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Blissful Reflection: My Writing Process & Tools

{Blissful Reflection is a series of short essays that highlight a story and photo that made my week meaningful.}

A friend recently asked me, “What does your writing process look like?”

We were sitting in a crowded coffee shop and over the hum of voices I said, “It’s messy and rewarding. Sometimes the process makes me want to pull my hair out. The way I process information isn’t linear, yet the end result of an essay or chapter must be linear if you want readers to understand where you’re coming from. Otherwise the outcome isn’t clear. When I write, I tend to jump from subject to subject, or from chapter to chapter. Bits and pieces come out at a time and that can either be a good thing or very frustrating.”

All week I’ve been gripping my thoughts and trying to force the writing process and that never works. For example, I was trying to write an essay about our tiny house yesterday and it wasn’t working. I was over-thinking the piece and when I read it aloud it sounded horrible. I was trying to control the flow of my words and once I start sliding down that path, things go very badly and I end up with a puddle of tears in my journal. In short, radio station KFKD was turned up too loudly.

When that happens, I turn to a few writing tools.

– My journal. When I start feeling stuck, I write in my journal. The goal isn’t complex, I just try to get the words out and onto the paper.

Moleskin was my journal of choice for years, but now I’m trying out new models. Over the last few months, I’ve used Writer’s Bloc and now I’m writing in a journal from Piccadilly. My journals can’t be too nice, otherwise I don’t use them for writing because I’m scared of “ruining them.”

– Scrivener. I recently purchased this program and I’m already in love with it. They have free trial period, so be sure to give it a go. If Scrivener isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other writing tools out there. In addition to Scrivener, I’ve used the OmmWriter, 750words, and a basic text edit program.

Click here for a great list of tools.

– Books. I’m an avid reader and there area a few writing books that I keep coming back to including: Bird by Bird and How to Make a Journal of Your Life. Yesterday, I stopped by the library and picked up Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I’m only a few chapters into the book and it’s fantastic. I might buy this one and keep it on my tiny book shelf.

So far Goldberg has talked about writing as practice, kind of like meditation, and the importance of a beginner’s mind. She notes, “In a sense, that beginner’s mind is what we must come back to every time we sit down and write. There is no security, no assurance that because we wrote something good two months ago, we will do it again.”

Her words are affirming and that’s why I read all the time. Books give me ideas and help clear out the cobwebs in my head.

What does your writing process look like? Do you have writing tools you’d add to the list?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Emmanuela Mujica October 6, 2011, 9:13 am

    Thanks for the tips, Tammy! I always appreciate your positive voice and the simplicity of your posts.

    I use my thin PJ (paper journal) to jot down goals, ideas, and to draw pictures when words can’t convey how I feel. But it’s much easier to edit my work on the spot with word processor. I have folder on my desktop I call “personal musings”, filled with unedited documents I pull up to unblock when I’m in a writing rut. I re-read the successful pieces I’ve written to re-energize my inner writer.

    Having a critical eye is the best tool, in my opinion. The backspace button helps me let go of cumbersome sentences and odd word choices. Constant self-editing improves the quality of my writing and backspace gives me that freedom instantly.

    Someone once told me that your first draft is never your best draft. Let’s just say I still have a lot of drafts to go!

    • Phil Drolet October 7, 2011, 7:20 pm

      Hey Emmanuelle, I like the idea of re-reading successful pieces, I’ll give it a shot. I think it’s a great way to give us that little confidence boost we need to get started on a new project.

      And if there’s one thing I took from reading “On Writing Well” by Zassner it was that writing the first draft is the easy part. The real challenge (and magic) starts with the editing. Most beautifully elegant prose starts as messy, incoherent and slightly chaotic. And then, with enough chisel work, that big stone gets sculpted into a literally masterpiece. 🙂

  • Heather October 6, 2011, 9:33 am

    Natalie Goldberg’s book is what spoke to me and helped me become a poet. One of the most amazing books I’ve ever laid eyes on! Good find!

  • Sandra / Always Well Within October 6, 2011, 9:33 am

    Tammy,

    I really appreciate this peek into your writing process. It affirms that writing is different for each of us, honor our own, process, but also learning and incorporate from others. I write in waves, usually three. First, I scribble ideas as they come where ever I can. I have an inexpensive journal for this now as they used to go on scraps all over the place. The next step, and that could be the same day or days later, I flush it out. The final wave is editing. My work almost always works best when I allow for three waves. But sometimes, a short piece will just roll off in one flow.

    For me your writing has an elegant simplicity and clarity. It helps to know that it’s not always easy, so we don’t beat ourselves up.

    • Phil Drolet October 7, 2011, 7:26 pm

      I like the 3 wave idea. I always do my best writing when I jolt down some ideas and create an outline before a piece (first wave) and this reminds me I haven’t been doing this lately.. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  • Mara Rose October 6, 2011, 11:59 am

    My process is similar. Often, my best writing comes to me when I let go of trying–and go ride my horse or walk my dog. I write blog posts on my WordPress site, set on ‘private’, after jotting down an outline. Somehow, I have to see what I’m writing visually, including the pictures and layout. Many redrafts.

    I also write in a notebook–I use Rhodia notebooks, as I write with a fountain pen. My pen flows and glides over the paper, without the ink bleeding through. Writing in my notebook with my special pen is part of my morning ritual, along with my coffee. I don’t save what I write–it’s all about process. And yet, having a nice book and pen facilitate the process and make it sacred.

    Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way speaks of “morning pages”, as a way to free the mind. That works for me. I read Writing Down the Bones many years ago. You have inspired me to get it off the shelf again. Thank you!

  • Katie October 6, 2011, 3:26 pm

    This is a great post, Tammy, it’s helped me to stop and focus and not be so ‘bitty’ with my work – I seem to be all over the place at times, really unorganised, and it shows in my writing/ work. Writing Down The Bones is one of my favourite books, each chapter is totally digestable and helpful and illustrative of the technique being shown. Her style is so lively and uncluttered, I have been buying a copy for all of my writing friends! I would buy you one too, but I don’t know your address, and you are many countries away, so enjoy the copy you have, and I know that if you treat yourself to your very own copy, it will bring you endless joy, every time you return to it. I think I shall have a little peek into my own copy right now, for some inspiration 🙂
    Katie. xxx

  • Victoria October 6, 2011, 5:16 pm

    I can relate to the idea of trying to force the words to flow, vs. writing in the flow. I often find the beginning of an essay or story comes easily to mind when I’m not actually at the computer… usually it’s when I’m doing chores or just watching my critters. If I can get that beginning of a story down while it’s still fresh in my mind, a story usually flows easily. It’s not always possible to stop whatever I’m doing to get it written down however, and if I wait, I risk losing the flow of that particular story. I know I can put down a sentence or two in a notebook, but if I don’t go immediately to write it all down, the story doesn’t really flow like it will if I can stop and do it right away. Having a story flow when I’m actually at the computer is a rare gift, one that I always try to take advantage of!

  • Ryan October 6, 2011, 7:33 pm

    You wouldn’t know it, because I don’t have a blog, personal website, or anything published (save a few letters to the editor of our local paper) but I dream of being a writer. I took a creative writing course (continuing education) and loved it. The teacher even thought my humour writing was funny. Thinking back I realized I enjoyed the unannounced creative writing sessions hurled upon us in elementary, junior high, and high school. I still want to be a writer.

    I write for a feeling. It either feels right or it doesn’t. Sit down, start typing (freefall even). Find that proper feeling and watch your writing take off.

  • MaMammalia October 6, 2011, 8:02 pm

    Hi, I came across your blog while looking for info on washing hair with baking soda. What a great little find!

    I guess that’s a bit how my writing process looks…expansive and searching, taking me to new, unexpected places. At least on good days. Like you, I get stuck when I over-think or try too hard. When I stop analyzing, when I stop preparing, when I stop formulating, that’s when the words flow as if they already existed before my creation.

    As for tools…I’d be happy with a good night’s rest and some free time away from my toddler!

  • mark October 7, 2011, 1:44 am

    “for those that would dig into ideas” It is a traumatic experience! I think the “liminal space”–of “suspending judgement” even on yourself—has been key for me. I take Keats’ negative capability (“The ability to be in mysterious uncertainties and doubts without any irritable grasping after fact or reason”) to be the operative quote for my best writing. I can live with the clutter and chaos of half-knowledge, and trust that what I write will be of some value. Oh, and Anne Lammott is a hero of mine.

    Cheers, Tammy
    M

  • Sunday October 7, 2011, 4:19 am

    thanks for the books! two were available at the library so I’ll get to read them soon 🙂

  • Diane October 7, 2011, 5:52 am

    Like Ryan, I write for a feeling. One word can throw the feeling off. Sometimes I’ll publish the piece to my blog anyway, but it nags at the back of my mind, and I have to go back and rewrite. This gut feeling does not, in my case, produce a fine writer, but it’s something I have to obey.
    Thanks for mentioning Writing Down the Bones. I have it and enjoyed it, but it’s been a while since I’ve looked at it.

  • Maria October 7, 2011, 5:59 am

    My writing process is simply starting to write whatever I want to blog about. Then tweaking it and tweaking it over the next several days. Most of the time it works. If it doesn’t, I just leave it as a draft to possibly come back to. I think I have only two drafts so as you can see, it does work for me. I like my sentences to be short and direct, definitely not a flowery girl. For inspiration, I love Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.

  • Phil Drolet October 7, 2011, 9:07 pm

    Super interesting to read about your, and everyone else’s writing flow, Tammy.

    In a way, I feel like this is a part of “secret” life. Personally, my relationship with my writing is quite intimate, so I appreciate when people open up and share a few secrets on that front.

    Personally, my best writing is usually impromptu: I’ll spend weeks thinking on & off about a topic, and then one day it’ll all come together in a nice story that highlights my point while entertaining my readers. Creating good writing can be encourage through a good process, but ultimately there’s still a bit of magic involved I reckon 🙂

  • Alicia October 8, 2011, 12:49 am

    The writing process, for me, is never linear; it is a spiral path, returning close to the starting point, but not at the exact place. It is a meditation. There are times when I stumble along the way. But once I cross the threshold, there are “gifts” on the other side. My journal helps in this journey.

  • D October 11, 2011, 8:49 am

    Thanks for posting this! It’s always so refreshing to read about how other writer’s keep from pulling their hair out. And it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who occasionally finds their journal full of tears.
    I agree with Mara Rose about morning pages. I feel off if I skip them. I also find myself trying to force something to work, so in those moments I get out of my house, go for a walk with my camera, stop in the cute stores on my street. Or I make collages, ripping random images out of magazines and taping them together like I’m still in kindergarten. Anything to get out of my head for a moment. I always feel renewed when I return.

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