The writing process is something I love. I have a reverence for it because the process is so similar to living life. To me, the process of showing up for life and all of its ups and downs, ins and outs, plateaus, plummets, and ascensions is sacred. There is a cadence to life and nothing is ever exactly the same if you are really paying attention. The writing process is the life process in a very specific context.
It’s full of paradox and contradictions, from beginning to end. At the beginning we see the paradox we’ve nurtured in our hearts for a long time — that we have been sold two visions of writing. Each vision holds a thread of truth, but neither describes the day in and day out process that creates the weft and weave of your story and your voice.
The initial paradox you experience when you begin your writing practice is that you hold in your mind two ideals of how this writing thing is going to progress. On the one hand, you see yourself in a cozy spot, maybe in the south of France or some other exotic locale, where you write with abandon, the words flying out of you, your hair gently moving with the breeze that surrounds you (did I mention you are writing outside in just the right light, by a pond or lake?). You are fulfilled with each moment of this writing practice. On the other hand, you see yourself in the darkest night of the soul, languishing in the pain of living, but creating out of this place and it feels powerful. You must suffer in order to create, and create you must, so you look for ways to suffer — maybe unconsciously, but it’s always there.
The reality is that a consistent daily writing practice happens just like exercising or even breathing happens. You show up every day and some days it is hard and other days it is glorious, but every day it is just who you are: a writer. It’s just the truth you are living. You do it regardless of your surroundings and you don’t create suffering to create — you look for the ease to give yourself the opportunity to create. Everything builds from this one moment: you write in between, despite, and in search of these paradoxical visions of the writing process and while you are doing that you see the deeper layers of your practice.
Fluidity and Foundation
As writers, especially when we have a book on the horizon, we want to make sense of not only what we are writing, but also the process of the writing. This making sense of the process, though, requires something that I think most people aren’t all that comfortable with: fluidity, impermanence, a cadence that allows for movement, slow downs, speed ups, and pauses. Sometimes the words come fast and furious and the flow is effervescent and almost effortless. Other times, one sentence feels like the most arduous task you could ever accomplish. And as humans, we are always searching for certainty. When we feel that flow we want it to continue and when it doesn’t we become scared. We wonder what we did to frighten our creativity and the words away.
What if we allowed all of it, though? What if we created a solid foundation and a structure? What if we gave ourselves permission to set up a plan for the book, set up consistent practice time, treat ourselves with compassion, write what we need to write in that moment and then allow for slow downs, pauses, and even a change of course if it is warranted?
It’s good and monumentally helpful to have a target and a plan. It’s good and monumentally helpful to show up consistently in your practice and set up your environment to serve your writing practice. And occasionally, it is also good and monumentally helpful to explore the possibilities when they show up. What if we allowed exploration?
Impermanence: words that hold
Space for the writing.
Engagement and Disengagement
Sometimes a possibility looks like a pause. Sometimes in the pause you find new ideas or remember something that is really essential to your message. Sometimes in the pause you realize you need to rest and let the ideas simmer. Taking a step away — giving yourself the gift of disengagement — is sometimes just what your practice needs. When we pause, we allow time for true reflection and deep work. If you’ve set the foundation, you know:
- why you want to write this book.
- who your reader is.
- who you need to be in order to write the book.
- what you want to convey to your reader — the main message which flows through and connects everything in your book.
- how you want to come to the writing process and tell your “story” with your unique voice.
When you set the foundation you know where you are at all times in the process. And when you have a question about where you are going next, all you have to do is look around you and look to your book plan. In that moment of pause we can get our bearings. We can see the path and know if we need to add another stop along the way, change direction, circle back, or keep on moving forward as planned. We can reflect and consider and deeply engage with the process and the practice.
Sacred and Everyday
When we create a consistent writing practice we are engaging in something sacred and magical and also something so mundane and automatic that you make space to do it every day or most days without even thinking about it. We need to treat it with reverence and also treat it the way you treat breathing. By this I mean you don’t actually give it a thought. You don’t wrestle with the choice of doing it or not doing it. The act of writing becomes as simple as a bodily function. We must balance, then, the magic and the mundane of writing because in order to fully engage in the process, we must also hold them both in a steadfast stance.
Iterative Until It’s Not
I think we all have dreams as writers that we will sit down to write and the beauty and poetics of each sentence and paragraph will flow from our heart and soul onto the page like a sparkling, piercing light. We can imagine this light and it blinds us with its brilliance. The piece comes out whole and complete in one go as if we caught the tail of a kite and pulled the words in from the heavens, not seeing the details and form until the end when we held the kite in our hands. Sometimes this happens with a sentence or a paragraph or even a short piece of writing. And this is why we believe it will always be this way, because it happens sometimes. That’s the dopamine rush we are chasing always. This is why we anticipate that we will sit down and be complete at the end of a session; that we will bask in the glory of wholeness.
The everyday is often different. Sometimes — maybe even most times — we write heavy-handedly, forcing the beauty and the feeling of lightness until we look back and see it is not pleasing or meaningful or even understandable. What do we do then? We go back, again and again, working and playing (whether you are working or playing depends on the day) with the words, sentences and paragraphs, gently coaxing the beauty to come to the surface. We take that pause and come back over and over, winding the kite in slowly by its tail as it catches on the wind and branches that block its path back. The path to wholeness is different on these days. It requires patience and tenacity both. The result in the end is the same, though, whether you work on a section for weeks or months or find it in your heart in just one sitting. Wholeness. Leaving space for both paths is the challenge, especially in that moment of frustration when you would rather the breeze aid your kite back to your hand in one moment and motion.
A published work is
A moment in time captured
Forever in words.
These are some of the reasons that talking about the process of writing is so difficult — it’s full of layers and contradictions. There are no hard and fast rules except for one — practice — but even that looks different for each person and at the different stages of the process. Your practice brings your process to life. So when you are writing a book in particular, there are all of these layers that funnel down into the ultimate paradox that hits you at the very end: while the writing process and practice is fluid and changing and requires flexibility, the finished product is final and unchanging.
I think that is something that can be so intimidating to writers — I know it is intimidating to me every time I am writing a new book. You’ve spent the past however many months or years crafting this magical book and lovingly tending to its needs, adding to it, taking away from it, knowing that it’s a layered process. Once you embrace this it is so freeing! And then, in that embrace you can see what’s just beyond the horizon — the publish button.
This is where we bring in self-compassion once again. All those fears that the word publish brings up, they are expected and universal. You are not alone. In this place of knowing that these fears and this doubt is natural you can pick up the words anyway, and just write the next sentence.
Originally published at https://www.cmcollab.com on February 3, 2021.