Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Process

I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team (Roll Tide). When Nick Saban took over the head coaching responsibilities of the team he preached the idea of 'The Process'--that in order to be successful, players needed to focus on the process of playing football more than the results: the amount of effort put into practice and preparation and existing in the moment is more important than the final result. As is typical of a football-frenzied town, this became an integral part of the Tuscaloosa lexicon: t-shirts were made, existential conversations about 'journeys' and 'rewards' were being held at breakfast tables and rib joints all across Western Alabama.

When Mike e-mailed me and asked me about what my rules of writing were, I immediately thought about 'The Process'--that as long as I followed my own set of guidelines while writing, I would feel content in what I had created, and as a result the end product would be something that I would feel proud of. And so, here are some wacky quirks that I adhere to--some are specific to my current project of writing about 8-bit Nintendo games, but others are universal in just about everything that I write.

1. I don't write anything down/have a notebook. Every year a family member buys me a fancy looking leather-bound journal for Christmas that sits on a bookshelf empty and collecting dust. There's a lot of pressure to write in something that pretty, and I feel as if I'd inevitably screw it up. When I was younger I had a hard-covered Moleskine that I wrote maybe 40 words in--no idea what those words were, but damn, they must've been important. Instead, I have a really impressive array of folders and sub folders on my laptop--each essay has its own folder with a number of Microsoft Word documents that have spots for notes, free-writing, and the final product. Furthermore, if I am struck by inspiration while not at my computer, I will text it to myself. Have had zero problems with this except when I get inspired during a reading: it's all good if you write down notes during a reading, but to pull out your phone and start texting is a major faux-pas.

2. All of my writing is typed. On occasion I'll write some things down when I assign some in-class writing to my Creative Writing students and will type that up later, but for the most part, if I am in 'writing mode' I am at my computer. I once had a conversation with the amazing Rikki DuCornet about her writing process: she sits in her chaise lounge and just writes and writes on non-ruled paper. She then gives her writing to someone to type up for her. I joked that I should do the opposite: type up my stuff and pay someone to hand-write it for me. She didn't get the joke. I type in Cambria. I like it. Garamond is so played out and I like serifs.

3. Before I write about a videogame, I must play the videogame again. Ideally, I would own the game and play it on the console, but I'll track it down online and play it via emulator most of the time. Ideally, I will beat it. If I can't beat it, I will watch someone online beat it. I'll pay careful attention to the text in the game, as well as the different worlds in which the player is interacting with. I will also find out as much information about the game as possible: was it released in Japan under a different name? When was it released? Was it released in the arcade first? Did it spawn any sequels/is it a remake?

4. Before I write, I will listen to pop songs. I am obsessed with declarative and simple sentences, and all pop music lyrics are is pretty much that. I like turn of phrases: you can cry when you get older...you don't have to change.

5. No music when I'm writing. F that noise. The TV can be on behind me, but no sound.

6. All of my browser tabs will remain open. Someone can gChat or Facebook chat if they want to. I won't respond. There's something scary and ceremonious about 'shutting down Firefox to write'. I don't want any pomp or circumstance. That'd just mess me up.

7. When I'm sitting down to write something new or continue work on something, I must read everything that is within that sequence over again. This puts me in the writing rhythm. Of course this is easy when I've just started a project, but as I near the end of a project, I'm sitting there and reading for quite some time before I actually write anything down. This is also part of my editing process: if something doesn't feel right, I can make changes right there.

8. When I'm writing, everything must logically make sense (like what Gabriel discussed in his post). Every sentence must answer for the previous one.

9. Basic rules: no use of the word flesh. No use of the word kudzu. M-dashes, colons allowed. I used to use a lot of semi-colons and question marks, but not anymore. No proper nouns except for the days of the week/months.

10. When I am done with a first draft, I will read it aloud. This confuses my roommate. If something get stuck in my mouth, it gets cut. I will usually do this three or four times until I consider it 'done'.

11. During my writing process, I'll stand up for no particular reason and look at myself in the mirror. Maybe I'll put some clothes on hangers. Maybe I'll go get a Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper.

12. I like to write before I have somewhere to go/somewhere to be. Part of this is that it gives me a deadline and forces my hand. I think we all spend so much time complaining about not having any time to write that when we finally do have some time, we go ahead and decide to do something else. This way I'm like 'I'm meeting a friend for dinner at 7, so I better start writing now.' If I'm in a position where I have the whole day to write, I won't even get started. Thursdays are good days: I have a standing dinner reservation with my good friend & amazing writer Luke Southworth--we go eat barbecue at 7pm--something we jokingly call 'The Process'. So I know I have to be finished by 7. The only issue with this is that after I'm done writing I am exhausted and on a different planet for at least a little while and my social skills are minimal. Fortunately, Luke is like this as well, and so we can space out, eat pulled pork and talk about sports. I went on a date once after writing for three hours. That was a miserable failure--I still feel terrible about that.

13. After a writing session, I need to decompress and talk about writing with a handful of close friends (Luke is one of them). Usually nothing specific, just the fact that, wow, I just wrote a bunch today, and damn, I feel awesome and exhausted. Sometimes a tweet will do--some way to let the world know that I can come down from this manic writing episode and become a functioning member of society again. Sometimes I have to immediately send the draft to my friend Jeremy Hawkins so that it doesn't burn a hole in my computer--not necessarily for feedback, but just to create some more distance between myself and the act of writing.

All of this stuff is important--but above all else, I write to devastate. I'm absolutely fascinated by the idea that a combination of words can make someone feel something: can make them laugh, can make them think, can make them upset. I want people to feel something--there's no way I can make someone feel how I felt about a particular instance: but I can make people feel what I felt while writing about it. That it took everything I had to expel this out of me, and that these are the only words in which I can convey this information and emotion to the reader. If I feel like I've been punched in the stomach and then given a big hug, I know I've done something right.


  1. These are all pretty good. #12 especially, although I rarely use it myself, as I never get around to writing until the only place I have to go is bed. It would be nice to work toward a barbecue payoff, though.

  2. Your writing process is wonderful. I absolutely relate---especially to #s 11, 12, 13
    it's very tough to explain writing to a non-writer, but I think that's probably true of most creative arts.

    I'm glad I found this post.