>This morning, after a reader and aspiring writer emailed me to ask about my writing process, I recalled this post from a few years back. Still true.<
I’m a messy writer. I’ve always known that, but I’ve also made it a habit not to think about just how messy, since sometimes just seeing the mess can be so terrifying it’s paralyzing. I may be the writer’s equivalent of a hoarder–lots of bits thrown about all over, stuffing every space, entirely disordered, but, even when it seems unlikely I’ll use any one thing or even notice it again, I can’t make myself get rid of it.
This afternoon, too weary to keep writing–since my messy mind kept me up nearly all night struggling through issues of point of view (it’s a writer thing)–I made some working notes for myself as triggers for the next scene (already fully visualized) so I can start writing again early in the morning after, I hope, a good night’s sleep.
Those notes didn’t seem quite enough, though, as my mind kept on racing ahead, and I suddenly had a recollection of a possible timeline of some events in the story that I had scribbled down this past spring. I could even see myself sitting in local Indian restaurant, working it all out.
Here’s the messy part. Most of my notes wind up written by hand in various notebooks, usually whatever notebook, of the many I have always lying about, that happens to be nearest. If no notebook is near, I’m liable to write on envelopes or napkins or the backs handouts leftover from dull committee meetings. I have even written notes on credit card receipts and on the insides of the little paper bands some restaurants use to bind their napkins.
You get the idea.
Once in awhile, I realize I’d better bring the notes into some sort of order, which usually means making one pile of notes related directly to whatever I’m working on, another for notes that are indirectly related, and another for notes that are for other ideas altogether. These piles get a rough sorting, with, for instance, a few pages of continuous (failed) narrative stapled together and then joined by a binder clip with other tries at the same thing. Sometimes I use rubber bands, sometimes I’ll wrap an unlabeled file folder around a pile that has too many different-sized pages for a rubber band or a clip to work. The result is still pretty messy–just a slightly more organized mess.
So, this afternoon, while I wasn’t exactly in the mood to sort through all the notes, I did want to find that timeline. All I had to do, I thought, was find the right notebook–something that ought not be too hard, since I’ve mostly used only three for the last several months.
Nope. Not there. Sort, sort, sort…the timeline seemed to have vanished.
I expected the next serving from my emotions to be panicked despair, but I surprised myself. With my three great piles before me, not to mention my awareness of all the cutting and pasting and rewriting on screen that’s been going on for the past several weeks, I realized that my writer’s mind was actually very much alive and actively working during a period I had been thinking of as dormant and barren. Little bits of the story that’s now absorbing my thoughts nearly every moment–awake or asleep–kept popping up, sometimes only as half a sentence, in two years of note-making.
I had to be there, in all those varied places, before I could be here.
And I also found another true comfort. I’ve been a little disappointed at how few pages I’ve managed so far–pages worthy of keeping more than a day–but a conservative estimate of all my note pages tells me that for the twenty I have, I’ve written at least two hundred.
So, all that time I’ve been in the worst kind of a writer’s despair, thinking I wasn’t writing, but the truth is, I’ve been writing all the time.
Oh…and when I had fully absorbed and enjoyed this revelation, I remembered that I’d written out the timeline I was thinking of while reading a book for research, right in the margins while I was reading.
Now, if I could only remember which book that was…