Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 24, 2017

Trusting the (Bumpy) Writing Process

Other than tasks related to snow and shovel or leash and dog, for the past week or two, I’ve been fairly free to write. Being immersed is great, except when it’s not. A lot of time for writing means a lot of time tripping over obstacles and insecurities, not to mention some boredom facing the page. I love my characters, but they don’t keep me entertained every minute. I’ve devoted a lot of the past two years to my present work, which not a soul has seen. Most of the research is done, I’ve written a pretty complete draft, and the structure seems steady, so I’m at the point where I’m taking out words, which puts me in mild panic: What will I have left? So much is messy. Can any of this really turn into poems?

Trust the process, I tell myself, which is tough when the process is long. The process is easier to trust when there’s gliding. But chopping is what needs to be done, so I breathe. I think of my yoga teacher telling us, while we stand swaying one leg, like trees in the wind, that wobbling is work, too. Wobbling can make us stronger.

I wrote that I tell myself to trust the process, but those words seemed to drift into my fidgety and snarly self. No one stepped forth to lecture. I’m not sure they’re words I’ve ever said aloud, though they’re familiar. I could mock the idea of trust, call it hokey, swat it aside, but it’s wiser to bow my head and put out my hands as if someone tiptoed in with a hot cup of tea.

It’s one thing to admire the writing process from a distance, say one we call the end. But when you’ve just spent days building a small monster you have to cut down, it’s hard to be mellow. Writing is a motion with rhythm. While we sometimes need drive, the work isn’t going to happen all at one speed. Self forgiveness is as important as discipline. I can imagine a beautiful goal, but I have to wade through lots of doubt and wrong turns to get close.For all the years I’ve been writing, I can forget that for every good sentence I have to write half a dozen bad ones, and another eight that are mediocre. In no particular order.Sometimes we must let up, and welcome – so patiently! – the thoughts that come in the silences we leave.

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I grew up thinking of trust as a steady force or light, but trust can be bumpy. Trust is there as we tip the balance between setting high standards and forgiving our lapses, finding a place between shiny possibilities and what we can manage with words. The math is simple. The more time we spend writing, the more time we spend messing up. I’ll stick with Trust the process as my motto, my mantra, my companion, and remember that neither trust nor writing is ever easy for long. It’s okay. Complaining is part of the process, too, and helpful — so, my writer friends, feel free to share your own struggles in the comments. We moan a bit and go on into the work which we’re so privileged and sometimes even happy to do.

 

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Responses

  1. AH thank you for this. I’m navigating the very bumpy and convoluted road of a first draft. Trust is hard at that stage. Thank you for the reminder that we all go through this. We feel alone, but we’re not really. xo

    • Yes, those first drafts throw you into a whirlwind with little too grasp onto. It is a relief when someone else sees what you’re doing, even if they’re pointing out flaws. I generally wait for readers until I get as far as I can on my own, which is one thing that’s changed — these days I go pretty far. So, yes, it’s lonely. I love your last sentence. I’ll try to keep that beautiful thought with me. xo

  2. So grateful that we’re not alone in the struggle, and that we have company in the silence.

    • Yes, the company makes so much more, especially happiness, possible!

  3. I’m on my third (or is it fourth?) total rewrite of my journal article. It took all those other drafts to synthesize the research and make the knowledge enough a part of me that I could write more naturally. Dealing with footnotes makes the writing such a choppy process especially when I know I’ve seen a line before and then search for 30 minutes looking for it! I am remembering the lessons of my previous editor who took no prisoners (thank you Lil!) and how she worked with me to be much more succinct and to not get lost in the weeds of details and overprocessing. Her skillful editing of my last book helps me to sustain the trust needed to finish this thing. It will get done! Thank you for this today!

    • Yes, there’s something about having been through the process that makes so many aspects, from craft to all the internal things, smoother. What a gift to have such a fine editor, and how great you could take trust from that. Yes, it will get done!

  4. This is such a great sentence! “But when you’ve just spent days building a small monster you have to cut down, it’s hard to be mellow.

    • It sounds like you may have been doing a little monster building? Welcome to the club!

  5. I’m groaning loudly over a seven-year project/process. Can you hear me? I just read a new picture book in the same genre as mine and decided to completely change my tone and structure – make it as conversational and as interesting structurally as the new book. I’m veering, I’m veering, now I’m back where I started. Chocolate!

    • I can hear you groan. Sending virtual chocolate, and hugs. This is all so hard!

  6. I feel your struggle, sister.

    Onward!

    • Glad to struggle and persevere with you, Tracy!

  7. Trust IS bumpy and yes yes yes to the important of self-forgiveness to our oft-wobbly selves. Thank you, Jeannine, for making me feel a little less alone in the struggle today! xo

    • I’m sorry for all the hard parts, but glad we can look over each other’s shoulders, and give a little squeeze, from time to time. I am with you!


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