Voodoo & The Writing Process

June 15, 2005

I just stumbled across a discussion on "The writing process" on Roger Johansson's blog. I love discussions about writing, particularly when I don't want to write, and Roger's blog is always interesting. A lot of people responded with thoughtful details about their own writing processes. For other writers, this is fascinating reading. Of course, I started thinking about my own writing process, and I came up with some surprising conclusions.

After nearly 20 years as an editor and author, I've decided that the process and mechanics of writing don't really matter, and they don't have much of an influence on productivity. They change from piece to piece, person to person, and day to day. Sometimes ideas come to you in dribs and drabs over months or years. Other times they'll arrive full blown, and all you have to do is transcribe them. Writing on a napkin works pretty much as well as writing in a CMS.

There is no right, or even better, way to write. Yes, some people have preferences--they get familiar with a program or routine, and that familiarity makes them comfortable and at ease, which makes writing easier. But the key here isn't "program or routine," it's "comfort and ease."

How do I write? I write in notebooks, legal pads, Word, Movable Type, the margins of magazines, HomeSite, Dreamweaver, the backs of envelopes, Notepad, and (in a pinch) on my palm. I write at my desk, in cafes, and on the toilet. Sometimes I gather notes and fragments for months; other times I construct increasing detailed outlines; and still others, I write madly, just trying to get my fingers to keep up with the thoughts. In other words, I write without any identifiable process at all, other than getting words out of my head and recording them on something.

My point is don't wonder too much about how you write. Actually, I'd suggest trying not to think about it at all. Call me superstitious, but when you start thinking about the trappings of writing, you're venturing onto dangerous ground. Better just to write and let the voodoo magic of it happen on its own.