How do you write?

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I start with precise or acute words and phrases that enter in my mind, then build sentences around them like connecting the dots, then order or organize these sentences into something hopefully coherent but certainly less acute than what i had in mind to begin with.

it's not working out for me. it's laborious and time consuming and overly fussy and i need to switch it up. how do you write?

Deflatormouse, Saturday, 10 February 2024 23:03 (one week ago) link

I start with precise or acute words and phrases that enter in my mind, then build sentences around them like connecting the dots, then order or organize these sentences into something hopefully coherent but certainly less acute than what i had in mind to begin with.

it's not working out for me. it's laborious and time consuming and overly fussy and i need to switch it up. how do you write?

― Deflatormouse

i start with a sentence in my mind, and i write down the sentence and i see what comes next. often i have ideas in my head about what comes next and where to go from there, and often i wind up not saying the things i had intended to say. the words go where they need to. when i write i try to be aware of what i am writing. when i write something, i have taught myself to ask, "is this true?" if i find the answer is not "yes", i go back to the first part that doesn't belong and either delete it or, if i'm fond of it, copy and paste it somewhere else. sometimes i look at the phrasing and realize i've misspoken and i change the phrasing. this is the primary reason my writing leaves out words and switches cases mid-stream and so forth.

when i write i think about who or what i am writing it for. i can start with an idea of what i am writing it for and in mid-stream it can and will change - usually "i don't need to share this, i'm writing for me". everything i write is _for me_ intrinsically, but when i write i often write as if i am trying to explain something to someone else. this helps keep me honest. you might think that i'd be tempted to sanitize things, and sometimes i am, but mostly it keeps me from spiraling, from negative self-talk. it's learning, is what writing is, it's learning.

i never know what i am going to write until i have written it. sometimes what i wind up is obscure or offensive or simply in the wrong _place_. this helps me feel good about rewriting the same thing over and over again. even if the sentiment doesn't change, the context does. i don't have that much to say, but what i do have to say is stuff that people are interested in.

idk if that's what you were asking!

Kate (rushomancy), Sunday, 11 February 2024 00:11 (one week ago) link

For ordinary discursive writing I simply start to write what is on my mind as directly as if I were speaking my mind. Of course it helps immensely if I have something on my mind that is at least partly formed, if still nebulous. Writing past the first few words then becomes an exercise in editing on the fly, but not an exercise in perfection. I just want it to read clearly enough that it communicates my thought. If the process becomes slow and difficult it isn't the writing aspect that is confounding me, but the thinking things through into clarity.

For poetry I always write some key lines or phrases mentally first. I may be awake in bed or engaged in some activity that requires little attention. Ideally the phrases I generate have some aural interest and suggestive imagery. For every ten poems I start this way, letting phrases and images bubble up in my mind, I might only pick up a pen and attempt to write one of them. Of those I begin, I abandon about three out of four before I get one worth working at to completion. Ending a poem satisfactorily is tricky work.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Sunday, 11 February 2024 00:31 (one week ago) link

Sometimes a full sentence forms and demands to be written down. Other times I have a subject, and I think about it until a few sentences come together and then I type them all up.

The one thing that almost always happens is I get to the end, type out my conclusion, save the file, and come back 24 hours later to realize that the conclusion needs to be the intro.

Tahuti Watches L&O:SVU Reruns Without His Ape (unperson), Sunday, 11 February 2024 00:35 (one week ago) link

I write fiction rather than non-fiction, but the basic concept holds, which is: start by asking a question to engage the (potential) reader's attention. This could be no more than an arresting image or unexplained action/description. Then answer it in the next sentence, while asking a further question. By the end of the first paragraph or stanza the reader should be asking "then what?". That gives you breathing space to expand on your initial question, while drawing in further aspects of the subject to leave your reader gasping with admiration at the skill and perceptiveness of your writing. Hopefully.

Easier said than done I guess. But I try and keep it in mind. At least this way you begin with a structure, even if you edit it all out later. Helps if you have a strong concept to start with too - saves you waffling around for ages searching for the point. You can do a lot of the thinking before you even start to write.

the most powerful man in cornish politics (Matt #2), Sunday, 11 February 2024 01:17 (one week ago) link

When I write fiction it's as a ghostwriter, so I have a complete plot outline, chapter by chapter breakdown, and list of major characters before I even start. It's not that much fun, honestly, but if you're working in genre fiction (I've written romances, crime novels, and something I can only describe as "family horror") it goes pretty quickly. If the client is responsive and doesn't leave me hanging for weeks at a time when I send them chapters, I can bang out a standard-length book (~60-75,000 words) in a couple of months.

Tahuti Watches L&O:SVU Reruns Without His Ape (unperson), Sunday, 11 February 2024 02:16 (one week ago) link

no clue

ivy., Sunday, 11 February 2024 05:43 (one week ago) link

almost all the fiction and nonfiction i write starts from free-associated images, and then if i like an image enough i try to write a sentence around it, and whatever i write tends to be a collage of the best image-sentences, plus connective tissue (the worst part imo — i like to think i was drawn to being a poet in high school bc writing anything other than the actual thing is unbearable to me)

lyrics just kind of arrive, usually when ive been listening to a band whose lyrics i really like. i usually keep them in a note file and apply them to melodies later, though sometimes, on much rarer occasions, a melody can clarify into its own words

ivy., Sunday, 11 February 2024 05:51 (one week ago) link

oh i see my process is similar to the op. uhh yeah it sure is laborious and time-consuming, not sure there’s another way to do it that works for me

ivy., Sunday, 11 February 2024 05:53 (one week ago) link

Thanks for all these answers! They're all really great.

If the process becomes slow and difficult it isn't the writing aspect that is confounding me, but the thinking things through into clarity.

Good point.

Sometimes a full sentence forms and demands to be written down.

I do too but my mind jumps from one thing to another much more quickly than I can capture anything and then trying to go backwards causes a train wreck and I end up spending a lot of time pacing and gazing at the pile up and not writing anything down.

almost all the fiction and nonfiction i write starts from free-associated images, and then if i like an image enough i try to write a sentence around it, and whatever i write tends to be a collage of the best image-sentences, plus connective tissue (the worst part imo — i like to think i was drawn to being a poet in high school bc writing anything other than the actual thing is unbearable to me)

Yeah this is also my process.
I was thinking maybe I write like an uptight fucking square because the process is too fussy. I can safely rule that out if your process is so similar, now I am thinking i might actually *be* an uptight fucking square, but i am not gonna go there rn lol

Deflatormouse, Monday, 12 February 2024 06:46 (one week ago) link

i go into a deep dark tunnel underneath the city

sadly they've started running a mobile internet service on the tube now so I'm no longer safe there

in all seriousness, when i am able to temporarily hold off internet addiction, lyrics tend to come quite quickly, prose is more dependent on whether i can get multiple cogs whirring at once, i see fiction as a sort of machine that generates an entire reality and must sustain and champion this reality in all sorts of hooky ways, not unlike a musical album I guess

imago, Monday, 12 February 2024 07:51 (one week ago) link

I've had kind of an interesting journalism writing challenge the last few weeks. It's primary season, so I've been interviewing like two dozen local candidates and then writing up short (700-1,000 word) profiles of each. The challenge is to try to convey some sense of the actual person, rather than just their resume or their 3 Major Issues in their campaign. And also to keep myself interested enough so that they don't turn into cookie-cutter templates.

So what I've been doing is starting each one by reviewing my interview notes and transcript, revisiting what's in there (gets hard to remember the 7th interview by the time you get to the 15th), and looking for whatever the most interesting anecdote or emblematic statement is — and building the profile from there, even if it means kind of starting in medias res. That way they all start in different places and (I hope) give something of the individuality of each candidate.

I've had kind of an interesting journalism writing challenge the last few weeks. It's primary season, so I've been interviewing like two dozen local candidates and then writing up short (700-1,000 word) profiles of each. The challenge is to try to convey some sense of the actual person, rather than just their resume or their 3 Major Issues in their campaign. And also to keep myself interested enough so that they don't turn into cookie-cutter templates.

So what I've been doing is starting each one by reviewing my interview notes and transcript, revisiting what's in there (gets hard to remember the 7th interview by the time you get to the 15th), and looking for whatever the most interesting anecdote or emblematic statement is — and building the profile from there, even if it means kind of starting in medias res. That way they all start in different places and (I hope) give something of the individuality of each candidate.

― a man often referred to in the news media as the Duke of Saxony (tipsy mothra)

I think that's really cool! I love the "in medias res" approach, and particularly the notion of taking writing that's typically seen as impersonal and making it _personal_. It intersects a lot with my ideas of politics, which I won't really get into because talking about writing is way more interesting to me. Revisiting my own work is also one of the most difficult parts of writing to me. By the time I finish writing something I'm fucking sick of it and I never want to think about it again, which means that the bulk of my writing consists of mediocre first drafts that would be pretty good if I revisited them, cleaned them up a little bit, made the beginning stronger. It's tough because reading my old work I have kind of two reactions - "This is amazing and perfect and I don't want to change a word of it, God I'm a great writer", or alternately, "This is absolute garbage, I'm ashamed of myself for ever writing something this bad, I should burn it and forget I ever did it." Actually looking at something I wrote without getting super emotionally attached to it is hard for me. This is probably where the advice that "writers should never edit themselves" comes from - the reality is usually more like "the beginning is pretty weak, this argument here doesn't actually lead anywhere and you can cut it, those bits that you thought were dreadfully clever detract from the overall work and you should cut them, you say this one particular thing three times in two paragraphs, once is enough, you left out some important words here and as a result this paragraph as it stands is incomprehensible". Stuff like that.

Despite that, I do kind of prefer it when my writing is laborious and time-consuming. To me that's a sign that I'm growing and getting better as a writer. A lot of the way I write is actually inspired by my work as a data analyst, where the challenge isn't to find data, but to exclude data that isn't relevant. That's probably the most time-consuming part of my writing - what am I trying to communicate, and what information is necessary in order to communicate it?

when i write i think about who or what i am writing it for. i can start with an idea of what i am writing it for and in mid-stream it can and will change - usually "i don't need to share this, i'm writing for me".

I'm thinking about this a little more in terms of the tendency for my writing to code-switch depending on what I've been reading lately. It's something I try to be aware of, but I don't necessarily view it as a weakness. For better or for worse, I have a _very_ strong, distinct authorial voice, and code-switching isn't going to erase that. When I think about writing I like, it's something like Tamsyn Muir, who can write these wonderful detailed descriptions in a classical fantasy style and then just throw something blunt and pithy in there. That kind of code-switching is one of my favorite things about writing.

The risk in doing that sort of code-switching is that it makes it very easy to lose the reader. It's jarring and disorienting. Keeping my audience in mind is particularly important when I'm straddling a couple of different types of writing. One of the hardest things for me is to get an idea of what my hypothetical reader can reasonably be expected to know.

Writing for a reader is particularly difficult for me, and for a long time I thought it was unique to me because I don't have a lot of readers. The more I've explored writing the more I realize that writers _don't_ often get meaningful critical feedback from their readers. To some extent I think this ties into what I write and what my experience is. My writing is really influenced by ILX, which is full of people who are excellent at critical writing. Most readers simply don't look at work critically the way a lot of ILXors tend to. The most difficult fictional character for me to write is my reader, lol. So there's this tension in my writing, this push and pull between writing for myself, the only person I _know_ is going to engage with my writing the way I intend it, and writing for others, who are people I _don't_ know. That's where the learning process comes in. I read once that the best way of learning is to teach, and in some sense all of my writing, particularly since I'm primarily a critical essayist, is didactic in some sense. Writing for others is what allows me to grow and learn and change as a person, what makes my writing more than just ruminating.

One of my main principles in writing is a corruption of that famous Hillel the Elder quote - this isn't what he said, this is the distorted version in my brain:

If I am not for myself, who am I?
And being only for myself, who will be for me?
And if not now, when?

So in other words, I have to write for myself first, for others in order for my writing to have meaning outside my own head... and the third statement is just a way of saying keep writing, even if I don't want to write, even if I think my writing sucks, even if I'm writing more than any "reasonable person" can ever be expected to actually read. Learn from others, take advice from others, and for God's sake do things besides writing, take a walk, do the dishes, that's part of what makes one a better writer too, letting things mellow and germinate without putting them to paper... but don't quit writing.

Anyway I have a lot more to say - one of my favorite things to do is to talk about _process_ with other people, and I hardly ever get a chance to do that - but that's probably enough for now haha.

Kate (rushomancy), Tuesday, 13 February 2024 15:50 (one week ago) link


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