28
Jul 17

Writing Only Gets Harder

Paradoxically, writing only gets harder the more you do it.

Writing Only Gets Harder

Original photo by rawpixel.com

You can practice for years.

I’ve been actively writing since I was 8, and I can say conclusively that it’s harder to write now than it was then EVEN THOUGH NOW I CAN READ MULTI-SYLLABLE WORDS.

You can dedicate several years of your adult life and thousands of dollars to undergrad and graduate programs, but writing only gets harder.

Don’t believe me? Here’s why:

When you’re a kid, a story is any weird string of words. Have you ever listened to a kid tell a story? They start out telling you that their grandpa is coming over on Friday, and wind up at how much they love pudding. And while those things are probably true, the story itself, sucks.

(Sorry, kids.)

But that doesn’t diminish the kid’s ease at vomiting out words. It’s easy for them.

When I was in the first grade, I wrote books ALL THE TIME. I don’t think any of these tomes still exist to this day, as neither I nor my parents are particularly sentimental. But I sandwiched copy paper between sheets of construction paper, stapled those bad boys, and then went to town with a pencil and crayons. I wrote so many “books.” I was prolific.

It felt so easy.

(Probably because these stories were like 3 words to a page with a very intricate crayon drawing to illustrate the point.)

But then as I grew up, I started learning about story structure. I learned how to construct a sentence for maximum impact. I learned literary conventions and pacing and word choice all played a part in everything I wrote, and I made allowances.

Even so, this wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back. Writing was still pretty easy.

In middle school and high school creative writing classes, we had to turn in a short story once a week. That’s a helluva writing load, one that college classes wouldn’t inflict on their students. But I hit those deadlines. Sure, it was draining, but writing was easier then. I still have some of those stories (they managed to survive the great notebook throwing out of 2017) and they spanned topics like dystopian junkyards, a man going crazy in a grocery store, an unconscious father on life support mentally recounting life events as his family cries in his hospital room, a young girl posing as a squire so that she can become a knight someday…

I wrote all of that and so much more.

And it was really fucking easy compared to the writing I do now.

The ideas are all still there, disparate and diverse.

But writing only gets harder.

The ideas are all still there, disparate and diverse. But writing only gets harder. Click To Tweet

In college, I procrastinated. (In much the way I encourage my college students not to.) I waited until the day before a story was due for workshop, and then I’d bash one out. And, admittedly, it was never the best story in class. But it also wasn’t the worst.

And I could get away with that procrastination, because writing used to be easy.

Now, I can’t crank out a story in an evening. I can’t hear a song lyric and turn it into a plot line. I can’t watch a movie and use big chunks of it for my own craven purposes.

I don’t just sit down and dump my brain on the page the way I used to.

I have better taste now.

(Some of you who are more acquainted with some of my more colorful posts may disagree.)

I can’t write stories about dystopian junkyards, a man going crazy in a grocery store, an unconscious father on life support mentally recounting life events as his family cries in his hospital room, a young girl posing as a squire so that she can become a knight someday because these stories don’t align with what I want from my writing.

It’s not just writing anymore. It’s actually figuring out what I want to say, understanding the consequences and impact this will have, and how it will frame everything else I write from now until I die.

Writing only gets harder.

Sitting in a chair and bashing out words on a keyboard isn’t the hard part.

Sitting in a chair and bashing out words on a keyboard isn't the hard part. Click To Tweet

I’m saying that Writing, with a capital W, gets harder because it’s Writing with a capital W. It’s the bigger picture of what a writer does. It’s being aware of what writing actually means. It’s understanding who will take your words and how they will be used for years to come.

It’s not wanting your name associated with some garbage concept just because it’s popular at the moment or because it came to you or because it was easy to write.

(There are still things that are easy to write. Some things are so easy they’re out of my brain and on the page before I know it. But are they worth it? If you’ve been paying attention, you know they aren’t.)

Writing only gets harder because you know you’re capable of better prose, and pulling it out of yourself is like exorcising demons.

It’s looking back on the words that you put on the page, and making sure they mean exactly what you want.

This is why writing only gets harder.

The more you practice, the worse it gets. That’s what nobody tells you about practice. Sure, it makes it easier to complete the physical task of putting words on paper. But those words? They get harder and harder to bring to the page.

Writing only gets harder. Click To Tweet

03
May 17

The 10 Stages of My Writing Process

The writing process is a mythical one. It’s a lot of emotional drudgery painstakingly scrawled on Post-Its purloined from former employers on my way out. It’s a lot half-full cups of cold coffee sloshing over the rim of the mug as I attack my keyboard with the fervor of 1000 feral cats. It’s a lot of hours spent on Twitter when I feel I deserve a break that inevitably morphed into a full-on procrastination sesh.

The Writing Process

And yeah. I guess my writing process is also about writing? Sometimes.

With the annual OWFI conference taking place in OKC this weekend, I thought I’d outline my writing process for your enjoyment.

If you’re like me, then you have that restless spring time antsy-ness and you want to dive into a project like Scrooge McDuck dives into his vault. But, again, if you’re like me, your writing process (particularly during spring time antsy-ness) won’t allow it.

You, my friend, are not alone. (If you’ve figured out how to master this weirdness and actually be productive, then I want you to know that you’re not my friend. you’re a mortal enemy and I will light your socks on fire.)

The 10 Stages of My Writing Process Click To Tweet

Anyway, without further ado, here are the 10 stages of my writing process.

001: Manic Ideation
During this phase, ALL MY IDEAS ARE MADE OF GOLD. Generally, this is when I’m scrawling like mad in a notebook, and my pen doesn’t leave the paper — that’s how manic it is. And, after I’ve filled 30 pages with these GOLDEN IDEAS, I start to think that not only am I the greatest and best writer in the world, but that I’m well on my way to the Nobel in Literature.

002: Diligent Procrastination
Generally speaking, I really wear myself out in the manic ideation stage of the writing process. I’m mentally and emotionally spent afterward, and my pen is generally out of ink. when I’m diligently procrastinating, I like to take some time to refill the well, so to speak. So I read books and binge on Netflix, with the notion that I need to replenish my inspiration stores. However, once those stores are replenished, I tend to continue my diligent procrastination on Twitter and YouTube.

003: Furtive Research
The furtive research stage is all about getting down to business. I’m ready to work! Only, those solid gold ideas from stage 001? Yeah. Not really gold. More like gold-plated. Or like, probably aluminum-plated. Because in the sober light of day, NOTHING IS EVER GOOD AND I’M A FAILURE. So I do some research. And this research is like the undergirding for the haphazard railway structure some fly-by-night monorail salesman sold me. <Simpson’s Reference That References Music Man.jpg>

004: Quixotic Outlining
Outlining is inherently quixotic because it’s when you take all those scrawled nonsense bits you thought were gold, and mix them with your research to DREAM THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM. What’s that dream? For me, it’s a novel. For you, it might be a new type of chip dip that uses Dippin’ Dots technology. (LIVE YOUR DREAM AND IF THAT’S DIPPIN’ DOTS-STYLE DIP FOR YOUR CHIPS, THEN LIVE YOU MAGICAL FIEND, LIVE.) The outlining stage is full of hope and wonder and I can conquer the world, or you know, just complete a hella big-ass project. And it’s quixotic because just like Don Quixote, you don’t see what’s really there. Like, I don’t see all the plot holes — I just see possibilities. The outline is where you tilt at them windmills, y’all.

The outlining stage is full of hope and wonder and I can conquer the world. #amwriting Click To Tweet

005: Vehement Denial
This is the part where I remind myself I’m not a writer. That master’s degree was a big ol’ lie, and my brain is actually full of instant mashed potatoes. (If you’ve read this post, then you know this is where I live.) In this stage, I realize fully that I’m Alonso Quijano, and my Rocinante of a novel idea is a terrible old horse. (One that probably kicks kids right in the teeth.)

(I’m from Oklahoma. I know an absurd amount of people who had their teeth kicked out by horses as children.)

006: Smooth Starting
Denial be damned! I get started with my novelin’. And the first scene is always so easy to write. I open a blank document and go to town. And before I know it, I have something that may, at some point, be a viable chapter. It feels really good and like maybe I’m not a failure at the only dream I’ve ever had! If only every stage could be like this…

007: Emotional Breakdown
BUT THE START IS THE ONLY SMOOTH PART BECAUSE I NEED TO SPEND LIKE 40% OF MY WRITING PROCESS JUST STRAIGHT UP CRYING I GUESS. Honestly, I’m not sure why I do this, but I’m also pretty sure that like, all writers do this? Maybe all artists do this. When you put so much time and energy into something that will never match the vision you have in your head, you’re really just setting yourself up for big ol’ crying jags.

008: REVENGE
This is where I curse everyone I’ve ever known. My writing is coming for you, and you deserve it because you may have wronged me at some time and you deserve to be taken out and metaphorically stoned in the streets. BY MY WORDS!

009: Existential Contemplation
This is the point where I acknowledge that choosing the life of a writer means I need therapy. Also, can I continue to live my life like this? DO I EVEN WANT TO? UGH WHY DOES IT EVEN MATTER IF I DO ANYTHING I’M A BODY WITHOUT ORGANS AND WHO CARES ABOUT THE SIGNS I CREATE AND WHAT I SAY THEY SIGNIFY. (Note: This isn’t so much a part of the writing process as it is a part of my everyday life.)

I acknowledge that choosing the life of a writer means I need therapy. #amwriting Click To Tweet

010: Just Writing.
So, I finally get to the stage where I do what I should’ve been doing the whole damn time. But that’s the thing about the writing process. It’s not so much about writing most of the time.

The writing process: Not always about writing. #amwriting Click To Tweet

What about you? What’s your writing process? How many stages do you have? Do any of your stages just involve you crying for no good reason?


31
Mar 16

What I learned in March

The sun is out, the wind is tornadic, and I’m downing Claritin like it’s my job. It must be spring time in Oklahoma. If you happen to be in the neighborhood and you have a second, could you help me destroy all the Bradford pears in the state? I’d greatly appreciate it. So would all the other residents who can’t stand the rancid stank and allergens.

(Wouldn’t it be awesome if tornadoes targeted Bradford pears and nothing else?)

what-i-learned-in-march

Anyhow, let’s get down to business. Here’s what I learned in March.

You absolutely must pick your top 3 priorities.

It’s kind of one of those life hack/productivity adages that you often hear, but don’t think much of until you try it. Basically, the idea goes that you can’t have more than 3 priorities in your life. So, if you have work, family, and fitness as your top 3 priorities, you won’t get to see your friends very often. Or, if you have friends, making art, and school work as your priorities, you may not be there for Sunday dinner at your parents’ house every week.

I’ve spent basically the past 10 years trying to be the very best at my job, trying to be the very best daughter, trying to be the very best girlfriend, trying to be the very best friend, and trying to be the very best writer. It has been exhausting, and since it’s impossible to be the best at everything, I have been the best at nothing. This past month, I picked and focused on my top 3 priorities, and it has made all the difference. I’ll probably write more on this later, but for now, know that I’m a big fan of streamlining.

It’s possible to hate procrastination more than anything, but still not want to get things done.

This is kind of how I feel when it comes to grading papers. Once I get going, I’m fine. But sitting down and getting started with actual grading is the WORST, and when the sun is out like it is now, it’s hard to make myself do it.

Students will only stay late after class on days you have to pee.

Lately, I’ve made an effort to drink a lot more water, with the goal of hitting 120 ounces per day. Naturally, this had led to, well…natural processes. And on the days when I really have to pee, the students who are usually champing at the bit to leave the minute class has started are the ones staying 5 minutes after class has ended to ask questions. I

swear they have to know when I really have to go.

I’m a validation junky.

I’m the queen of getting down and angry about things. And I have to say, that the end of winter is a terrible time for me. It’s like the third lap around the track when you’re running the mile. For the first two laps, you’re pretty fresh and have the energy. Then, you hit your third lap, and it’s like murder. You’ve already done two laps, can’t you just be done? And then, when you get to the fourth, you’re just so happy to have the end in sight that you don’t even feel winded or tired.

January through March are my third lap. Spring is the fourth lap, and now I can see light at the end of the tunnel.

I didn’t realize how much I was in this third lap mentality until the other day when someone told me I was doing really good. Then it kind of hit me that I’ve been a nasty grumpus for the past few months because the time of year had me down. And all it took was someone telling me that I’m really good at what I do for me to snap out of it. I guess I could use a couple hits of validation more often.