I am procrastinating.

What am I procrastinating? you might say. I am procrastinating writing. Because instead of actually writing, I’m writing blog entries about how I’m not writing but how I’m thinking about writing and showing you my notebook (from afar because I’m still working through very basic stuff – a recurring theme on those Post-Its is ‘WHAT IS GOING ON?!’ Which is not really a good thing for the writer to be thinking. Really. Somewhat ironically, the other theme is ‘No talking to the reader!’ Maybe I need to convince them to relax that rule just until I’ve figured out what’s going on…).

Yes, I use both sides – it’s not like Post-Its grow on…oh. Wait. No, I guess they do. Never mind – it’s just a writerly eccentricity, then.

More Post-It notes, along with things scribbled in the margins at 3am which no longer make sense. I’m sure if only I could decipher some of them, this book would practically write itself, but until then…

So here’s the basic, basic outline of a summary of a vague idea that’s been tramping about in my head and on those Post-Its lately (with no specifics, mostly because I don’t know them, but also because if I ever do get it out of my head, onto paper, and you lot want to read it, I don’t want you to already know what’s going to happen – where would the fun in that be?):

  • A can do X
  • B can do Y
  • C can do Z
  • A knows B and C and what they can do
  • B knows what C can do (but do they know each other? At first they did, but now I don’t think they do)
  • C knows A and what A can do
  • Some combination of A, B, and C know what’s going on
  • I know what A, B, and C can do, but I do not know what’s going on
  • There may or may not also be other letters involved

So…yeah. There you go. An insight into my psyche, no doubt, but hopefully it’s a little interesting.

Janis, you need a blog. Seriously, because you’re one of my writer friends and I’ll bet you have lots of interesting things to say about how you write. At first I was going to say that I bet it’s entirely different since you write non-fiction, but now I think it probably isn’t. I mean, you still have to come up with connections and relationships between your subject and their family and friends and then you have to decide how you’re going to tell their story or even which story of theirs to tell!

So.

Janis or Cayt or any of you out there who might write but I don’t know about it (or know you, for that matter), how do you write? What’s your process? Literally, how do you write? Post-It notes, charts, outlines, typewriter, computer, by hand, or some other way I haven’t thought of?

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2 thoughts on “I am procrastinating.

  1. For someone who is otherwise obsessively organized, my writing process is quite messy! I read about my subject for a couple of months, just to let it all sink in. Then I go back and reread and take hand-written notes (in spiral notebooks) — quotes by my subject or ideas I have for presenting certain things, and relevant facts. Then I transfer those notes by typing them in WordPerfect, thank you, making sure to note my sources for quotes. I then cut-and-paste and group these supposedly relevant thoughts and quotes by subject in a computer document (like with Lincoln for example — it might be his time in Springfield or the Lincoln-Douglas debates or his relationships with his children). Then that sits for a while and I write a proposal.

    I used to think proposals were just for my editor’s sake so she would have something to present at meetings, but writing one is actually a helpful process. It requires me to think ahead about how many pages, chapter breaks, what topics get covered where. I don’t usually end up strictly following this proposal, but it’s quite useful as a starting point and helpful too when I get stuck along the way. I get a big bulletin board and tack each page of the proposal on it, along with a timeline of my subject. I also post any miscellaneous things up there — books I want to read, websites that were helpful, reminders to myself not to be so damned ponderous — because my desk gets piled high with reference materials and too much paper makes me crazy.

    It’s easier for me because I’m writing history and the plot is worked out. But I do have to figure out where to bring up certain topics. In my Civil War book I ended up with these chronological chapters alternating with subject chapters about things like the soldier’s life or life on the home front or writers and artists of the War because it just didn’t work for me to insert those topics within the chronological format. I don’t know if I started off that way, but eventually it became clear that that was the only way I could work it. In other books, I just played with things in different places for a while until they seemed to work. I do all of that cutting and pasting, putting in and taking out, on the computer, not with paper. I just keep trying something, wrestling with it, and if it doesn’t work I pull it out and stick it back in my notes and maybe it’ll work somewhere else. It’s kind of haphazard. Like Lincoln — where to talk about his relationship with his first love, Ann Rutledge. Logically, in the chapter on New Salem, where he knew her, but it kept feeling wrong, so I didn’t bring up any romantic attachments until Mary showed up in Springfield, then I went back in time to talk about Ann. In the proposal, I had it more chronologically but as I was writing, it just didn’t flow. I usually can’t tell until I’m in the middle of it if it’s going to work or not. I got Lincoln to New Salem and suddenly he was off to the Black Hawk War and then studying law and romance just didn’t fit in. The writing seems to have it’s own flow and I try to pay attention to that and let it happen.

    Anyway, at a certain point I’ve got all these books and all these notes and I just plunge in. I always have two screens going –the screen I’m writing the book on and the screen with all my notes. My books have lots of sidebars so when I am stuck, which is often, I write a sidebar just to be working on something else for a while.

    Once I’ve started the first pages — the hardest part for me — I use ritual to move forward. I clean my house, make coffee, check e-mails, avoid writing. Then I look at what I wrote the day before and edit it. I know many people who think that’s a horrible idea but it’s sort of like a jump-start for me, so suddenly I’m writing the next sentences and pages without having the fear of the blank page overcome me. Each day I write 3 or 4 or 6 pages (if I’m really lucky), then the next day I go back and cut and edit and start from there.

    I have a fictional work that I started years ago. It got bogged down and I gave up. Halfway through, I stopped writing and tried to outline the rest but I lost all my creative energy somehow. Sometimes I wonder if I’d just gone ahead and tried to keep writing that maybe the characters would have just kept moving and maybe the plot would have unfolded in that way. Or maybe not. Fiction, I think, is so much more complicated.

    I find myself quite envious, looking at your organized post-its and notebook!

    Janis

  2. i came across your blog by accident. I think that your writings are really good and i was telling my friend that you should be a literature major. Now i see that you really are a writer and not just another blogger.

    Anyways good luck with whatever you are trying to put together.

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