“How do you write?”
That is a question people ask after I awkwardly blurt that I’m writing a book…or rather…er…seven books…some stories…and a little novella thing that’s getting out of hand…
There are many ways to answer that question.
The nitty-gritty of how I write is this: every morning, no matter the hour (and usually the hour is early and dark) I stumble into the kitchen directly from bed. I blindly boil water, grind my holy beans, and prepare a magical pot of French press coffee. The imps like coffee, so I faithfully offer it to them each day.
Once I have a sip of magical potion in my belly, I blearily open whatever project is closest to me, and start typing. The aim here is similar to that of automatic writing—turn off the conscious mind, let the imps take control, and type furiously for ten minutes or a half hour or, on those rare mornings when I don’t have to be at work until 9 am, a whole hour. My hands only stop typing to take a sip of coffee. On Tuesday mornings I don’t teach, so on Tuesday mornings this process can last up to three or four hours before my forearms need a good stretch.
Then I do handstands (to stretch the forearms and fingers, of course).
So that’s how I write—like a zombie on a juggernaut.
The imps like to have their fun. I suppose they wouldn’t be imps if they didn’t. Sometimes I write utter crap in my early morning trance, so I delete it all in the afternoon. I edit in the afternoon, when my critical thinking mind is in high gear. Editing is necessary for everyone, but I’d say especially so for me. My spell-check function gives up on me early, what with all my weird names, made-up words, and typos. In a conversation with Beth about why I’m so bad at grammar, I discovered I’m from generation of people educated publicly in California who were part of an experimental theory of grammar education. In short, I didn’t get any grammar education…ever. Remember diagramming sentences, learning about the uses of punctuation, and reading Warinner’s Grammar Book? I don’t. I didn’t see a book on English grammar until I was in college. The idea behind dropping basic instruction in grammar was that we’d learn it by reading, and since I was a devouring bookworm from the day I could hold a book on my own, I’ve always managed to scrape by. But I know Beth, when editing my stories, despairs of my mix-ups about when to say “my friend and me” vs. “my friend and I.” I know, I know, I should know this by now. So there’s another answer to “How do you write?”
“With lots of editing.”
But what I think most people mean when they ask this question is something a little less specific. They mean how do you get your ideas, or what’s the magical process of fusion and fission that causes stories to explode out of the mind and onto the page. That’s a mystery better minds than mine have pondered for a long time. Answering that question is a lot scarier, because the real answer is I don’t know. I just know that I hear the imps’ voices—and have an urge to write them down. They come at the strangest and most inconvenient times. I get most of my good ideas during repetitive, simple exercise, like walking or cycling, and always when I haven’t got a pen and paper handy. I’ll be riding my bike to work and sentences will start popping perfectly formed into my head. When this happens, I pick the first few sentences, begin to chant them so I won’t forget them, usually in tempo with my leg motions, and try to remember them until I get a chance to write them down.
The other time I get my ideas is in those few confused moments between waking and sleeping. I often keep a notebook beside my bed for just this occurrence. I’ve learned from hard experience that if I don’t write it down, I don’t remember it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve solved a serious plot knot just before I drifted off to dreamland, only to wake with an utterly empty head, solution forgotten. It’s infuriating, because I know my solution is somewhere in my brain, I just can’t access it. Oh, cruel imps.
So I guess my real answer to the question “How do you write?” is this: By finding any way I can to access the imps.
Call the imps whatever you like—the subconscious mind, the Muses, the creative urge, the crazies, the voices; the basic creative problem is to tame those imps for long enough to cast a lasso around them, reel them in, consult with them, and then set them loose again across the page.