I was posed a question in a class I was taking through the University last night. The question was simple. How do you write? I found that since I've started taking myself seriously as a writer, I can't seem to label and classify my process anymore with a single paintbrush. I now have stages, or phases for my pieces as they slowly take shape. Since I do not wake-up and piss excellence every time I write, my poems and pieces usually take a bit of time to get just right. So I figured I'd do my best to explain to others, as well as myself, what goes on in this crazy little apartment I live in.
Here's my "workspace". I'm not cool enough to have an office with a grand oak desk with twenty drawers, so the end of this kitchen table makes due.
Stage 1, the idea phase:
My ideas come to me at the most random moments, often when I have nothing to write with. Rather than rely on my terrible short-term memory, I go straight to my phone and fill my inbox with a bunch of rambling, random, and sometimes unreadable text messages as I am walking, driving (I know it's not a good habit, shhh....), or just in the middle of work where I have to tell my boss that he needs to hold on one sec (luckily he's understandable and supportive of my creative aspirations). If I am around a pen and a sticky note, even better!
A problem I run into is that I am a very forgetful person. I'm not lazy, not by any stretch, but I start so many projects and jump around so often, that I forget what I'm doing and often forget to transfer my new ideas to my "idea file" and I end up with twenty sticky notes lying around or I get a full inbox on my phone and can't receive any more texts (whoops, hope that text wasn't important, mom). But let me set one thing straight so I don't sound like I'm tooting my own horn here. I may have a lot of ideas, but most of them are junk. I'm constantly sifting through the bad one-liners and the overly dramatic scenes that I text myself and I search for that one nugget that has potential. Once I find something that I feel that I can do something with I move on to stage 2.
Stage 2, massive generation of gobbly gook:
In stage 2, with my nugget of an idea in hand, I have to turn out all the lights in my "work area", because I like the constant feeling of night. So, with the curtains drawn, doors shut, low hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen present, then I put my headphones on. Once the headphones are firmly in place over my ears, I hit play on the playlist and begin listening to the sweet sounds of Manchester Orchestra, Brand New, Wolfmother, Soundgarden, 'Tool, Rage Against the Machine, and Band of Horses. I have found that there is something in this music, when turned up to a comfortable level, that distracts some part of my brain, which allows me to generate massive amounts of text without censoring myself. My previous biggest flaw would be that I would constantly censor and spend more time erasing than writing. I have found that my new method of uber generation gives me a lot more material to work with for my third stage.
Stage 3, the red pen:
For stage three, I prefer all the lights on, the piece of material printed out on white paper, and a pen of some sort in my hand ready to mark it up. Often, it helps if I wait a few days, maybe even weeks, before I tackle the piece again and go at it with a fresh pair of eyes. This is the same technique I used when adjusting the sound levels when I was mixing my music. It's very tough to let stuff sit, but with a billion other projects I find something else to work on for a while until I come back. Now, once the mood is set, I go to work in peer-revising myself. Most of the initial work is cutting out a massive amount of foul language. When I get in a focused zone with my blinders on, or I drink too many "not water" bottles while writing (especially about war), my brain tends to revert back to the very alpha male primitive state it was in when I was in the military. It was a way of survival. If you're going to be dumb, you've got to be tough. Anyways, after I've run out of white space on my paper from all the red marks I've given myself, I move on to stage 4.
Stage 4, the re-write:
In this stage, I force myself to re-write the piece using my notes and comments. Then, I find a friend with too much spare time on his hands.
Stage 5, the peer review:
I give my revised piece to a friend. I let him mark on the paper. I let him hand it back. Done.
Stage 6, the second re-write:
I re-write the piece again. I prepare for stage 7.
Stage 7, find a publication and submit:
This is my second to last stage and is always a relief when I complete it. I scour the Internet for journals/magazines/pubs and submit my literary child that I just birthed into the world.
Stage 8, update submission logs:
Here, I write down the pub, date, and if the piece was accepted or rejected. I like to keep careful track of my submissions so I don't send a rejected piece to the same journal repeatedly. I also don't like to sit on a piece when it comes back. If it gets rejected, I need to immediately revise (if needed), and send it back out into the world so I don't have to worry about it collecting dust.
I hope this helps anyone out there that has ever been curious as to how people think or operate when they write. I wish I was the "creative genius" type, but I think I fall more into the "hardworking with unstoppable tenacity" category.