I first learned I wanted to be a writer when I was 10 years old. I wrote a short story and hand-copied the story onto baseline ruled paper, the kind that helps small children learn to make their letters even and straight. I then made 10 more hand-written copies of the story and gave them out to my friends. Their feedback was lukewarm or non-existent. I thought maybe it was because they weren’t in love with reading, like I was. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t deterred. I continued writing a lot, but didn’t share it very much as a child.
I had finished my MFA in creative writing and decided I was going to get a teaching degree in literature before I was ever asked about my writing process. It was a summer course on teaching writing in Secondary Education. Our first assignment was to write an essay on our writing process. The entire six years I’d been in college, no one had ever asked me that question, not even in my MFA course classes. I had read the books on how to write, e.g., you make an outline, do research, make your first draft, edit your first draft, and then do the final and turn it in. Voilà.
Not true for me. Here’s what I did:
• I ruminated on it and let it percolate.
• If it was an essay, I’d then go to the library (we’re talking the dinosaur years with no Google or computers at all) to research and take notes. Next, I’d ruminate and percolate, do more ruminating and percolating, and do no outline at all.
• If it was a story, I’d ruminate and percolate, ruminate and percolate, ruminate and percolate, etc. I’d tell the story a dozen times in my head. By 1-2 days prior to the due date, whether it was an essay or a story, I’d have bupkis on paper.
• I would then spend all my free time frantically typing (remember, no computers, so I was using a typewriter), tearing my work out of the typewriter and editing/proofing it, typing it all over again from start to finish, and then do that again. I would often be up all night long the night before the deadline, so I could turn it in on time.
* I felt so guilty for not following the guidelines for “How to Write a Good Paper.” I chastised myself for the stress and imagined I’d have had an A+ if I’d only not procrastinated.
The big ‘Ah-Ha’ for me came when I wrote that essay about my writing process when studying for my teaching degree. I learned that I have my own process that has little to no resemblance to the “writing formula.” I need a lot of “percolation” time, and once it is done percolating, I can write more meaningfully. It flows out of me. I had tried and tried to do outlines and drafts to no avail because that isn’t how my particular brain sorts things. I wasn’t a procrastinator, because, I was working on the essay or story in my head constantly and it needed gestation time before I could commit words to paper.
WOW! All those years of self-flagellation! I went on to become a reading, writing, and grammar teacher. I taught my students the “writing formula.’ Told them my own writing process story, and helped them to learn about their own process for writing. I spent 24+ years teaching, mostly at the college level. The college curriculum required first, second, and final drafts – all of which were given a grade and I realized that some of my students were more like me and that schedule didn’t work for them, either.
I learned to make it fair and fun for the students and to foster writers who recognized and embraced their own writing process to be as successful as possible. Writing is about communication. Everyone must know their own unique way of expressing and be true to themselves, both in the process and in their final message.
Once I accepted my writing process as the “right” way to do it for me, my writing became better and my stress level diminished greatly. Voilà.
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