Saturday, December 14, 2013

My Process

The following occurred while attempting to crank out another chapter of the Awful Space Opera. I thought it might interest you. And by 'you' I mean 'the 48 robots that visit my site every day, plus one bored person from Twitter.' 

Behold, the writer at work:

I wonder if I can somehow meet my word count goal for today by writing about how I don't want to write today? And incorporating it into the story. This might be identical to the strategy of the roughly 80,000 writers who have written stories that begin with a writer sitting around and being discontented about something—writing, not writing, money, no money, spouse, lack of spouse, etc. etc. etc.

And I always want to shoot those people, except for the one who wrote Sunset Boulevard, because he turns himself into a male whore and gets murdered at the end. If you are going to be so self-obsessed that your every project turns autobiographical, that's the way to do it.

Hey look—that was a hundred and twenty words. Anyway, I really am going to follow through with this plan. I don't care if it's after three; I will write 3,000 words before I leave at five.

(No, finishing my word count after I get home is not an option. Work is something you do at work, dummy. Not home.)

(What do you mean they don't pay me to write 3,000 words of my Awful Space Opera before five? They pay me to sit at a desk and look alert and professional. It's the same thing.)

(Well, no, I am not looking alert and professional. I’m looking like I’m about to fall out of this chair and there’s a distinct possibility that  anyone who walks through the door can see down my shirt. I’d check, but that would involve lifting my weight off of my elbow.)

Haha—now it’s almost three hundred words. Only 2,700 to go!

But seriously—I’m going to work on the Awful Space Opera, and today’s episode is going to be pretty darn autobiographical. Lessee, here goes:

Nell awoke with a start. (See, this is why I keep telling you people the Awful Space Opera is Awful. If I write nonfiction, like the above, even if it’s mainly focused on me being paid to write a terrible novel while being too lazy to prevent official visitors from looking down my shirt, it’s fine. I mean, no one’s going to offer me a Nobel Prize, but as writing goes, I’m okay. As long as I stick to essays, freelance article queries which will be retroactively rejected, blog posts, etc. Switch to fiction, and, as you can see, I cannot write five words without three of them being clich├ęs. "Awoke"? Who says that? "A start"? I’m not even going to dignify that one with a response.)

"Nell awoke with a start." Ahem. Now comes more words.

Yaa—look! Almost five hundred!

Which is beside the point.

"Nell awoke with a start." Ummm….

Badal and Donan were still arguing about planetary research, but Donan was starting to tire. He really was still pretty ill. Nell still didn't like him, but now had to suffer the additional unpleasantness of feeling guilty about it. You really can’t hate someone who’s almost been mauled to death by giant rats. It’s not done.

Nell kept drifting off to sleep at the most inconvenient times. There didn’t seem to be any help for it [see what I mean?—ed.], other than giving up his nightly vigils [eaaaarrghh, seriously woman!], and that he just wasn’t willing to do.

But the exhaustion was taking a toll on his health. He had been fighting a cold all week, and now, as his eye caught the last rays of the sun through the window, he felt the shooting pain of the beginning stages of a migraine. [I read somewhere, just the other day, someone's advice on writing—no, wait, it was this lecture I went to Monday night, no wonder I’m so tired, and they were saying you know, it's nonsense, having to use the active voice all the time, you've got to incorporate the passive for balance. That’s totally right of course. Or it was. I just used up the entire world's supply of acceptable use of passive voice in that last sentence, and now there's none left for the rest of you to use. Ever again.]

Of course, he could avoid the migraine by not being greedy and refusing to take an unpaid sick day to get over his cold by taking a nap, but he was sick of being a temp who doesn't get sick days didn't want to be reprimanded when he was supposed to be keeping an eye on Donan, even though Badal was there, [ed. note—I realize I've said repeatedly that this book is awful, but I would like to point out that this febile attempt is more awful than most. Is that really how you spell febile?Haha—not even close.

I need a day off like a fish needs an underwater bicycle that has a propeller and electrocutes sharks.]

Eight hundred words! And it's not even four o'clock!


It's impossible to get any kind of work flow going when people keep interrupting you to discuss the likelihood that the crazy chick who keeps calling will actually show up in person or to ask is this where the undergrad research meeting is being held (it's not) or drop off the agenda for the invention awards ceremony on Tuesday.

Do I need to date stamp and log the agenda for the invention awards ceremony on Tuesday? Apparently yes.

"Nell looked back on better days—days before the Osomnion was destroyed, days when the most stressful decision before him was whether or not to date-stamp and log a duplicate astrometeorological report, or just through it in the trash. [Yes, I did just write "through" instead of "throw." My head hurts.] He could hardly believe he had once longed for adventures, for the opportunity to explore unknown planets, to learn about alien cultures, to meet new friends and influence people.

Not really sure where that sentence was going.

Hey look—wait for it, wait for it…

Wait for it…

Keep waiting…

Just a little bit longer…


And it’s three minutes to till four.

Should I explain why I’m insisting on writing three thousand words today? Perhaps I should.

See, it’s like this: I used to write articles for my student newspaper in college. It was awful.

My basic journalistic process went like this: Receive assignment on Monday. Is that how you spell receive? Hey, I got that one!

So, yeah—Receive assignment on Monday. Procrastinate. Procrastinate some more. Focus on classes, which were easy, compared to journalism. Procrastinate.

Finish last class on Friday afternoon, return to dorm, buy horrible donut sticks from snack machine—as encouragement—then go sit in the dorm lounge with a phone and a notebook, and procrastinate a little bit more.

Call source. (My sources were nearly always available on a Friday afternoon. This is because Jesus loves me more than you.) Ask questions, take notes. Hang up phone, wonder why a nutjob with an irrational phobia of making phone calls would ever choose to pursue a career as a journalist.

Go upstairs. Turn on computer. Stare at screen for two hours. Write, painstakingly, approximately three words a minute, until notes have turned into five hundred words. Go back and write lede.

Hand in story ten minutes after deadline.

This process remained the same after college, as I attempted to build a pathetic portfolio of dreadful freelance articles written for my hometown paper for free. I frequently questioned my life choices. I seemed to loathe my chosen profession.

Then, after fiddling around and being terrible at other things—childcare, education, office management—I was mysteriously offered a job at a newspaper, based on my pathetic portfolio, and I accepted. I started out by coming in early and staying late, and working through lunch, and taking no breaks, but I got all my stories done. I discovered, fairly quickly, that when I had way more assignments to complete than I had time my telephone phobia faded. Apparently there’s something to that old "face your fears" nonsense.

And, after about four months, I suddenly had no trouble writing my stories. Once I finished the interviews and had all the notes I needed, writing a news article became easy-peasy. The only thing that slowed me down was my typing speed, and that got better too. I started coming in late, and leaving early, and surfing the internet a lot in between.

Fast forward to today. Actually, not today—something more like two months ago. A young friend was complaining about the workload in her journalism classes. I, wanting to become a patronizing elderly nag as soon as possible, if not sooner, told her that if she felt that way, she should actually start trying to write even more each day than what was required. Because that's the only thing to break the metaphorical sound barrier between being a journalism student and being an assembly-line-style newspaper hack, which is, of course, her ultimate dream.

And I tried to calculate the average of how much I was putting out each day before I hit my stride as just such a hack, and I think it was about three thousand words a day. And I remembered that when I'm writing fiction, even now, even 125,594 words into Ye Olde Awful Space Opera, it's just torment, like, practically physical pain.

And I had an epiphany. (Did I ever tell you I was almost named Epiphany? No? Maybe some other time)

The epiphany was this: If I can just write three thousand words of fiction every day, maybe I can get over that hump again—maybe, just maybe, it will become easy.

This contradicts everything ever said by every successful writer ever. But I'm trying to do it anyway.

Maybe it will be different for me. Maybe I, and only I, can make it easy.

One thousand five hundred words.


1 comment:

  1. Ignore all advice on the "passive voice"