A Recipe for a Writer
I never find myself writing in some special place like Stephen King has made for himself when he was transcribing his thoughts and assembling “What Writing Is.” (305-7) It’s actually comforting to know that “John Cheever wrote some of his earlier stories in his underwear,” that “Hemingway [was] said to have written some of his fiction while standing up,” and that Thomas Wolfe reportedly wrote parts of his voluminous novels while leaning over the top of the refrigerator.”
My thoughts, on the other hand, are usually scribbled on top of crinkled napkins while riding the bus to get to class. I mirror the data found in Sandra Perl’s article, “The Composing Processes of Unskilled College Writers,” completely skipping the prewriting process when not given specific instructions to do so.
I agree with Donald Murray when he says that “writing is an intellectual activity.” He doesn’t agree with the “romantics who feel that the act of writing and the act of thinking are separate.” (231) Coming back to the writing table with new insight or “bathroom epiphanies,” as Murray puts it, to me is far more valuable than the thoughts that were forced onto a paper during some prewriting development.
I think Mike Rose said it best in “Rigid Rules, Inflexible Plans, and the Stifling of Language:” “it was constant, surprising, almost amusing if its results weren’t so troublesome, and, in the final analysis, obvious: the five students who experienced blocking were all operating either with writing rules or with planning strategies that impede rather than enhanced the composing process.” (238)
I never actually think about what I’m going to write before I actually write it. There is an initial idea before I unlock my thoughts and expel my creative unorganized vomit on to the page, but there is never any preparation time set aside for the task ahead. The drops of words splattered onto the piece of paper are usually just presented as a colorful mess. I never quite pull myself together until I’m fairly sure that I have gotten all of the words out, and it’s only then when I attempt to mop up the pile of lexical puzzles, wring it out into a separate holding area, and then reorganize the mess onto the blank surface.
There is no real order to how I write. I just assume that what’s oozing out of me will get washed down the drain anyways if I don’t direct it onto a sheet of paper. I spend some time adding other ingredients to my writing, mixing ideas together and seasoning my work with precise measurements of delicate adjectives. My writing is usually the result of a happy accident that has found its way out of my pen. I find myself throughout the day quickly trying to catch the spewing thoughts from my mind onto a small note pad or stray piece of paper. The initial draft is an incredible muddle of chaos that I later try to funnel into a more coherent product.
The final result after production has preceded a “shitty first draft.” (Lamott 301) “…it’s the child’s draft, where you let it all out and then romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” (Lamott 302)
The unnecessary substance from the first draft gradually falls away after I let the draft marinate for a while. I then clean up the clutter after sifting though grammatical mistakes and garnish the finished piece with savory rhetoric to make my writing look more presentable.
The revision of the final draft, however, is probably my least liked step on the list, not because I believe my writing is raining manna from heaven, but because the pile of words that I did originally sprinkle on my napkin is actually a little overwhelming to clean up. My order of operation skips frustration and writer’s block because I write when I genuinely have something to put down, but it does make the situation a bit sticky when I strain my draft through the editing and revision process.
There is no exact recipe for a writer. Not every author has to sit in a basement or take up two tables at Starbucks because it looks cool. Writers, like fingerprints, are never exactly the same, yet when they leave their markings behind we can identify that particular person. The way I write will never be the same as the way anyone else writes. My process for writing should never be imposed on another writer, and neither should anyone else’s.
It’s better to let a writer, who’s already familiar with the basic building blocks of constructing a decent paper, chew the instructions given and spit them back out the way that they want to. It is wise although, to follow the direction of Susan Sontag and “write, read, rewrite” and to “repeat steps two and three as needed.” (315) Regurgitating ideas into a huge heap and leaving there isn’t appetizing for the reader to consume. It isn’t until you dress up the tossed writing in disarray that you can present it to an audience.
Downs, Doug. Wardle, Elizabeth. Writing About Writing, A College Reader. Bedford/St. Martin’s. Boston, New York. 2011.