For someone who has a self-proclaimed dislike for routines, it occurs to me that I have a lot of them.
When I get up in the mornings, I have a routine born of the need for survival (have I mentioned that I’m not a morning person?). Wake up, make coffee, drink coffee, etc. If anything happens prior to the “drink coffee” stage, I can’t be held responsible for how it turns out.
When I get home in the evenings, there is an order to how I do things…get the mail, load the dishwasher…you get the idea.
I tend to be very process-oriented creatively, as well…to have a routine, of sorts, depending on the project. For example, when I’m directing a play, I have that out-of-the-box creative spark in the beginning, and then I follow the same process from read-through to performance, although slightly customized, every time. Karen tells me that I’m a technician in this regard. And, when I’m problem solving, I tend to work through a very orderly checklist…that is, when my friends call me for unofficial tech support, I walk them through “have you tried this? And this?” until the issue is solved. Its very similar when our daughter starts crying: I work down the list of the most likely things that could be wrong until she’s content again.
For some reason I’m normally a little looser with processes when it comes to writing. Maybe its because each project is so different. When I open a new blog post, I start typing stream-of-consciousness, then move things around into the order I want, then edit for grammar, and then I always open it in preview mode and give it one last read before posting. I don’t follow a specific process with short stories, however, even though I’ve written a lot of them. And now that I’m literally in the middle of a novel, I have some ideas about how the process has worked, but it’s my first, so I can’t say that I have a process yet. The one thing that is consistent across the board when I’m writing a creative project or an article or whatever, though, is this: when I have a rough draft and its been edited somewhat, I shelve it for a few days or even a couple of weeks, so I can return to it with fresh eyes.
I learned a hard lesson in the last few weeks, a lesson that tells me that I need to adhere to what little consistent process I have in writing. I had a great new idea for a short story spark in my head right after the birth of our daughter…one of those times when you wake up after a bizarre dream and realize that the dream would be really cool on the printed page. It took off from there, and I had a rough draft in three days. Then I edited, but I felt a time crunch for some reason…I’m not sure why, it’s not like I was on any sort of deadline other than what I had imposed on myself. In any case, I didn’t shelve it. I edited, rushed it by a couple of beta-readers, gave it a few final passes even though I couldn’t focus on it any more and registered it for copyright in record time. I think its because I had already researched and found a science-fiction journal that I was convinced was a great fit for this story. It’s exactly the kind of piece, I thought, that they print. This was going to be an instant success, I knew. I just knew. So, I hurried through the editing, and submitted, instead of following the process.
Then I sat back and waiting for the good news.
And, three weeks later, the rejection slip arrived in my inbox.
Now, they were kind and offered strong editorial feedback on the piece, which is exactly what a writer wants when their work is rejected. Part of the feedback was that the language was “clunky” is places. Like any writer, I’ve received more rejection notices than I have acceptance notices. Writing is, by nature, the definition of insanity. This one stung, though. It took me a few hours to shake this one. Then, at least, I made a smart decision. I didn’t touch the piece for a week and a half.
Then, the words “clunky language” resonating in my head, I delved into it again with fresh eyes for a new round of edits. I found clunky language. I found obvious grammatical errors, an unforgivable oversight when submitting for publication. I actually found inconsistencies in the facts of the story! In short, this is a manuscript that I had proudly submitted, convinced of its pending success, that screamed amateur!!!
The worst of it is that all of these errors and problems are things that I quickly discovered after shelving the manuscript for a couple of weeks, looking at it afresh, and doing a systematic edit. In other words, had I followed my process, the manuscript would have stood a much better chance at publication.
I think the lesson I’ve learned here is about patience. I need to acquire some. Being creative takes time if the project is going to be done correctly.
Photo Attribution: stofiska