The Mystery of the Writing Process

The Mystery of the Writing Process

Few years back, I wanted to write fiction. Many fiction writers get up early in the morning and churn out 1000 or 2000 words. Some writers who do this are in the Who’s Who. It is one of the most common and popular advice for writers so naturally I tried doing that.

Total. Utter. Complete. Disaster.

First, I am not a morning person. I can barely manage to brush my teeth in the morning so expecting my brain to be super creative at that moment is an exercise in futility. And second, I can never write anything by staring at the blank screen. Forget all the theories of letting go of your subconscious by typing up whatever comes to mind. It’s just not going to work for me. I realized this after punishing myself few mornings and ending up being utterly miserable for the rest of the day.

What finally worked for me was very simple. Just eliminate what does not work.

Don’t get up early in the morning. Don’t stare at the blank screen.

Easy-peasy. Or Not.

Eliminating what does not work only solves half of the problem. You still have to find what DOES work for you. I found my routine by accident.

Now I write all my articles in a galaxy far, far away from the screen. I write them in my head when I am doing other things – taking a shower, going somewhere or even watching a movie. Most of the time, you will not be able to tell if I am just goofing around or I am writing my articles. Many times, I am doing both. I am watching Youtube videos and suddenly I find one obscure video that I can embed in the article that I am writing. For this reason, social media is not as distracting for me because I am always getting new ideas or connections. When I actually sit down in front of the blank screen, most of the article is already written.

This does not mean that I have removed all the obstacles. This was just the first part that I managed to fix. Tip of the proverbial iceberg.

On to the topics. There are topics which are mostly informative. For instance, I find my article on black holes utterly boring and yet it is one of the popular articles. The reason I find this article boring is there is nothing new in this article. If you google ‘black holes’, you will get much better information from NASA and other sites. But I had no choice. There is no way I could say anything new about black holes. I had to repeat what has been established by science. The best I can do is to explain what I have understood in my own words.

Some of my best articles – best in the sense I like them, I enjoyed writing them, but I know it’s subjective – were written when I was so inspired that I could hardly stop myself from sitting down and writing. One example is the article Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I was so awestruck by this documentary and I loved it so much that there was no way I could have NOT written the article. There are few reasons for this. Japan is one of my favourite countries. I absolutely enjoyed my four month stay in Okazaki after my PhD. And I just love the Japanese language and culture. The beginning of the documentary – beautiful calligraphy accompanied by music of Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto 1 Movement 1 got me hooked within the first three minutes. On top of all this, Jiro-Saan is such an inspiration!

Unfortunately, this does not happen as often as I wish it would. For the fifty-odd articles that I have written, there are many unfinished drafts and even more unfinished ideas. For instance, I had this idea of doing a series on my favourite actors called The Shapeshifter Series – featuring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Fassbender, Gary Oldman etc. I still have not accumulated enough material though part of it was done on the tribute article for Daniel Day-Lewis. I hope I find something to write about Gary Oldman who continues to amaze me in every movie. What a remarkable actor and so underrated!

In school and college, I barely managed to pass in essays and other creative writing tests. Now I know why. The topics were already decided for me. It is very difficult for me to write on a pre-determined topic. And equally difficult to do it in a short amount of time. I need much more time to absorb the material, to play with it, to make connections. Usually I write an article a month or so later, letting the subject matter percolate. And even then, there is no guarantee that it will lead to a good article. Very rarely do I write a review of a movie immediately after I have seen it, exception being Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

This does not mean that inspiration alone does the trick. For instance, I just love Spielberg’s movie Lincoln. I have seen it so many times for acting, direction and cinematography. I would love to write an article on it but so far I have managed zilch. The movie Invictus and the life of Nelson Mandela are also very inspiring but it has not led to something concrete. There are many such examples.

I would have been very happy if the churning-out-1000-words-every-day approach worked for me because my approach has several deficiencies. First, you are at the mercy of your inspiration. And second, it makes it impossible to write all of your articles on a niche topic. One of the most accepted opinions is that niche-blogging is much better than blogging on several topics. My interests are jumping all over the place and so are my articles. Third, even if the subject is inspiring, I cannot be sure that it will lead to a good article.

All this results in low productivity and/or long gaps in between articles. So I will be trying out some new things. If something clicks and is worth mentioning, I will write about it.

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