Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Writing Process is Like Deep House Music, Sort Of

When it comes to teaching the writing process, we are bound by a painful, formulaic Five Step Process: Prewriting, Drafting, Revising, and Publishing. Does it work?

"I'm bored because this class is boring."

If you teach the writing process, it is crucial for you to experience it at the very same moment you are actually teaching it. Model the behavior. Impossible? Well of course it is! But you're a teacher, and you do the impossible everyday. So that's nothing new. But this isn't a preachy blog post. It's more of a reflective analysis because I've had too much coffee to ramp up my NaNoWriMo word count, and it's 3 A.M. So now I'm winding down from the high of writing my manuscript  with more writing. 

Anyway, back to the question: Does the five step writing process work? To answer this, I must put away my Teacher Hat and put on my lovely, leopard print fedora Writer Hat.

My Writing Hat is not boring. 

As a writer, I'll answer this in a different way: I've experienced a difference in the mindset and mental state I have to assume in two types of writing: creative and journalistic writing. 

In literary writing, whether it's in my poetry, children's books, or novels, my state of mind is much like experiencing deep house music. Known for its complexities in melodic tunes and use of unrelated chromatic chords underlying most sequences, deep house music is also trance-like and hypnotic. The rhythm of writing feels a lot like a really good deep house song where everyone in the room is dancing without a care in the world. Building up layers of rhythm which fades out quickly, then leaving the melody to stand alone for a few seconds only to build up as quickly as it faded. It's a rush! At the risk of sounding like I'm romanticizing the process, that's what it feels like when I'm in my most creative mood. This month, I've been listening to Everything But the Girl's Driving Remix to get me going with the marathon writing. 

"I'm with the DJ, okay?"

The images, metaphors, the rhyme, and the diction are always brought into life from the spontaneous overflow of sentences. No matter how much I plan them ahead, I realize that when it happens, it happens because of that momentary experience. Or it just doesn't happen at all. This doesn't mean that I sit around and wait for that moment, even though much of this month has been about sitting around. It just means I have very little control over it. There are days when I can work for hours and churn out thousands of words in one day, or work for a mere ten minutes painfully slaving away a series of weak words not even worth sentences, but fragments. Many times, I cringe at what I've written and delete as much as I can. 

Voice is important to the literary writing process. Without that voice, nothing will happen except maybe I'd fall into the rabbit hole of Facebook chatting or worse, the entire Internet and BuzzFeed Quizzes. The voice can be very elusive sometimes because it's schizophrenic. It really just depends on my mood and what I've been reading. I could be reading a YA novel one day, and then an autobiography of a Navy SEAL the next day, so the voice may change according to how close I feel to the work at that moment. 

But when I write what I would call journalistic writing (which for me is more like PR/marketing, or some other article pieces that get me paid by actual business people who need my skills), the writing process is not like deep house music. Nothing trance-like about this type of writing at all. It's different. I have to be much more methodical. I do a whole lot of planning that looks somewhat like Prewriting (Facebooking and whining), Drafting (sleeping), Revising (writing and simultaneously editing furiously), and Publishing (submitting). The experience isn't about the spontaneity, but I still work very hard at honing my craft. The narrative is still my voice, and I try to make my pieces as intellectually stimulating as possible. The way I've accomplished these pieces are much different from my poetry and stories. 

I would say that the five step writing process works when you need it to work. It's harder to write in this way, but it's also easier. No matter what mood I'm in that day, the five step process usually guarantees something written and something tangible that can be used at some point. Not so for creative or literary writing. There are no guarantees. Freelance writing jobs are easier to come by when you can work the process. This is what I tell my students to wake them up when I tell them it's time to write:

"I've made money from writing essays." (More on that later)
"Why can't I cry money instead of tears?"

Essentially, however, the process is what you make of it. Hone the craft. Repeat. At some point, you can tell your students that they can get lucky that at least an "A" or a perfect score will come through eventually as they practice their expository or narrative essays. There is a part of it that is dreadful and mysterious, but that is not the entire thing. It's not about how hard it is. It's about how much you practice and how much wiser you become. We all need to wise up a bit, so we might as well write.  Write with them and believe what you teach about writing like it's the gospel truth because in the end, no matter how painful, it's worth it.