Monday, October 25, 2010

The Writing Process

Earlier this month I saw writer Aaron Sorkin on The View, talking about his new movie The Social Network. I really appreciated his descriptions of his writing process.

When asked offstage how he created the opening scene of his movie, he said “sometimes you’re thinking about it for months and months and months, you’re pacing around, you’re climbing the walls, but once you know what you’re going to write…you write it in the amount of time it takes you to type it and you hope that energy and speed makes its way onto the page.” Later he said onstage that he takes six to eight showers a day to hit his mental reset button when his writing isn’t going well and that driving around, arguing with himself, and watching a lot of ESPN also get his creative juices flowing.

I can relate to that.

For the past two months I tried to take the more disciplined approach to writing that others have described. I set a goal of writing five days a week, at least two thousand words a day. I started the Monday after my children returned to school, when the house was silent and needed to be filled with words.

Some days the words flowed, some days…not so much. I combined my new process with my old process: walking the dog, doing the laundry, cleaning out the refrigerator, and, oh yes, watching The View. That’s how I stumbled on Aaron.

He said although his writing process looks an awful lot like him watching ESPN, his brain is working all the time. I’m sure that’s true. Sometimes I think my brain is working on a story, percolating it, and I don’t even know it, sort of like ‘let’s sleep on it.’ A lot of my best ideas seem to come to me in the shower—but sometimes they leave even before I have time to dry off. And sometimes I write so long and so fast that I don’t snap out of it until my son gets off the bus and knocks on the office window, scaring the bejesus out of me.

I did find with the more disciplined approach, I could read a book at night after writing during the day. That’s never been possible for me in the past, so it’s promising to have it all compartmentalized now. It may be a natural step in my ever evolving writing process.

It’s been thirty days to date, and I’ve written 79,565 words, including ‘THE END.’ The crooks of my elbows feel sore from being bent so much while I type. I’m taking NaNoWriMo off to work for a weekly paycheck—gotta love those in this economy.

Of course, I’d like to write a novel that generates as much buzz and is as popular as Aaron’s television show The West Wing or his movie The Social Network.

Who knows, maybe I’ll evolve to that.


Vicki Doudera said...

Interesting post.

I once read a long quote about writing by Bernard Malamud, in which he concluded, "The real mystery is to crack you." There's no one way to do it, and if showers work, reconcile the hot water bill, the toll on the world's water supply, and dry skin issues and go for it!

Walking my dog helps me think out story problems, and I'll take several walks a day when I am really trying to produce alot of pages. Sounds paradoxical, but the more mental breaks I take, the better I do.

Alan Orloff said...

I wish I was as good a writer as Sorkin, and as clean. Nice to see you've found a routine that's working for you, Lisa!

N. R. Williams said...

Love this post. I don't set writing goals because I would probably break them and then become frustrated. Frustration has a nasty habit of quelling the creative juices.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Great job on the output, Lisa! There are lots of times when my writing proces doesn't look at all like I'm writing. If my brain starts slogging I'll vac the apt or clean the bathroom. I find any different activity often loosens the stuck rocks in my head. Even playing a quick game on the computer. It's all about letting your brain take a breather and reset itself - a reboot. And showers do amazing things to my brain, too. Something about the hot water hitting the head - like putting a heating pad on cramps.

Darrell James said...

Nice post, Lisa. When I'm stuck, I get in the car and drive. But, as Vicki said, I have to justify the cost of gas and damage to the ozone layer. So... "Global warming be damed! I've got a book to write!"

Keith Raffel said...

Good work, Lisa!

Watching ESPN to get the creative juices flowing? I'll have to mention that to my wife.

One summer night in Austin, I was drinking with the late, great James Crumley. He told me, "The hardest thing about being a writer is convincing your wife you're working when you're looking out the window." His wife was there when he said it.

Carol Grace said...

I have made writing look so easy my husband is now writing an international thriller, but when I walk by his desk I often see him reading the political columns in the Washington Post on line. Do I stop and stare and give him advice like how many words have you written today? I do not. At least he's not taking 8 showers a day.

Lisa Bork said...

Vickie - Another dog walker. Good exercise, too, since we're stuck in the chair when writing.

Alan - If wishes come true...

NR - Goals should be attainable or they'll always be frustrating and then not very motivating.

Sue Ann - When we clean, we are accomplishing two things.

Darrell - I've been known to talk to myself (or for my characters to talk to each other thru me) when I drive.

Keith - No one in my house really thinks of what I do as work, although they're very excited about the finished product.

Alice Loweecey said...

I've been known to get up and wash dishes or dust/vacuum when I'm stuck. There's somethng about repetitive physical motion that kick-starts my brain.

I'll just sit over here and sigh with envy of all y'all who se finances allow them to write rather than do the Day Job thing M-F. :)

Lisa Bork said...

Carol - Your husband is researching by reading those columns.

Alice - Day jobs make great fodder for writing--all those interesting characters at work.