Sunday, 17 September 2017

my writing process

I start my final year of uni in one week. The realisation that I only have eight months of education left has snuck up on me quickly.

I have been thinking a lot about how I am going to move forward in life with no educational authority telling me where I need to be and when. Of course, uni is way more relaxed than school, and it requires a great deal of self-motivation, but next June will still be the first time in 17 years that I haven't had lessons/lectures to attend.

I recently wrote about how to plan your days when you have anxiety because it was something I had been struggling with on days where I had nothing to do over summer. Like that post, I am writing this to help me make sense of life outside of education.

I have written creatively through some medium or other pretty much since I learnt the alphabet and how to use a pen, but I have never dissected my process. Teachers will show you model essay answers and spend hours pulling apart mark schemes. Tutors will tell you to attend lectures on how to write a first-class essay.

Each week for creative writing we were given different prompts and techniques to try out. Some of these worked. Some of them felt stilted and uncreative. I’m not studying creative writing this year, so it is down to me to find my own prompts and inspirations.

For me, one of the most important things is to strike the right balance between the romantic notion of being A Writer, and actually getting work done. This list is not conclusive and has taken a decade of trial and error, but I enjoy reading about the way other people work, so here's what I do: 

Make notes 

This one is obvious. Few people have the imagination to sit down and write piece after piece without referring back to something. I make notes in my journal and on my phone, depending on the situation.

If I ever lost my phone, the thing I would be most sad about losing are my notes. I have so many half-formed poems, snapshot descriptions and drunken epiphanies written in there. I use them as prompts and take phrases directly from them.

My journal tends to be a little more cohesive. I write about specific events that have happened and I write all my strongest thoughts and feelings in there. No one reads it, but it forms a large part of my writing in general, especially my poetry. 

Research as you go

With uni essay writing, I spend hours researching before I sit down to write any of the actual essay. However, with articles and fiction, I am lazier. However, this does have its perks.

If I read something similar to what I am writing then it can end up shaping my writing and then the piece doesn't feel like mine anymore. Avoiding research until you need to forces you to draw from information you already know. You can also fact check when you are redrafting. It also avoids comparing your work to others and can lead to more unique work overall.

Free writing

When I start writing I try to get as many ideas on the page as possible. I don't believe that quality over quantity applies to first drafts. This works under the same principle as drawing from notes you have already made. At the end of this part of the process, you have a lot to work with. You then only have to go through and pick the best bits, and get rid of the parts that don't work.

Free writing is particularly useful for writing poetry. Write down any and every image that comes to mind then give it a rhythm. Redraft by removing unnecessary words.

Write or die

If I am trying to free write but keep getting distracted, I sometimes use Write or Die. If you select the Kamikaze setting then your words will start to be deleted if you stop writing.

You can set a word target and you must keep writing until you meet the target. I usually do it in 100-word bursts so that I don't waffle too much. 

Be a poser sometimes

I have adopted this one recently, as I have taken up the task of rewriting the novel I wrote as a teenager. When I have really bad writer's block, I dress in black, make a cup of coffee and go outside for a cigarette because that seems like the sort of thing a writer would do. Then feel like I have to write because otherwise I'm just acting like a pretentious cliche for no reason.

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