My Writing Process, Distilled

Let's take a break from all the emotional gobbledygook and discuss something I genuinely love: writing.

I've been getting a LOT of feedback since I came back to writing regularly (and thank you all for both reading and writing me -- you have no idea how much it means). A few folks have been asking me how I write the way I write. The truth is, I never really thought about it.

I've kept a journal since I was 12 years old, the first time I read a Henry Rollins book. He kept a journal, and had the balls to publish it and share it with the world. That wasn't exactly my dream at the time, but that was the start, and oddly enough, what I do now. I never had any formal training. I just write what's in my head.

So if I'm dissecting my process, that's basically where it starts. I heard once somewhere that great sculptors don't start by trying to sculpt an elephant, they start by chipping away everything that doesn't look like an elephant, and they stop when it does. So often, when we set out to write, we have all these thoughts all over the place, and we try our best to edit them into sentences as we put them down.

I don't do that. I treat all my thoughts like all the clay I could possibly ever want to sculpt with and I pour it all out on the page. One thing that really helps with that: I learned to touch-type. I now type far faster than I write by hand, and almost type at the speed of my thoughts. It really helps, because the lag time between thinking and forming words on paper or screen gives wayyyyyy too much opportunity to edit while the thoughts are coming out.

Then, just like the sculptor, I start chipping away. Anything that doesn't tell the story, illustrate a point, set a tone or convey my attitude gets gone. Then I read it "aloud" in my brain (or sometimes, I'll actually read it aloud) to make sure it flows.

The last step is editing. And that's a skill you cultivate. I recommend highly getting a copy of Strunk & White. Don't memorize it, it's not necessary. But you do need to know subject-verb agreement, proper grammar and the other basics. I give it a good once-over and make sure it all reads like someone above a 4th grade reading level wrote it.

Then I hit "Publish" and I hope to God it makes sense.

As far as where I get my ideas: uh... I don't really know. They just pop into my brain. But as soon as they do, I try to capture them, useful or not.

I keep a notebook with me everywhere I go, both paper and on my iPhone. The vast majority of my journaling is for me and me alone. It's not even "practice" at this point (although it really is good practice), it's keeping sane. I use Day One for the vast majority of my journaling, because it's dirt simple and immediately available at all times. It also syncs over to my laptop, which makes things really simple.

I use Evernote for the little jokes, storylines and concepts that I want to hold on to, then every week or so, I go through it and consolidate thoughts into one file, or stick multiple thoughts of one type into a folder. I also tag the absolute shit out of every single file, so I can sort through them by concept, idea or term.  When I'm stuck, I go through Evernote and look for sentences, ideas or concepts that might trigger something in me. Again, it syncs with my laptop, so I can just write something while out on the road, and when I fire up the laptop to begin tip-tip-typing, it's there.

I have no idea if any of this helps any of you with your writing, but there it is.