"Writing itself becomes the subject of the writing course..."

 — Michael Carter       


The Way Some People Write

November 29th, 2014 by

Some people are just better than me. Their house is better than mine. Their kids are more successful and have better attitudes than mine have.

Some people have made the right investments at this point in their lives and are doing everything better than I am. They will retire when I have to keep working. I see prophetic glimpses of this on Facebook when I hear of their meals, their holiday activities, their attendance at concerts, their yoga-ways of handling the kinds of stress that makes me buckle and bend. I hear of the better ways they spend their vacations. They drive better cars.

I am surprisingly okay with all of this. Strangely, what causes me real envy are not the people I know with better lives than mine but the people I know who are simply better, more successful writers than I will ever be. I cannot hope to be better than they are. I cannot even hope to be them. In the fourth grade, before I took the courses, read the books and articles, I started writing. And then I read the books and articles, and now this is where I am. I write this way. I can plan all I want, draw up this formula or that one. And I can’t help it. I write mainly by writing.

Before I start, I read, take notes, and plan so much. But only when I start the writing, only when I am playing what I call the draft game, and writing “as though” this would be my start and this is the tone I am taking and this is the audience I seek, only then do I start to really hear new ideas coming up from somewhere else. Connections come that I could not have planned.

I can’t help that I have come to like this way of doing it. This is the way I write; it brings me odd pleasures, but I certainly would not teach anyone else to do it this way because it means a great deal of rewriting.

I start with notes and notions. And I start drafting, and then new ideas come. I have to write my way in, and f I were to make an analogy to my writing, it could be swimming, to a point, though F.Scott Fitzgerald has already made the comparison. If I make it, it is like this: I take in the shape of the pool or the surface of the lake. I stick my toe in to test the temperature. And then I dive in and see how much energy I have to fight whatever current is there to get to whatever I can get to, and I feel the real temperature of the water on my whole body and how much I can see underwater ahead of me. And I see new things and the things I expected. And then something else changes.

This writing is both a method and a madness. It’s certainly a slog, for I’m not much of a swimmer. I’m more of a treader. Whatever comes up toward me from the depths to where I am holding my breath in fairly shallow water is what I will see and have to work with. And I have learned not to reject all of what comes up. I have learned a certain fuzzy, underwater vision and to accept the distortions that being underwater causes.

Again, this can’t be helped. This is my process with that first draft when writing fiction. Art? Craft? Treading Water? The main tools I have are these: A little planning, and then my deepsea gear of pen and paper or Word on the computer, and then whatever is there at the hour of writing.

I should buy a diving mask, except that the glass might make everything too clear. Then I might miss something.

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Comment by Emily Griesinger on December 1, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Thanks, Tom. I’m going to share this “blog” with my class today, as they are struggling with a first draft of their final paper. SLOG ON!

Comment by Tom on December 1, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Thanks, Emily. I hope this helps.

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