How I Write: Discovering Your Process

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When I was an undergraduate, my roommate (and fellow English major) could only write in total silence while sitting in a certain chair in our apartment and sipping a specific type of steaming hot tea in her favorite mug.  When she was stuck, she’d stare out the window for a few minutes or take a slow stretch. She discovered she liked to write late at night and could work only a few hours at a time before switching to another task.  And while her papers could take days to write, she often received one of the highest grades in the class because of her thoughtful analysis.

Today, my roommate is a journalist. From our conversations when she’s on deadline, I suspect her process today looks a little more like this:

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On the other hand, in graduate school, my process often looked like this:

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I was up early (usually around 4:45 or 5 AM) with my favorite hoodie thrown on top of my pj’s, hunched over in bed, squinting at my dim laptop screen since I only liked to turn on my small bedside lamp. I loved those quiet hours before the rest of the world awoke to write creatively. With this method, I wrote more than one hundred new pages in less than six months.

Today, my process often looks more like this – snatched minutes in between office hours, teachings, and meetings.  However, it is still mostly effective for me:

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So, how did we learn to be a little less protective of our writing process? Necessity and practice.

As we’ve talked about elsewhere in the blog, practice makes us better writers.  My roommate learned to speed up her analytical process so she could meet even the tightest deadlines.  And, I’ve learned how to mimic the feeling of early morning calm during any point in the day.

But what if you don’t know your process well enough to start “hacking” your productivity?

Start observing yourself: When do you write well? Where? How? With wordless music on in the backgroud or no music?  In a crowded coffeeshop where you can’t access the internet or in a quiet library with no distractions? Do you feel more refreshed in the morning or at night?

Repeat those ideal settings: Do you need to ask your family to turn down the TV when you’re home writing a paper? Do you need to put your phone on silent? Do you need to start outlining a few days earlier so you can edit your drafts a few more times than you used to?

Accept your process: The actress and writer Mindy Kaling, for example, had this to say in an interview :

I always write in exactly the same place, which is sitting in my bed, with two pillows behind me. I’ve written 50 television scripts and two books on this one place on my bed! I think the lack of the formality of a desk makes me feel really comfortable, and I’m a creature of habit.

Sure, it might be tempting to feel you need to write like everyone else – at a fancy desk, or during normal business hours, or while wearing something other than your sweat pants, etc. But why make writing any harder for yourself? Once you figure out what works for you (at this point in your life), why not use it?

So, no matter what your process is, accept it.  And, as Tim Gunn (a master teacher) says:

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