Here is my usual writing process:
I address something specific— a blog post, article, chapter to write, and so on. (In other words, for now anyway, I’m not one of those journal-jotting daily musers, because the deadlines seem to eclipse that enviable habit.) I sit down to write. Then I get up, usually to top off my mug of tea. Good thing I went into the kitchen, though, just in time to save my family and world civilization by organizing my spice cabinet. Satisfied, I head back to write. Silence phone, sip tea, and then things kick into high gear: Patty, you’re plum out of good things to write says the voice in my head, that same cassette tape that has played in my head forever. You are a one-trick pony. Faker. The well is dry. Patty, what makes you think you can do this? Patty, this writing thing you’re into, it is just too vulnerable a thing to do. Others will read and judge your writing and judge you. Patty, I don’t think your sock drawer is organized well enough. Get to it.
Inevitably, I end up doing what I should have started with: setting two goals for myself.
- Create a deadline.
- Get anything written down. Anything at all.
Setting these two goals helps me whack through the tangle of nonsense in my head. First, I secure a deadline for finishing the piece and make it as if my family’s well being depends on it. I imagine this deadline has been set by someone else who holds our fate in their hands. I move all things in my way in order to meet that deadline. As a matter of fact, when I was writing my book, I had a deadline to write a chapter every two weeks (my editor Wendy never set these deadlines for me). I lived like this was my reality and turned in virtually every chapter “on time.” The deadline gives me the felt need to get the writing done, like it or not.
The second goal I set is getting anything written down, anything at all. Utterly inspired by Anne Lamott’s chapter “Shitty First Draft” in her book Bird by Bird, I push myself to write down whatever comes to mind. This may start in a notebook with a few ideas or a simple brain dump in a document. I intentionally set my fingers and mind free to write, without self-editing, as quickly as I can in order to get those first words down. This first collection of words is a far distance from the final piece but having written something down makes it so I have hurdled the hardest part of writing for me.
Perhaps your writing process is similar to mine. Does your mind meander and design pressing, meaningless tasks to complete? Worse yet, does the baggage we all have about our talent sabotage your writing voice?
Perhaps these two goals will help you as well-- deadlines and writing anything. Try them, see what happens.
It is always, always worth the journey.
Patty McGee is the author of Feedback that Moves Writers Forward: How to Escape Correcting Mode to Transform Student Writing. Patty is a traveling teacher (AKA literacy consultant) with Gravity Goldberg, LLC. and a recipient of the Milken Educator Award. She blogs at pattymcgee.org and tweets at @pmgmcgee.