Why do I get my best writing ideas at the most inopportune moments? Someone should invent a device that transcribes writer’s ideas into meaningful notes so we don’t lose the great ideas we come up with. I guess this is why I carry a notebook and pen around with me everywhere I go. But it’s not the ideas I get when I’m ready for them that I’m talking about. It’s the ones I get when I’m driving or in the shower that I can’t write down–those are the ideas that seem to get lost inside my head somehow. It’s not until weeks later when the lightbulb comes on, the idea comes back to me, and I find myself saying, “Oh yeah. That’s what I was going to do with that scene.”
People don’t understand writers. They don’t understand the process we go through to write or some of the quirky things we do. The average person thinks writers can easily whip out story ideas, poems, or novels without thinking twice about it. But the entire process is much more complex than anyone can possibly imagine.
Writers think differently than others, we see the world differently, and we often do things people don’t understand. In this post I’d like to clarify some of the things writers do so people can better understand the way we think.
- Writers observe things. We people watch and appear to stare blankly into space. What we are doing here is listening intently to conversations, watching people’s body language, and noticing small details. We take mental notes and jot things down while we do this. So if it ever appears that a writer is staring at you and making random notes as they do, it only means they are considering using something you did or said in their book. Take this as a compliment.
- Writers carry around notebooks and pens with them everywhere, and randomly pull them out at inopportune moments. This is because we have to write an idea down before we forget about it. I’ve been known to have stacks of Post-It notes filled with ideas shoved in my purse. It’s also not unusual to see writers engaged in what looks like intense text message conversations, when in reality we are jotting down story ideas and texting them to ourselves. I am especially guilty of this. I think I have more text messages to myself than to anyone else.
- Writing entails more rewriting than anything else. The purpose of a draft is to get ideas down, and first drafts are always awful. Later when we read back through it, we realize it sucks and cry for an hour. When we finally pull ourselves together, we rewrite to make it better. This is a frustrating and time consuming process. So yes, we are still working on that book, and yes, we have read it umteen thousand times. This is what writers do, relentlessly, until we get to the point where we feel the story is complete, and by that time we are tired of looking at the manuscript.
- Despite what many people think, most writers are not grammar Nazis. I don’t claim to know everything about English grammar and I don’t want to know. But spelling and grammar must be accurate so that through writing, we can clearly express our ideas and sound like intelligent people. Some writers love this aspect of writing. I hate it. Editing is vital, but I always do this stage last and have another “editor” check this part after me so I can focus on telling the story.
- To writers, our characters are real. Writers spend countless hours developing characters, writing backstories, and creating people in our minds. We even talk about our characters as if they are real people. There’s so much more to developing strong characters than the reader ever sees. We live and breathe these characters. They become our kin.
- Dialogue is hard to write. Believable dialogue must reflect our characters, and it must move the story forward. We don’t want all of our characters to sound the same. We want to make sure the words that come out of our characters’ mouths are genuine to the character’s personality, necessary for the story, and true to what people actually say, yet not mundane or boring. We ensure this by reading our dialogue out loud, using inflection and voice changes. No, we are not crazy. This is what writers do.
- Writers make random facial expression and gestures in an attempt to act out what our characters are doing so we can better describe it. There is nothing wrong with us. Sometimes it’s just hard to find the right words.
- It is very difficult to describe your work to someone else. When someone asks me what I’m working on, I usually stumble for words. How do you take an idea you’ve developed in your head and spent months working on and describe it in one or two sentences? It’s next to impossible to do.
- Throwing yourself out there takes courage. Writers don’t write for recognition. We write because we have something to say. We write because we love to write. We write because we can’t imagine not writing. Exposing your soul to the world by putting your deepest thoughts and most creative ideas on a page for complete strangers to read is not easy to do. In fact, it makes me pretty uncomfortable.
- No one cares about our work more than we do, and no one ever will. These novels we write become our babies. They are a part of us and we treasure them. There is not a single person on this earth who will care one iota about how much work you put into it or how hard it was to kill off a character. No one cares. They just want to read a good book. The process of writing that book means nothing to them.
- Writers do not spend all day writing. We have jobs, families, lives outside of the pages of our books. In fact, most writers have a hard time sitting down to write. It takes self-discipline and willpower to push out 1,000 words a day. Writing is hard. We love it, but it’s also the most difficult thing any of us has ever done.
- Writers spend a good majority of time engaged in self-doubt. This is especially true after we read a great novel by a great author or look at our sales ranking on Amazon. We start to doubt not only our writing ability, but our self-worth as a human being.