Tuesday, September 2, 2008

On being a working writer

When I was in college, I wrote a lot of papers. Some were academic; some were creative. The process usually went something like this:
1. Get assignment.
2. Complain.
3. Do nothing for the duration of time allotted for assignment.
4. Do minimal research at the last minute.
5. Write paper at 2 am while my cat slept on the desk near me.
6. Turn it in.
7. Receive an A. Most of the time...

Now, I have a real job that involves writing and editing. I am expected to produce copy, often under very tight deadlines. I no longer have the luxury of slacking off until the very last possible moment... Or do I?

I find that my writing process hasn't changed an awful lot over the years. When faced with a writing task at work, I will often let it marinate in my head for a day or two before I actually start writing. During that time, I'm not actively thinking about the task, but my mind is subconsciously formulating outlines, titles, sentences, and solutions to problems. If I sat down immediately to the task, I would most likely spend a day staring at a blank page and getting progressively more frustrated. The "marinating" process allows me to come to the task prepared to tackle the project. When I actually do open that Word document, I am ready to make magic. Isn't that what writing is, really?

I wonder how other working writers face these issues. Can anyone just write on command? I think that no matter what you're writing, there's some sort of creative aspect to it, whether it's in the document's organization, tone, graphic design, or audience. The working writer's job is to take all of that into account, be creative, and complete the project on time. A pretty tall order!


Hayley said...

I appreciate your “marinating” process concept, but eventually you have to get the dinner to the table so to speak. I find that having deadlines (definitive ones) is unconditionally crucial to the writing process. Whether they are self-imposed or defined by an outside source, if I do not have deadlines, I find I do not start “cooking.” I think this is where the working writer is the lucky one.

This has been my downfall in the area of free writing or writing for writing’s sake. There are countless things that I want to write, but when I do not have a professor, a superior, or at the very least a mandatory deadline, I find I cannot get started. I marinade and marinade and eventually the idea goes bad.

I tell myself that I am not a creative writer. I tell myself that I am not creative enough. I even use my children as an excuse (I’m soooo busy). Then, I look back at many of the things I have written in the past and I think, “Hmmm...not bad! Why can’t I do that again?”

I am often inspired by those individuals who carry notebooks (Margin Wight, this includes you) and write down their experiences and observations regularly. I would do that too, but then I think “What am I doing? Who am I writing for? Who wants to read about MY dull, dreary day?” You working writers with your deadlines and reasons have all of the fun!


Cindy said...

Ok- I'm just a little old artist jumping in here but the process that Yana mentioned it pretty much the same for artists. (I like the marinating analogy.)

Hayley, I also totally relate to you(of course) in your quest for purpose in your work. On that thought, why not take a class in creative writing or something else. I am thinking of taking an art class just for direction. In the process you are bound to learn something new about the process, yourself etc... Classes can even be beneficial to someone who is working in the field. There's always room to grow and learn no matter where you are in your life.

Yana said...

I agree that deadlines are important. In college, I did keep a notebook of experiences, and I really enjoyed it. Not sure what made me stop... In any case, when I go back and read it, I find it not bad at all. Perhaps there doesn't always need to be a purpose to artistic creations. The purpose can be as simple as fulfilling a personal need to create.