By Ellie Roscher
I’m skeptical of of writers who talk confidently about their controlled, repeatable writing process. I can’t wait around for the light to be shining through the window in my office at just the right angle to get work done. I’ve had to embrace the hustle of the modern writer lifestyle and figure out how to write in the nooks and crannies of reality. Constantly triaging and juggling paid gigs and pipe dreams, tweets, blog posts and essays, agile and mobile, I write on cocktail napkins, post-it notes and text messages to myself.
Although my process changes depending on what the project calls for and what life demands at that moment, there are distinct, ever-present elements to my creative process that work for me:
1. Do nothing.
Doing nothing is not the same as procrastinating, but rather a highly creative space of hibernation. Without seasons of incubation, my writing feels forced, produced and stiff. As I mature, I have less anxiety about the days I don’t write. My process requires rest, healing and recuperation. I ingest beauty, live life unabashedly and thus acquire and absorb stories. Doing nothing carves out essential space where truth can brew and percolate and from which art can spring forth.
Out of the nothing, thoughts begin to emerge, but it’s not yet time to write. Not all thoughts are worthy of being shared. I withhold the urge to jump into sentence formation for as long as possible. I become strategic about input. I read the best things I can get my hands on. I talk to interesting people and seek out documentaries. I research. I keep living life with specific thought lenses on that filter experiences. I sit and think.
3. Write on the go.
The better I get at writing, the less time I spend at the computer. My highest intelligence is kinesthetic. That means my body is smart and I do my best thinking when my body is moving. I start writing in the shower, on walks, in the car, while I am playing with my son. I carry a small notebook around and have a whole white board wall in my home office for jotting the good stuff, but the best sentences inevitably get stuck in my head. By the time I sit down at the computer, I’m brimming with momentum. Key transitional sentences, a clear flow, and several strong sound bites are already written.
4. Drink coffee.
5. Type it out.
With steps 1-4 done well, my first typing session is an energetic mind dump. I type bravely without worrying about perfection or precision. The first draft can be horrendous. I write quickly and with purpose on the first draft.
6. Pencil in a schedule.
Once I have some good, tangible work down on paper, I set a loose schedule. Knowing when my chunks of writing time are, and making realistic assignments for the allotted times helps me feel successful and confident in my progress. Working on a book this Thursday seems daunting, but adding a paragraph to page 27 is doable. If it’s a writing morning but I’m in the mood to edit, I try to push through the initial resistance. It usually works. When I must, I adjust. Before I lose steam one day, I decide what I will start with the next day. Knowing where I’m headed, my subconscious can write overnight, and I can think and write in my head until then.
Reading my own work is hard. I can fall in love with storylines, characters and sentences that just don’t belong. They have to go. I had to learn to create distance and read my own work as an objective reader and not an invested creator. I pretend to only know what is on the page in front of me so I can catch inconsistencies, confusing parts, holes, and inaccurate language. My main editing activity is deleting. What did I write for me versus what does the reader need to know? What words are unnecessary? What tangents don’t serve the higher purpose? I edit as many drafts as it takes, each layer removed exposes more vulnerability and potential. Finally, a sentence, paragraph and eventually the entire piece feels complete.
8. Read it aloud.
At the end of the day, it’s the job of the writer to entertain. Reading my work aloud, I hear the tempo of the piece and make sure the rhythm varies. If a sentence is awkward to say aloud, it’s awkward for a reader to read. I can hear mistakes better as well as boring word choice. Preforming it, a strong and unique voice should be audible.
9. Share it with a select few.
I used to share my work too soon and to too many people then do anything they suggested. As rewarding as it is to have my work on someone else’s plate (I feel like the piece is progressing without having to do anything), I am waiting longer to share it with others, and I trust less people to give me sound advice. I have to care more about the work being good than about it being finished. I have to trust myself to find mistakes, to strengthen weak spots and to get out of ruts. I have to care more about the piece than any editor or friend and be able to justify each minute choice. This is all about raising my own standard, writing with control, confidence and intentionality, and building endurance to walk with a project until it is really finished. With all this being said, no writing is done in isolation. I am so thankful to my team who pushes, prods, raises questions and points out my blind spots. They are priceless.
10. Repeat and enjoy the ride!
Ellie Roscher is the author of How Coffee Saved My Life, and Other Stories of Stumbling to Grace. She holds a master’s degree in Theology/Urban Ministry from Luther Seminary and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Her newest book is PLAY LIKE A GIRL: How a Soccer School in Kenya’s Slums Started a Revolution (Viva Editions, 2017)