I met someone recently at a gallery opening that actually knew me for my writing, and not the modeling on display. It was an incredibly exciting moment. Wow, I thought, someone is actually reading these.
Usually people at gallery openings want to ask me questions about modeling: how do you find work? (The internet). What do your parents think? (They hang my art on their wall—how cool is that?) What’s it like to be nude in nature? (Amazing, freeing, and very cold).
This person wanted to ask me questions, not about my modeling, but about my writing.
I’ll admit I was nervous. I haven’t been sharing my writing for that long and I wasn’t sure if I was qualified to answer questions about it. But the question he asked was about my personal writing process: how do I write each essay?
It seemed like an oddly straight-forward question to ask. I sit down and write them. Then I send each essay to one or more of my wise readers for feedback and integrate their comments in one final round of editing before posting it.
That was not the question he wanted answered. He wanted to know if I wrote by hand with a special pen, or if I could compose on a computer screen. Did I listen to music? Drink a specific tea? What were my rituals that I used to invoke the writing process?
When I first started writing, I wanted to know the same thing. I scoured the internet, looking for writers who described their process. I had this belief that if I copied the steps of a successful writer, then I would gain the same success too.
Unfortunately, there’s no incantation or spell to guarantee good writing. If you’re lucky, you create something that’s magical. But the steps to getting there rarely are.
So no, I don’t drink a specific tea, or write with a special pen. I don’t have a lucky chair or a time of day that gets me better results.
Actually, I don’t have much of a process at all. I assumed when I started that I would want some commonalities between writing sessions. That way, my brain would know when to start working. I could use rituals like mental flags, or triggers. “Warning! Writing will begin in 10, 9. . ."
Instead, each project has been different. Some require more prewriting time; some seem to fall out of my mind fully formed. Some I type directly into the computer, while others I write by hand first—or outline in one medium and then switch to the other for the rough draft. Some topics I need a stretch of several uninterrupted hours to wrap my mind around and carefully develop. Others work better when I jot them down one disjointed paragraph at a time in the car between errands.
So if you want to ask someone for advice in any field, don’t just ask them how they do it. Ask them what they do and discover the best way to accomplish the same thing for yourself. I can almost guarantee you’ll find a better way to go about it. And if you’re working on a project, don’t get stuck on the idea of ritual. You might find a better way to complete it if you change things up.