Five years ago, I came across the following tweet:
At that point, I was ony a novice writer (and I probably still am), but I instantly recognized each step of the process, especially steps 3 and 4.
I am very familiar with those steps.
As you may gather from the tweet, the creative process is often a loop that repeats frequently from when a work is a twinkle in your eye to when the work is published for everyone to see.
For instance, one morning, you could be sitting down, enjoying a coffee (perhaps a straight black or a decaf-double-foam-caramel macchiato if you’re a hipster), a Diet Mountain Dew (which, until recently, was my morning drink) or a black tea (my new morning drink; let’s just say that it’s been an adjustment). Suddenly, an idea for a new story or article pops into your head. You think “Huh; that could be good.” Your mind takes off, considering all the ways to play out the idea. You become excited, really excited, and think “Wow, this is awesome. I mean, really awesome. This is, like, the Sistine Chapel of story ideas.”
At some point, you sit down and put the words to paper (figuratively, of course; who uses paper anymore) and then you realize that the idea on the screen isn’t as clear as it was in your head. You soldier on with your writing, but soon you think that the idea that you had thought was the Sistine Chapel was, in fact, a four year old’s crayon drawing of a house, if the child was utterly talentless, near-sighted and drawing with a broken crayon. Welcome to step #3.
Or, as another example, you’ve made it through the above and wrote a first draft. You’re infatuated with your work, and, again, you think “this is awesome,” perhaps with an Oprah delivery: accentuating the “some” syllable and holding it for three seconds too long (“this is awe-SOMMMMMMMMME”). You take a break and do some other things. At some point, you review your first draft. You start to read and doubts begin to form. Soon, you realize that your first impression was the literary equivalent of beer goggles and your first draft is not awesome in any way. It’s covered in typos, like acne on the face of a seventeen year old part-time McDonald’s fry cook. Participles are dangling and infinitives are splitting. Still worse, like so many Facebook users, you’ve written “you’re” when you meant “your” and “there” when you meant “their.” (Or was it “they’re?”).
Suddenly, you’re feeling like Ralph from “The Simposons:”
And that’s only your first two sentences.
Where am I going with all of this?
Right now, I have several works in progress, including my next blog column, a short story and my second novel. With each piece, I am working on early drafts and, in the creative process above, am at steps 3 and 4. (BTW, those two steps can become their own little loop from the seventh level of hell from Dante’s Inferno.)
Before you post a comment below telling me that neither I nor my work is shit (or, in the alternative, that I should stop crying and “suck it up, Brianna”), please be aware that I’m okay with my position in the process. Thanks to Mr. Romer and intensive therapy, I recognize that those steps are just part of the natural process that every creative person (if not every person) experiences all the time.
I’m also comforted by the words of Ernest Hemingway, perhaps, the greatest American novelist of all time:
“The first draft of everything is shit.”
Yes, he actually said that. Feel free to look it up if you don’t believe me.
What Hemingway also said (and what I have come to realize through experience) is that the way past the shit stages to step 5 is to spend time (loads of time) rewriting draft after draft. You have to wade through the excrement of your writing to turn the crap, if not to gold, then, to something else, perhaps bronze or copper. It’s spending time each day thinking, writing, rewriting and rewriting some more.
It’s also spending time reminding yourself that even if the piece is shit and you’re shit, that’s okay. Both the piece and you can become better with practice and hard work. You also may discover (as I did writing this column) that it’s helpful, and fun, to write the word “shit” over and over. Or to yell it, like Oprah: “This is shiiiiittttttt!”
Some day, the stuff I’m working on will be finished. The next blog post (about a recent Pink concert I attended) needs a couple of days of work, but it should be ready soon. Hopefully, it will be good, maybe even very good.
For those people who’ve asked when my second book will be coming out, well, I don’t know. I want this next one to be great. The story is important to me, more important than the story in my first novel, and I don’t think I’m a good enough writer yet to do it justice.
To that end, I’m working on this blog, doing writing exercises, and learning about writing to become a better writer. I’m also reading everything I can, whether it be fiction, non-fiction, grammar books or other blogs.
I’m enduring each painful step of the creative process, because in the end, when you’ve created something good, even it isn’t awesome, you still feel that way and hopefully, steps 3 and 4 are distant memories. .
That is until the next idea pops in your head.