Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Phases of Writing Redux

I originally posted this over on unResolved Tensions, but I thought my readers here would enjoy it even more, as it exposes all my introverted angst:

Writing a book is like giving birth to a snarling 8 headed monster. It's so much more than sitting down in front of your laptop and typing. It's more like a war, as your own words and ideas battle you and each other. In writing your hopes, dreams, fears and inadequacies are exposed. You learn what it is you most want in life and how incompetent you are to actually achieve it.

I've written seven and a half chapters in my book now, and I've identified some patterns in the process, some phases that I invariably go through:

1. The "Aha" phase. This is the phase of researching, thinking, and interviewing. This is the phase of discovery, as I begin to see things I had not seen before. I have great synergistic moments as I talk with others and we find that we share thoughts, experiences, and hopes. I'll be reading a book and a sentence or a concept will practically shout out to me. I'll begin to believe that I have valuable things to say and that others will be interested.

2. The "Pulitzer Prize" phase. This is the phase of conceptualizing, organizing, and outlining. Inevitably I get here and my ego tries to leap out of my body and make itself known. Here I become convinced that my ideas are brilliant and my writing is profound. No one has ever written a book this sublime. N.T. Wright will read my book and say "Why didn't I think of that?!"

3. The "Total Incompetence" phase. This one follows about ten minutes on the heels of the Pulitzer Prize phase. I'll encounter the first obstacle in writing my chapter and my ego will not only find its way back into my body but shrink to 1/8th its normal size. This is where I will question everything I've ever known about the world and myself, including why in the world I thought I could write a book. This is where the dark scenarios creep in and I'll imagine my manuscript sitting in my editor's trash can, the smoke still floating off the singed pages. Or someone going to review my book and being unable to do so because the astonished tears of laughter keep him from being able to see straight.

4. The "Complete Disorientation" phase. Once I power through stage 3 and finish a draft of my chapter, I go to read it over and immediately move into this phase. My first draft tends to be very rough and practically stream of consciousness writing. If I don't know where something should go, I'll just write it anyway. So it feels like a bunch of random paragraphs that have no organic relationship to anything that comes before them or after. My head will be spinning as I try to read it over. This is the phase where I find myself cleaning my apartment a lot - my manuscript may be a mess, but dammit, my writing space will be clean!

5. The "It doesn't totally suck" phase. After rewriting several times, I get to a point where I think that maybe there are a few nuggets of insight in here and maybe a few people will actually want to read it. There is a small measure of contentment and sense of accomplishment here. Then, it's back to step one.

On that note, I'm entertaining this book title:

It Doesn't Totally Suck

by Adam S. McHugh