in the place for 12 hours. Or I would start at Whole Foods and then migrate to my closest Starbucks or other coffee shop. My husband would pick up my kid and sometimes we would meet somewhere for dinner. This is an intense amount of time to commit to writing. Sometimes I would squeeze in a gym session or a yoga class. Sometimes I would get a haircut. Sometimes I would take a break and wander around Barnes and Noble, Half Price Books, or Target while talking to a friend on the phone. But mostly I was writing, editing, maintaining a blog and online teaching.
And I miss it.
Not because I was healthy – I wasn’t. Not because I was social – I wasn’t unless it was online. Not because I felt good – I didn’t. I had never been so stressed in my life. I miss it because I had never been more focused on a goal in my life. I was writing a novel for my dissertation. Nothing else mattered.
And then the routine stopped being useful. The novel was done. I didn’t have a project advanced enough to require all-day writing sessions. I was completely lost. And then COVID. My routine became homeschooling, job interviews over Zoom, social distancing, online shopping, cooking all my meals, and going for walks.
I got a job teaching, but not face to face. I had a new routine: getting to know my new school, their technology, their expectations, and distance teaching. I was not writing at all. Instead I fixated on the outcome of getting an agent to get published. And every auto-rejection, every “not accepting submissions”, or the occasional semi-sincere “it’s just not for us” message was like a red flag blaring “You are not a real writer.” Especially because I was “too busy” to write. Then the bitterness set in and I took a step back. I stopped submitting. I stopped writing.
I was going through a transition, and I hated everything that reminded me of my old routine.
I even hated my journal, this red chunky book with stickers and cards taped inside with washis. My hand-letter practice pages looked cringy and all my entries were whiny.
I wasn’t having fun. And I couldn’t remember the last time writing was fun and not filled with anxiety.
I needed to do something.
I bought a plain black Moleskine and told myself that I was only allowed to use it to write down ideas for a new project. It’s a murder mystery, so it needed less unicorns stickers. Sleek, black, unadorned, with the exception of a tiny neon pink heart sticker in the right-hand corner. I no longer lugged around a journal, but I carried a Writer’s Notebook. It had a purpose. It was working.
Next step, I made a goal to write 400 words a day on a working outline that included character backstory, necessary events, bare-boned scene sketches. I was getting back to it.
I decided I needed to get the old manuscript out of my life, so I contacted a friend who had once worked with an editor. She was thinking about launching her own editing services, and offered to work with mine in exchange for my feedback on her own.
I felt like I was getting back on track.
And then teaching threw me off. Family things threw me off. We moved. I finally had a studio to work in, but it took months to get settled. Baby steps forward, huge steps back, baby steps forward. Every time I would get thrown off, I would have to develop a game to get me back on track.
In Julie Cameron’s Artist’s Way, she encourages cultivating creativity with Artist Dates. Inspired by this idea, I have been throwing myself a party every Friday night. I am taking the edits from my friend and completely restructured the novel. I can finally understand the comments from others about how the story was interesting but the writing was cold, and at times rushed. I now understand why Stephen King won’t look at any edits on a manuscript until a year has passed, because I am seeing everything in a new perspective.
I go to my Studio with a glass of wine and a cheese plate. I turn on a television show that I have already seen that is comforting and won’t distract (Friends, Sex and the City, Parks and Recreation, Grey’s Anatomy, Property Brothers). And I type. No kids or husband allowed. No phone calls or notifications. Just me and all my imaginary friends. It’s fun. It doesn’t feel like work.
Now Friday night parties are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday parties. Sometimes a post-work Thursday night party. I want to be there. I want to be with my manuscript. I want to play.
This is the process – finding new ways to allow myself to play.
My next party will be Saturday Submission Brunch. Lattes, eggs and a spreadsheet full of agent names. I will send query letters and sample chapters. If I get a rejection response, well, at least there was bacon.